No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers seems to have partially inspired Double Impact (starring Jean-Claude Van Damme) because of the premise – two estranged brothers are martial artists who want to exact vengeance on the man who made their family shorter. The difference is that Double Impact had a tagline that was more poetic: One packs a punch. One packs a piece. The other movie’s tagline was: These brothers don’t get along, they get even. As for similar narratives, the punch-packer runs a martial arts studio whereas the piece-packer is in a relationship with a woman who is guilty by association. Her capture results in a finale where the brothers put aside their acrimony for good. There’s even the novelty value of getting to see the acrimonious brothers fight each other.
Blood Brothers isn’t a threequel. The title (and that of the predecessor) was a way to ensure fans that what they were getting was another U.S. martial arts movie where the choreography is on par with that of a H.K. movie. In a Karmic way, the title is accurate because Seasonal’s first English Language movie was to be about the C.I.A. before Corey decided against it because he wasn’t aware of the C.I.A. bureaucracy. Keith Strandberg had this to say about the production:
I came up with a story to suit the talents of Keith Vitali and Loren Avedon, who we had already signed for the movie. I think both actors are great, and they looked enough alike to pass for brothers. So, I came up with an action story that was basically a frame for a deeper story about two brothers that just didn’t get along until they had to work together to find their father’s killer. Using my relationship with my own brother as a model, I created two brothers that loved each other but just couldn’t get along. There was jealousy involved, as well as a feeling from the younger brother that the older one thought he was a failure. I really enjoyed working on that script, and I think the story is one of my best, because it’s something that people can relate to.
Keith and Loren’s fight by the pool
During the filming of the scene in the movie when Loren finds his father dead, and then Keith walks in, emotions between the two stars came to a head. They never really got along, I think Loren was threatened by Keith’s championship experience, but it all came out during this scene. Loren was bent on crying and being very emotional during this scene, even though the script didn’t really call for it. I didn’t want him to break down, but he was certain that he knew how to play it. Rather than cause a big problem, and delay filming, I let him go, thinking that I could temper his acting while it was happening.
The scene started, and progressed well, until Keith made his entrance, and together they had to deal with the father’s body. Keith rightly felt that it was important that he show his love for his father, but Loren was holding Joe Campanella in such a way so that Keith couldn’t get to him. We tried to film it in several different ways, but each time it was apparent that Keith didn’t have anything to do – he couldn’t get to his Dad, and he wasn’t supposed to console Loren. Finally, Keith mentioned to Loren that he has to have something to do, and everyone got into the act.
The DP (director of photography) came into the conversation, Lucas Lo (a.k.a. Lo Yuen-Ming) started talking, and I was putting my two cents in, while the dialogue coach was also there. To be fair to Loren, it was a bit overwhelming, but instead of dealing with hit intelligently and calmly, he just blew up. He screamed in this indoor pool, his voice echoing off the walls: “Everybody just get away from me!” The entire place got deathly quiet. All eyes were on Loren…and Keith, who was standing close to Loren, his fists balled with his body shaking in anger. He said in a very low voice, full of implied violence – “Tell me you’re not talking to me.”
Keith was ready to tear into him, and he could do it in a heartbeat. Keith is one of the best fighters who I’ve ever seen, and he is always on top of his game. Even though he’s long retired from competition, he can still mix it up with the best of them. I was almost looking forward to seeing the conflict between Loren and Keith. But, it didn’t happen. Loren immediately apologized and told Keith that he would never talk that way to HIM, he was just talking about everyone else. He smoothed things over with Keith, but Loren certainly didn’t make a lot of friends on the cast or crew that night.
Stunts versus Fights
This was the first Screen Actors Guild (SAG) movie that Seasonal did (all the others were non-union), and it was quite an experience. One of the more interesting aspects of working with the union was the subtle difference between stunts and fights. According to arcane SAG regulations, actors can fight, but they cannot do stunts without getting a stunt adjustment (usually double the standard rate) and without a certified SAG stunt coordinator on set. Well, we didn’t have a certified SAG stunt coordinator on set, and we really didn’t have any STUNTS, we had FIGHTS. There was a tight line, but to all production people concerned, we were doing a fight movie, not a stunt movie. There were some tense moments on the set, however, when a fight scene developed into something that could be considered a stunt.
