The Australian connection

Brent Houghton was interviewed alongside Mike Lambert by Tom Mes for a 1998 article called The Hong Kong Connection. Both men were interviewed because they had just been in Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? Unlike Mike, Brent did more than be in front of the camera. He was also employed as a set decorator. Tom’s H.K. site was shut down for good and for so long. Mike said nothing new, so I left in Brent’s words from what I archived…

Brent said: I did Iron Fist, a really low-budget Australian martial arts movie with Richard Norton. For six months, I worked on it for free. Straight after that, I worked on this really crappy kids show for about a month. When that was finishing, Jackie Chan’s First Strike was just starting and some of the crew were going on to it. I just called the right person at the right time and they were looking for someone. I got this props buyer’s job and sort of got on really well with the props master. They came back to Australia for the next film (Mr. Nice Guy), and called me again. Then when I did the Jet Li film in Texas (Once Upon a Time in China and America), they couldn’t find a local crew who would work hard enough, fast enough, do what they asked, and when they asked it, rather than stand around to question everything. So they asked me to come over there, which was good. So I’ve been pretty lucky.

I’ve learned a lot in terms of…for instance – stunt rigging, how they make stuff safe for stunts. I had no idea how much padding they put into it. They have padded floors. They might have tables and put padding all the way around before spraying it the same color. On screen, you see these really hard falls, and you think – “Wow, didn’t that hurt?” But they pad it more than you think. None of the H.K. films that I’ve worked on were really low-budget, but I’ll really know some great tricks to use when I go back to making low-budget films. When I was at film school, I realized that a martial arts film hadn’t been done in Australia since The Man From Hong Kong with Jimmy Wang Yu. So I decided to do that with The Huntsman, and it was the best fun that I ever had making a film. It turned out well. Some of the fight stuff turned out better than I had expected.

I’ve tried sending it to Jackie and I got a letter back from his fan club, saying Thank you for your interest. Some of the places, that I sent it to, would send my tape back like three months later, or a year later. I got one back two years later, the one I sent to Tsui Hark. I sent one to John Woo in America. He sent me a letter back, his assistant called me and all sorts of stuff. So that was really cool. Then I just got really lucky working on two Jackie films and two Sammo Hung films. The films that I’ve done have been a good series of events with the right people. There are still a few other people who I’d like to work with, but I’m seeing what I want to see before going back to do my own thing. So this is like an education to really become a feature director.

With David No, Brent had a production company called Furious Films. You can find more old photos such as the one above from David’s Flickr account. Here are some HK-related things which were posted in the news section of their defunct site…

February 14, 2000: We caught up with a friend of ours (who also happens to be Sammo Hung’s personal assistant – Hey Joey) as well as action director and SFX guru Steve Wang. This guy has made some pretty cool stuff including Guyver: Dark Hero, and Drive (starring Mark Dacascos). Check out his site. We visited Sammo Hung on the set of Martial Law, which was shooting right next to Charlie’s Angels (Drew Barrymore/Cameron Diaz). It was cool to see that the shooting process is no different to what happens in Australia, and most of the stunt guys are no better or worse – there is just more of them! Driving on the wrong side of the road is always fun, but driving on the wrong side of the road in the rain at night with no map and no idea where your going is just plain stupid, well we’d hate to let our country down.

Wednesday, February 23, 2000: American Film Market started. The entire Loews Hotel (all 8 floors) in Santa Monica was filled with people who were trying to sell films, and those people out to buy them. Each room would be decked out in posters (from that company) and many would have a television and video player. Cinemas around Santa Monica were also filled with screenings of AFM product. AFM and the meeting around it highlighted a lot of interesting points. Firstly, there are a lot of people who want a name attachment, otherwise they won’t even listen to you. The majority of the movies made in America are either ultra low budget (under US$2m), or big-budget (US$20m) – very few fall in the US$3-6mil category.

So in this way, its not much different to Australia. But for the most part, US films visually represent their budget or look cheaper than they really are. Very few actually look more expensive than they actually are. A lot of companies will assume they know everything about all films. This is a problem when they don’t understand action films, and lump them all into one basket. The companies which gave us the time to tell our story were all genuinely interested. One guy who was really interesting to talk to was John Cheung – he’s the guy in Dragon that fights Jason Scott-Lee (“I beat him once – I beat him again!”). He’s just finished his own film called Treasure Hunt.

