Yang vs. Yin

This should’ve been the title of The King of the Kickboxers given the ethnicities of the characters. Then again, this would’ve added confusion since people tend to mismatch the white and black because of the way that the names sound. The Lethal Weapon series (as in both the TV franchise and movie quadrilogy) is the best representation of the Yin-Yang. The black guy is peaceful whereas the white guy is painful. They even have the same initials but in a topsy-turvy way. The U.K. video cover for THIS movie not only rip-offs the tagline for Highlander but the Caucasian featured isn’t even the star. The best guess is that Loren Avedon wasn’t perceived as being macho enough due to his hair and build. This is reminiscent to the U.K. VHS release of China O’Brien – Cynthia Rothrock was perceived as being femme fatale without the femme, so they hired a model but had her cover her face so that it wouldn’t be obvious that it was false advertising. Back to this movie, the way that Billy Blanks is presented on the cover reminds me of Alien.

In the past decade, I liked to write down information from websites because you never know when a webpage or website will cease to exist. For a few months, I would write to improve my handwriting before moving on to copy and paste. I’m glad that I saved the info. Keith Strandberg had this to say about The King of the Kickboxers on his first (and best) website…

Inspiration and deviation

It was my job to come up with a story that would suit the title, and we all knew it couldn’t be just a retread of Kickboxer. It’s legal to slightly rip-off a successful movie, but I don’t think it’s ethical. So, I went to work, trying to come up with an idea that would combine kickboxing with something else from the action genre. And I came up with the storyline. I made a trip to Thailand to soak up the ambiance and learn more about the customs before quickly learning that anything and everything was possible in that country. I love Thailand, and especially the Thai people and their food, but it’s a pretty wild place.

When I got back to my homeland, I was doing some research, and came across a news story in the local Lancaster newspaper about a group of Americans trying to buy teenagers for use in a snuff video (a video in which the boy would be killed while the video camera rolled). These guys had only placed a couple of ads, and passed the word around. The FBI had arrested the conspirators who had tried to buy a local young boy. That struck a cord. At the same time, a writing student of mine showed me some newspaper clippings about women in Asia and their experiences being tricked into moving to Asia. They were told they would become movie stars and high fashion models, when in reality they were going to be in X-rated films, or worse, forced into prostitution.

Billy and Mike in a strip bar

Thailand is famous for its strip bars, and maybe even more famous for trying to rip off unsuspecting tourists. On the night they ventured into the Bangkok’s den of iniquity, Billy Blanks and Michael DePasquale, Jr. were unsuspecting tourists. They decided to go to Pat Poon, where the highest concentration of strip bars are. They entered a place that advertised no cover, and sat down to enjoy the ambience. After having one drink, they decided to leave, as they had work to do the next day. Only the people inside the bar wouldn’t let them leave.

They wanted Billy and Mike to pay some outlandish amount for the drinks they had (something like several hundred dollars). At first, Billy and Mike, being the incredible fighters that they are, refused to pay. That’s when the 6 big tough fighters appeared. Rather than cause a scene, maybe lose, jeopardizing their careers and perhaps their lives, they decided that discretion really is the better part of valor (at least in Pat Poon), so they paid their bill and left. They made the right decision. Many a tourist have complained about prices or unfairness, only to see Thailand from the inside of a hospital room.

Rape/hooker alley

We were doing the scene where Jake meets Molly for the first time. The scene is set up so that Jake sees a bunch of thugs chasing Molly through the Pat Poon section of Bangkok. He follows them, and then pretends that he wants to get in on some of the action. The thugs push him out of the way, closing the gap and giving Jake the opportunity he is waiting for. He starts the fight then, taking the guys out. Well, the thugs we had hired were, in a word, terrible. They couldn’t react very well, and Loren Avedon, who played Jake and who is a spectacular screen fighter, was having a very difficult time. The thugs were not hitting their marks, and we were forced to do take after take. It was a night shoot, and here we were in a smelly Bangkok alley.

Training with Billy

While we were filming in Thailand, I had the opportunity to work out with Billy. I had been running and staying in shape, but I hadn’t fought for a long time. Still, when we decided to throw some kicks together, I knew that I had to take advantage of sparring with one of the greatest fighters of all time. So, one afternoon on a rare day off in Khao Yai, we went into one of the meeting rooms and started stretching then throwing some kicks. Now, I’m not a great fighter by any stretch of the imagination, but I can usually hold my own. I won some tournaments when I was a kid, and I was picked to represent the state of Ohio in fighting and kata when I was 17. So, how much better than I could Billy be?

Light years. There might not even be a number high enough to describe the gap between his skills and mine. I felt like a white belt facing off with Billy. He was very kind, and didn’t completely destroy me, but he was and still is an incredible fighter. We fought for about 10 minutes, and the entire time I don’t think I was ever in any danger of scoring a point. Billy could do anything at will, and it was a great humbling experience for me. He could have taken me out at any time during our sparring session, and I came to know what it feels to be completely outclassed. I played the part of a snuff movie actor who gets killed by Billy Blanks. He hit me pretty hard, perhaps as punitive payback for the suffocatingly sufficient good food on the set; I’ll have to ask him.