I remember one scene in particular, when we were filming in an abandoned warehouse. The guys from Hong Kong were setting up the scene, and they called for a fight double to take a fall from a railing above the floor. People immediately started murmuring “stunt”. I communicated this to the fight coordinator, but he shook his head and said, “Part of the fight.” OK, I thought, that sounds reasonable. Now, every H.K. fight director who I’ve ever worked with has depended on cardboard boxes when any kind of fall is required. Instead of using a crash pad, the guys from H.K. set up boxes – they aren’t flat; they are empty boxes put together, and it works surprisingly well.
I’ve taken a couple of falls on top of the boxes (they usually put mattresses on top of the boxes), and it’s actually very comfortable. As the fight director was setting up the fall, many of the production people and the cast were very concerned – the railing was about 20 feet up, and they were worried about the fight double who would take the fall. One crew member, in fact, quit over the fall, thinking that it was a stunt and that he would be implicated if something went wrong. Seeing all this commotion, I became concerned myself over the safety of the fight double, but when I went over to the fight director to tell him, he just shrugged and smiled.
“No danger,” he told me, and signaled for the shot to be done. It went ahead, and the fight double leaped off the railing, falling to his “death” 20 feet below. It was no problem, and they got the shot the first time around. It was a to do over nothing, and underscored the very macho attitude of the fight doubles and fight coordinators from H.K. Anything we think is dangerous, they scoff at – but they go out of their way to make sure that they have prepared in every way so that nothing happens. They aren’t foolhardy – they just understand what they are doing much better than anyone else.
Changes to script at last minute
One of the most maddening parts of filming was the director’s lack of preparation, and his penchant for wanting to change scenes at the last minute. Lucas Lo (spelled “Lowe” for The King of the Kickboxers and American Shaolin) was hired at the last minute to direct and he came onto the set without the benefit of having time to storyboard everything (as is his custom), but it seemed throughout the production that he was flying by the seat of his pants most of the time. That meant playing it fast and loose with the dialogue, which really irked me. I always spend an inordinate amount of time on each scene, carefully crafted them to make sure that the correct words are chosen, and that each character’s dialogue suits his or her personality.
But, Lucas would come in for the day, and I’d find out that he wanted 3 pages of dialogue cut to 3 lines for the next shot. It was maddening, and it wasn’t a way to go about shooting a movie. I remember one particular scene in a cemetery. The Donahue boys were burying their father, and were to have a huge confrontation scene as Will left prematurely. It was about 2 pages of dialogue, but it was important, character-developing stuff: and Lucas wanted it cut. At the last minute. He wanted only a couple of lines while Will got into his car. The most maddening part was that the only reason why he wanted it changed was that we were running out of time. Lucas had burned most of the day shooting “extras”, and we were forced to fit the scenes with the lead actors into a couple of hours.
This is a standard fault of Lucas, and I’ve seen it in every movie we’ve worked together – he plays around with the location, the extras, etc. and leaves the real work for last (the scenes with the lead actors where the story gets told). I was peeved! I almost walked off the set and told him to take a flying leap, but I knew I’d just be hurting the movie. It was my responsibility as co-producer and writer to ensure the quality of every foot of film, and I couldn’t trust Lucas to get it right without me – even if he wanted it changed. So, I took the actors off to the side, explained the situation and how angry I way then together we devised a way to change things around so that it all still worked, and the characters come off OK.
The scene that ended up in the movie works OK, but I still think the original scene was stronger. From that point on, I warned Lucas that he couldn’t do that again–if he wanted changes made, we’d talk about them, and I’d have time to do them correctly. I’m not a big fan of improvisation – there are too many small nuances and plot points imparted in every scene for things to change around at the last minute. Besides, I don’t think that last minute inspirations are necessarily better than finely crafted ideas – ideas that have been worked on for months. Too many times, compromises have to be made on a film set. But, the worst thing to do is to compromise to make it easier – filmmaking is supposed to be hard work!
