Another gem from the sadly deceased Wasted Life site (this time circa 2001). Here is an introduction courtesy of Mr. Richards – It’s unlikely that the Kung Fu movie scene in the UK would be in the healthy state that it’s in without the influence of Toby Russell. Aside from organising many screenings and events, he was one of the co-founders of the Eastern Heroes video label and instrumental in the creation of the Made in Hong Kong label. Toby has also directed two documentaries on Hong Kong Cinema (Cinema of Vengeance after Death By Misadventure) and recently produced Trinity Goes East directed by Robert Tai. He now runs Vengeance Video and still finds time to open his stall in Camden every weekend. He kindly agreed to answer some questions.
How did you first get interested in Kung Fu movies?
I saw Kung Fu on telly (i.e. David Carradine) and was hooked. This was in the early `70s.
What was the atmosphere like at the screenings in Gerard Street, Chinatown all those years ago?
Normal, nothing special; not like late night which was like a cup final or a rock concert.
I’ve seen pictures of you on movie sets, what was the first Kung Fu movie set you visited and how did you manage to get in?
Dragon Lord – my ex boss in chinatown was a friend of Willie Chan.
How did you get to work with Robert Tai?
He asked me to act in Mafia vs. Ninja. The three hour version, anyway.
What films did you work on before that and how did you get noticed by Robert?
I had worked on Aces Go Places 3, Possessed, H.K. TV, some English movies….but nothing major. I wanted to meet Robert after I had seen Devil Killer. So when I got to Taipei, I called loads of people to find his whereabouts. I already knew Chu Ko (Venoms man a.k.a. Chu Ke) and he introduced me to some stunt kid called Jackie Boy (he looked and acted like Jackie Chan) who told me Alex Lo’s telephone number. I called him up and met with the whole Tai crew. Robert asked if I wanted to be in one of his films so, of course, I said yes.
How long did it take to shoot that 30 minute fight scene in Ninja: The Final Duel (the one where you get your intestines pulled out by Eugene Thomas)?
My bit was about 4 days.
I’ve always wondered how those complex fight scenes are put together, does Robert plan them beforehand or is there an element of ad lib on set?
Most of it is in his head. Before he arrives on the set, he will put all the shots down on paper the night before. I have seen him come to the set with a 300 plus shot list. In the States and U.K., they probably get off 30 shots max per day.
Is it true that you used to live in the same apartment block as Hwang Jang Lee? (that was a rumour I heard)
Well, almost. He lived in the apartment block next door, so I saw him all the time nearly every day.
You’ve interviewed most of the big names in the Hong Kong film industry, how do you manage to get access to such people?
Telephone and contacts.
What do you think of the recent crop of Hong Kong movies? Any that you think stick out?
Infernal Affairs was okay.
How long did take the production of Trinity Goes East last?
Pre-production = 1 month, shooting = 1 month, post-production = 3 months.
What’s the deal with the pig?
I could have phrased that question better, what is the relevance of the pig to the story? (or am I fixating too much on the pig)
No, he had a very important role in the film, you will see soon.
So can we expect to see lots of old school style action in Trinity and how big of a part does John Liu have?
John has a good part even though he did it under duress, but he soon got into it and I was pleased with how good his action was.
You’ve mentioned in the past that the film has had trouble with Chinese censors, is it particularly violent or were there other reasons?
There were not enough Chinese in the film to be considered a Chinese film and they have a quota of foreign films in China so we won’t qualify, too low budget.
Has Robert Tai mellowed with age, or was he still as fiery on the set?
He has mellowed a bit. He was really bad in the `70s I am told, but he still won’t take any s#!t from anyone.
Do you have plans to produce another film?
After all of the films that you’ve watched, which is your favourite?
The Victim, Hell’s Wind Staff, Devil Killer, Death Duel of Kung Fu, Showdown at the Cottonmill, along with Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin.
Finally, a couple of questions about Vengeance Video; you seem to be releasing some very rare stuff, was that a deliberate decision or just the way it turned out?
They are cheap and good. What’s rare to us is rubbish to Chinese, remember that.
Can we expect to see more releases sourced from 35mm print, like Demon Strike, and can you drop any hints as to what’s in the pipeline?
Many good ones coming; check out the latest releases for coming soon.
A French webmaster was impressed enough with the interview to do an extended one.