Days off in Khao Yai

One of the great things about movie work is being able to travel to distant places and see things that people don’t normally see. In the course of the filming, I got a chance to live and work in Thailand. Bangkok is not the greatest city on earth, but it certainly is exciting and action-packed. One of the most crowded places I’ve ever been. I even had trouble running in the city due to the incredible traffic at all hours of the day. Bangkok was a nice city to eat out in (great restaurants) and sightsee (some great temples). I enjoyed Thailand more when we were able to get out into the countryside. We filmed in the ancient temple ruins outside of Bangkok, and that was incredible. Centuries old, these ruins have not been renovated or commercialized, they are just left as testaments to days gone by.

We spent several days filming in and around the ruins, and it was very exciting to walk through the remnants of the ancient Thai culture. We also filmed some scenes in an area called Khao Yai, which is a nature preserve in the middle of the country. Way out in the boonies, it was definitely worth the trip. Khao Yai was the setting for the climactic final scene where Loren Avedon’s character fights in the snuff film inside the bamboo cage. As scripted, the bamboo cage blows up at the end. Obviously, we couldn’t blow up the bamboo cage in the middle of Bangkok, so the entire crew moved up to Khao Yai for about 10 days of fun in the sun. It was definitely sunny. Hot, to be exact.

The Khao Yai Resort, the only hotel anywhere near our set, was a first class hotel (the only one I’ve ever stayed in while on location), and it was fantastic. The food was great, the accommodations were incredible, and they even had a beautiful pool. Unfortunately, in the 10 days we were there, I only had one day off to enjoy it, but I remember that day very well. The filming went pretty much on schedule, and we blew up the entire “snuff film” set with a combination of gasoline and TNT on the final day. We filmed that shot, since it couldn’t be redone, with three cameras, all from different angles, just to make sure we didn’t miss a thing.

The Topless Scene (and additional projects from Sherrie)

During casting, we were very upfront with all the women we auditioned. There was going to be some nudity, and they needed to know that going in. In fact, we told everyone that there was (limited) nudity, and advised the casting directors not to send women that wouldn’t consider baring their breasts. The last thing we wanted was to choose someone, and have them decline because of the nudity. If they knew about the nudity from the start, we would only see women who were OK with it. I want to be very clear about something, however: we did not ask the women to shed their clothes during the casting. That would have been unethical. We saw a host of actresses, and finally made the choice for one woman in particular, and signed her for the part of Molly.

About a week before she was due to arrive in Thailand, I got a call from our casting agent in Hollywood – the actress wasn’t coming. She, at the last minute, had second thoughts about the nudity involved, and pulled out. Exactly the situation we were trying to avoid! There we were, in Thailand already, about a week into filming, without a lead actress. Scrambling, I remembered an actress that we had worked with in Tampa on No Retreat, No Surrender III: Blood Brothers – Sherrie Rose. She is a very good actress, and was a former Playboy Playmate, so she fit perfectly – good talent and a willingness to take off her top. I called her and made the deal, and she got on a plane and flew to Thailand. She had spent a couple of months in Thailand filming another movie a year before, so she was familiar with the place, and had some friends there.

Everything seemed to be working out perfectly: she fit in well with the cast and crew, she did a good job in her scenes, and everyone was pleased with the choice. That is, until the time came for her to take her clothes off for the camera. The scene itself was pretty innocuous: Molly shows up while Jake is in the bath tub, and proceeds to slip her clothes off and join him in the water. It wasn’t really gratuitous nudity, as it was integral to the scene and the relationship between Jake and Molly, and it went by very quickly. The night we were to shoot this scene came, we cleared the set of any unnecessary crew people, and prepared to roll the cameras. Sherry started to protest. She didn’t want to do the nudity.

I explained to her that she had agreed to do it, and it was a condition of her employment. She still refused to do it. I reminded her of her promise to do it, and her background (Playboy and all that), but it had no effect. She was in a good bargaining position: we’d already shot a couple weeks of footage, so replacing her would have been very hard and expensive. Finally, after about 45 minutes of pleading, arguing and fighting, the director had to promise that he would be very careful about what appears on camera, so she finally agreed to do what she had agreed to do a long time ago. The scene went off without a hitch, and it goes by very quickly – it’s actually a nice break from the violent action.

One night back in the USA, long after that confrontation with Sherrie, I was watching HBO’s Tales from the Crypt and on comes an episode, with Sherrie Rose in a starring role. Interested, I watched the whole thing, surprised to see the most graphic breast nudity I think I’ve ever seen–and all of Sherrie’s breasts! We’re talking close-up nipple shots, full chest nudity in most of the scenes…I was stunned! Here was the woman who complained about a shot that lasted at most 5 seconds baring her breasts for several minutes at a time! That’s Hollywood! Maybe the prestige of “Tales” induced her to take her clothes off.