My children on the set
This was the biggest confrontation I ever had with Lucas. I had brought my children down to Florida to be on the set. I had even constructed a shot where they could be used as extras. At the time (in 1989), Kalen (my oldest son) was 6, and Evan (my youngest) was 4. Lucas set up the shot so that the camera would pan by them while they were asleep, and he expected them to remain still while the camera passed. That sentence alone shows you how little Lucas knows about people, and especially about children. We tried the shot a number of times, but each time one or the other (and even a couple of times – both!) moved, thus making the shot unusable.
Lucas was getting frustrated, and he was beginning to lose his temper. Several times, he snapped at my children. No thought was given to the fact that the shot was too long and too dependent on perfect performances from the children. Finally, he wanted to pull Evan, who was moving a little more than Kalen, out of the shot. I lost my temper then, pulling them both out, and telling Lucas that if he ever even so much as talked to my children then I would kill him. I was on the verge of physically attacking Lucas for his remarks to and about my children, and Ng See-Yuen (the President of the company) had to calm me down.
Multi-storey car park fight
We were setting up the scene in a parking garage not far from the Sailport Resort in Tampa, where the cast and crew were staying. The scene called for the elder of the two Donohue brothers to be saved from a gang of terrorists by his younger brother. The focal point of the scene, aside from the great action sequences, was to show that Loren (though a great fighter) was out of his league when it came to fighting and killing terrorists (something that Keith as the older brother did all the time). As written, Loren saves Keith, but because he is not trying to kill the terrorists, they keep getting back up and finally are about to kill him when Keith comes to the rescue by shooting the final three terrorists. Loren registers shock, and Keith consoles him, telling him that this is the big leagues, and he should stick to teaching Karate in his dojo. An important scene, with important things to illustrate.
While the scene was unfolding on the set, I was watching it all carefully to make sure that it was going according to the story I had created. At one point in the fight, however, the fight choreographer was having Loren disarm one of the terrorists, then grabbing his sword, and in one beautiful movement impaling the terrorist on his own sword, killing him. It looked great, but it obviously couldn’t happen. If Loren was to register shock at Keith killing the terrorists at the end of the fight, how could he kill one of them earlier in the fight? I went up to the fight director, Tony Leung (a great guy and a masterful fight choreographer), and mentioned this to him.
It turned out that he hadn’t even read the script, and had no idea of the content of the scene – he was just in charge of the physical moves themselves. He quickly changed the scene around, and instead of killing the terrorist, Loren cuts him with the sword blade and continues fighting. This kind of subtlety can easily be lost, even when you mention it in the script. That’s your first line of defense: to make sure that everything of importance gets stated in the script. Whether it gets acted upon or ignored is kind of out of your hands, unless you’re fortunate enough to be on the set when it is getting made – which is becoming increasingly rare in today’s motion picture industry, but at least you spoke your piece.
Being hassled by the Teamsters
We used a lot of locations in Florida for no cost at all, because we were a low budget, martial arts picture. If we had been a Tom Cruise picture, those locations would have suddenly become extremely expensive. Unions are a fact of life when you are working in the movies. First of all, there is SAG. Then the crew people have a union (i.e. IATSE), and you also have to deal with the Teamsters. That’s right – the union that has such a reputation for criminal activity is actively involved in the film industry. When we were down in Florida, arranging to film, we had a run in with the Teamsters. Florida is a “right to work” state (meaning that you don’t have to hire the unions), so I didn’t expect to have problems with the Teamsters.
However, because there wasn’t a whole lot of filming going on in Tampa at the time, the Teamsters found out about our production, and showed up at our door, demanding (though politely) that we hire Teamster drivers to drive our trucks. As an explanation, usually we use production assistants and department heads to drive the vehicles, thus saving the expense of having a dedicated person to drive a truck. Imagine having to hire someone who just drives a truck to the location in the morning, then does nothing until they have to drive the truck back at the end of the day. What a waste, in a situation where no waste can be afforded.
I tried explaining this to the head of the Teamsters, but he wasn’t going for it. He said that we could choose to not hire Teamster drivers, but he couldn’t be responsible for what would happen. It was a veiled threat, and I was sorely tempted to tell him what to do with his threat, saying that we were a martial arts film, and if he wanted to take his chances going up against us he could, but I couldn’t be sure exactly what would happen. So, we started negotiating. We managed to come to a pretty equitable deal: we hired 9 Teamster drivers on the shoot, but they had to do other jobs than just driving.
Luckily, some of the drivers were experienced gaffers or grips, and we kept them working all the time. To be truthful, they all worked pretty hard, and were great guys. They regaled us with stories of how much money they made “working” on the big budget features in Florida, just by driving to and from work. I thought about getting my Teamster card, but decided against it. Though my experience was a pretty good one, I still didn’t care for the way the Teamsters went about getting the work. Threats and intimidation always leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Terrorists at the auditions
One of my favorite stories comes from when we were casting for down in Tampa. We had an “open call” for terrorists, and about 50 showed up, dressed to the nines in terrorist garb, sporting sawed off shotguns, machine guns, eye patches, hunting knives, etc. We ran them through their paces, and were having a great time watching them perform in the rear yard of the casting agency. On the street in front of the casting agency ran a pretty busy road, and it was a hoot to watch the drivers as they drove by do a double take at the action that was going on outside the agency.
At one point in the day, a woman got rear ended by a man on that street. The man got out of his car, in a rage, and started to browbeat the women, yelling at her at the top of his voice, threatening her with lawsuits and with physical violence. Before you could say “assassination”, the entire group of terrorists, weapons in hand, were walking across the street toward the macho man picking on the poor woman. You should have seen the guy’s face when he became aware of the terrorists! It was great! He immediately apologized to the woman, got back in his car and drove off as quickly as he could!
Keith breaking his wrist the day before filming started
Typically, before we start a movie, we’ll arrange to have the fighters perform for the fight director and stunt men, so that they know what they are working with. We took Loren and Keith to a small dojo in Tampa one night, two days before we were to begin shooting, and the fight director put them through their paces. Alternately, they were asked to do various kicks, punches, hand techniques, throws, reactions, falls, etc., with a group of about 10 people, all of them from H.K. watching. It was a fun night – Loren and Keith are accomplished martial artists, and they both throw extremely beautiful techniques. The fight director and all the stuntmen were very impressed, and they were about to call it a night, anxious to begin filming in two days, knowing that they had a great deal of raw talent with which to work.
Then Loren made a huge mistake – even though they were very satisfied and impressed, he offered to do a double kick into the heavy bag (a flying side kick followed by a flying spinning side kick). The fight director heard this offer and just shook his head, saying that he didn’t really need to see it. He had seen enough. But, Loren insisted. Then he ran towards the bag, jumped up and did a very good kick, rocking the bag and landing on his feet. Then, the fight director looked at Keith. “Can you do that too?” he asked. Keith looked at the bag, at Loren and then at the fight director. “I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure I could do it.” Keith was pretty much committed to trying the kick.
He took a run and hit the bag with the first kick, hit the bag with the second kick and then hit the floor. Hard. He landed on his wrist, and it immediately SNAPPED. Broken wrist. Hospital. Forearm cast. I was stunned, as were the fight guys. In the space of one second, we had gone from a very promising movie with two great fighters as the leads to a threatening injury! I remember standing in the hospital corridor talking with executive producer Ng See-Yuen about what we were going to do. Could we re-cast the lead at this late date? Remember, we were starting filming in two days! I went into the doctor’s office with Keith to get an opinion of Keith’s chances of continuing to work even with a cast, and it looked very grim.
But, being a writer, my mind was working. I came up with an idea that we ended up using, and it worked very well. Since the movie started with a big fight in a bank, with Keith saving a girl’s life, it would make sense for him to get hurt during that fight. So, we designed it so that Keith would get shot in the wrist during that scene, and then he could be in a cast for the rest of the movie. We even added some dialogue into several of the scenes where other characters referred to the cast, making an essential part of the story. It wasn’t an easy sell to the powers that be, but it was far too late to do anything else. We worked through it, and ended up with a very good movie.
Working with the swat guys
One of the real pleasures was working with the law enforcement people from Tampa. They were very professional, and willing to help us in any way that they could. We ended up filming in the Tampa Police Department, and we used countless cop cars and real police officers in many scenes. In one particular scene, at the beginning of the movie, Keith is saving everyone inside the bank, while outside the bank is surrounded by what looks like the entire Tampa police department. We used off-duty police officers as extras for that scene, but we needed even more people, so I dressed up as a policeman, and got ready to surround the bank.