The extra with the South Philly accent (dregs of the Earth)

During the filming, I had to travel to Germany for 5 days on other business, so I had to be off the set for that period of time. We were doing mainly action scenes, having built my departure into the schedule. Even so, we had some problems. The first was one of the guys who we hired locally, who was an American. We hired him for the part of the “director” of the snuff films, and he seemed okay during the auditions. When he got to the set, however, what he did wasn’t OK. I wasn’t there, so when he decided to use what he called a “south Philly” accent, no one was there to tell him not to. The director (whose full name would be Lucas Lo Yuen-Ming), even though he speaks very good English, doesn’t know the difference between a Southern accent and a New England accent.

So this bozo decides to do an accent, and it ends up on film! When I got back, we had another scene scheduled with the same “actor” (and I use the term loosely here), and when we were rehearsing lines before we shot, I heard the accent. I immediately stopped him, saying, “Hold on! Where did that accent come from?” He told me it was south Philly, and I informed him that I come from Pennsylvania, and I know what south Philly accents sound like, and that was no south Philly accent. Unfortunately, he had already used this bogus accent in one scene, and it wouldn’t work to have him change it now, so I had to live with it. Every time, I see the scenes where this guy talks, I cringe inside, wanting to cover my ears!

Not being on the set

I was not on the set for the filming of the first snuff film scene, so I didn’t catch the following gaffe: This scene was set up to show a young fighter coming onto the set of what he thinks is a real movie. The director coaches him about trying to make it look real, and then the scene starts. As I had scripted it, the actor gets banged around a little bit, then stops the scene and tells the director that he’s been hit. His line of dialogue is “Hey, he hit me!”

Well, the fight coordinator decided to change the scene around a little, allowing the attackers to use weapons; so instead of getting hit, the actor gets cut on his hand and says the same line. Not exactly what you would say if you got cut on the hand, right? You might say “Hey, he cut me!” or “Hey, I’m bleeding!” or something along these lines, but not “Hey, he hit me!” Still, this is what the actor said, and since I wasn’t there, no one corrected him, and that’s how it is on film.

Homosexuals on the Set

Thailand is known for its free spirit, and that translates to a great deal of sexual freedom. I’m as “live and let live” as the next guy, but when someone tries to force their sexuality on me, I can’t put up with it. We had a problem on the set when we were filming up in the North of Thailand, in the jungles in Khao Yai, we had to hire a bunch of extras from the surrounding area. Well, it turns out that most of these extras were homosexuals, and they were very overt in their sexuality, going as far as to approach members of our crew and proposition them.

One of the actors was being pursued so strongly that the production company had to step in and tell them to knock it off, or they’d be off the set. We hired a videographer to do a “making of” video, which by the way never got made, for a number of different reasons, and he was a target of several of these “amorous” extras. On several separate occasions, these extras would just walk right up to John and grab hold of his crotch – sort of their way of saying “hello”!

Don and dialogue

Don Stroud, who had the part of Anderson, is a great guy and a great actor. He’s been in so many movies, and done such great work, that he was a pleasure to work with. Once we got some ground rules established. We had gone through some informal rehearsals before he started working, but our time was limited because he cost a lot of money, and we wanted to get him in and out of Hong Kong quickly. I expected to be out at my favorite Thai restaurant by 5:00 p.m.

We started running the lines while the camera was being set up, but Don turned to me and said, “I know my lines, but I just want to play with some different ways of saying it.” Now, when any actor wants to change dialogue, my defenses go up. I spent too much time analyzing the dialogue to let anyone cavalierly change it. Of course, if an idea is good and works with the character, I have been known to go along with it. In this case, however, it was clear that Don didn’t know his lines that well, but he understood the scene, and he was trying to ad lib his way through it.

After a few minutes of running the lines, and getting something different every time, I took Don aside. I said – I love what you’re doing with the dialogue but the other actors are waiting to hear your dialogue cues in order to say their dialogue, and if you say something different every time, they’re not going to know when to come in. He nodded, understanding this. So, I continued, let’s just do the scene the way it was written, and everyone will know what to do and when to do it. We shot the scene as scripted. Every section of dialogue had to be chopped to bits so that he could deliver the dialogue line by line. We hid lines of dialogue throughout the set, so he could look off camera and have his lines right before him.

If you watch closely, you can see him find the dialogue and then begin talking. In fact, we allowed him to put on his glasses in the blocking of the scene, so that he could use them to read his lines! The most maddening part is that before we actually started filming, this actor said to me, “Keith, I’ll do anything you want me to do today. I’ll work as late as I have to to get the scene. But, if we have to go into tomorrow, you’ll have to pay me an extra day!” Imagine, it was a problem of his own creation and he still had the gall to tell me that I’d have to pay him if we went over! We finished with him that day, and put him on a plane out of Hong Kong (and my life) right after that. And, I never got to my Thai restaurant. There’s no justice in this world.

Other regrets

We should have utilized Jerry Trimble’s ability more in that one scene. Likewise with Vincent Lyn. They got more attention with Hong Kong movies, anyway.

I feel quite sorry for the main fight choreographer (who is known in the West as Tony Leung Siu-Hung) as he never got to work on mainstream Hollywood movies like Corey Yuen (who choreographed Keith Cooke’s first first scene in the movie).

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