I climbed into the back of a squad car and closed the door, waiting for the exact point when the car stopped to open the door and jump out, crouching down to point my fake gun at the bank. I was ready. Except for one thing. The door in the back of the police car didn’t have any way to open it from the inside. I had forgotten that this was where they put the prisoners, and they don’t have any handles on the inside of the car! The car slammed to a stop, and the two police officers in the front jumped out, but I was forced to stay in the car. And feel really stupid. Luckily, it was just a rehearsal, so it wasn’t that bad
Though I did catch a lot of grief from the crew. So, the next time, I made sure that I kept the back door cocked open a little bit, so I could get out. Except, the next time the car stopped, it stopped even harder, and the force of the stop pulled the door back closed. I was locked in again! Once more, fortunately, the take was a bad one, and we had to do it again. This time I made sure that the door didn’t close, and I got out and got into my correct position, gun pointed at the bank. I don’t think it made much difference in the final shot, but at least I was there!
May 14, 1989
The president of Seasonal Film Corporation, Ng See-Yuen, happened to have a birthday party during the filming, and I wanted to do something special for him. I hired a stripper to dress up like a cop, and serve Ng a “ticket”, then sit back and watch the fireworks. That day, we were eating lunch on the set when a woman walked onto the set with a warrant in her hand. She called out loudly for a Mr. Ng, who innocently raised his hand. All of the H.K. people eyed her suspiciously then motioned for me to stand up and get into the action. Head off the law. I sat where I was. She walked up to where Ng was sitting then issued him a citation in front of the entire cast and crew.
Ng didn’t quite know what to make of it, but he was doing whatever he could to comply with whatever she wanted him to do. Lucas, on the other hand, was irate. He started yelling at me to go help Ng, and as I sat there, my arms folded, doing nothing, he got more and more angry, screaming at me to do something. I shook my head and told him there was nothing I could do – it was the long arm of the law. Lucas said some choice words and sputtered with rage. Meanwhile, the “policewoman” is reading Ng his rights, charging him with unlawful and abnormal sexual conduct.
By this time, Ng has figured out what is going on, and he’s having a great time. Finally, the “policewoman” started to shed her outfit, and even Lucas was able to tell that it was a gag, and immediately Lucas donned his dark sunglasses and pulled back, his tirade forgotten. The stripper went on with her act, getting down to just a g-string and tassels, so Ng had the time of his life. It was a great gag, and Ng appreciated the planning that went into it, and thanked me for arranging it. Lucas, on the other hand, to this day asserts that he knew she was a stripper from the moment he saw her. Yeah, right.
When we were filming the bar fight, we originally scheduled it for 14 hours, and it ended up going an extra day, and that final day lasted 20 hours! That meant that the rest of the schedule had to be adjusted to make up for the extra day, plus the rest the crew needed to compensate for the 20 hour day! As you can see, the schedule cannot be written in stone, and keeping up with the schedule can get very complicated. Usually, the schedule is designed so that the scenes in a particular location, or scenes with the same group of actors, etc. are lumped together. If you have a particularly expensive actor, you will want to be able to film that actor’s scenes in one group, so that the actor isn’t stretched over several weeks, when one week could do it. We cast Joe Campanella, a great guy and fantastic actor. Because he was a bit pricey, we managed to schedule his scenes in the movie over a week, and we got him in and out quickly, and were able to spend the time we needed with other actors.
Far East distribution
I remember when we were selling the movie at the Milan Film Festival, a Japanese customer was viewing a video of the film because he was interested in buying it for his territory. I came into the room to see if he had any questions, and I found him fast-forwarding through the dramatic scenes to get to the action scenes. God knows what he would have done with the editing. Needless to say, I kicking him out of the office and we didn’t sell him the movie. I was particularly proud of that story, and felt it was worth watching. Other buyers approached us about a kickboxing movie. At that time, JCVD’s Kickboxer was all the rage, and everyone wanted a kickboxing movie. Suddenly, the president of Seasonal Films told the buyers we were working on a new movie called The King of the Kickboxers! I hid my shock and just nodded in agreement, even though we were working on no such movie, but the buyers loved the title, and that became our next project.
Loren had the personality and skill to be the star of a martial arts sitcom or at least an action comedy TV series.