There were a lot of pretenders at AFM – you know people who were pretending to be more important or more experienced or more famous than they really were. The obvious ones are really funny to watch, but I guess its the ones you don’t detect that are the worry. We also received invitations to the Media-Asia Mellenium Party, the Summit Entertainment Party and the Ausfilm Party. There were a lot of action-type people at the MediaAsia party, who were promoting there new film 2000 A.D. Michelle Yeoh was also there as Media Asia announced a three picture deal for Michelle as Producer.

Notable action dudes included Richard Norton, Gary Daniels, Koichi Sakamoto (stunt co-ordinator – Drive, Guyver, Power Rangers), Steve Wang (Director), Fred Weintraub, Andy Cheng (one of Jackie’s stunties), Bey Logan (Media Asia & Impact Magazine) and others. What was surprising to Brent and myself was how many people knew who we were. We had dudes coming up to us – and all from pirate copies of The Huntsman and the magazine articles which have circulated around the world.

March 3, 2000: Barbi Taylor who has been producing in Australia for over past 20 years and who line produced First Strike and Mr Nice Guy for Jackie Chan has come on board the project.

April 13, 2000: Barbi Taylor leaves for Hong Kong and China today as apart of an Australian Film business delegation. We wish her a safe return.

February 20, 2001: David becomes Invincible! David has been cast in the upcoming telemovie (movie of the week) The Invincibles. This movie is being produced by Lynda House (Proof, Muriel’s Wedding) for Icon and Exec Produced by Mel Gibson, Jet Li and Atlantis Alliance. The main cast is Billy Zane (Titanic, Dead Calm) and David Field (Two Hands, Chopper) – David No plays The Vane Shadowman. The cast consists of Billy and the four Invincibles (Water, Metal, Fire and Air) who face off against David Field and the four Shadowmen (Vane, Self-Pity/instant rage, dark-void and madman) in a battle to either save or destroy the world.

September 25, 2001: Matrix 2: Matrix Reloaded. David No has accepted a role on the much anticipated Matrix sequels. After filming for several months in San Francisco, the Matrix sequels have relocated to where it all began: Sydney Australia.

November 6, 2001: Tragedy struck today when David ruptured his lateral collateral ligament in his knee during filming of one of the many wire stunt on Matrix 2. It was fortunate that it occurred towards the end of David’s involvement in the scene, and so David was able to strap it and complete a couple of extra stunts, before wrapping for the day. MRI scans have confirmed the rupture and surgery is a possibility at this stage. As far as Matrix goes, David’s knee should be well recovered by the time his character is required next year for Matrix 3: Revolution.

March 15, 2002: David has just returned from Bangkok after Line Producing a Television Commercial (TVC) starring Jackie Chan. An Australian company (BaseCamp Productions) went over to Thailand after the shoot was moved to Bangkok due to Chan’s shooting commitments on his latest project, Highbinders (an Irish-Hong Kong co-production). The product was ENTRAC: a car navigational system, and the TVC was for Korea. Car stunts, Fight scenes and explosions were the order of the day – most of which was staged on one of Bangkok’s busiest bridges, the RAMA 3. The core creative team also included Australian DP Karl Von Moller and acclaimed Korean Director Cha Eun-Taek.

In July 2000, there was an article by Melissa Dark called “Furious Filmmakers” which I have truncated so that it is HK-themed…

With the world singing Australia’s praises for its expertise on films such as The Matrix and M-I:2, you would think that an Australian-written, Australian-made action film would be just around the corner. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to aspiring action filmmaker David No. No and partner Brent Houghton make up Furious Films, the team behind the cult short film The Huntsman, a 1993 VCA project which made its way around the world and became an underground hit, via the Internet and coverage in action movie magazines.

“Alright, we want to make a big film for five million dollars. But, I don’t see it as making a film for five million, I see it as making a thirty million dollar film for five million. Because the way Brent and I make films … our talents lie in combining frenetic Hong Kong action and the big budget Hollywood look for a fraction of the cost. I’ve got a bit of a gripe about it,” he laughs wryly. Talking with No, you are immediately infected with his passion and enthusiasm to get the project off the ground. The other message he gives loud and clear is his frustration towards an industry that he sees as too safe and insular.

Despite the world-wide popularity of action and martial arts films, No says the frustrating aspect of many of the funding knock-backs they receive is that they are based on old-fashioned views of the action genre. “We talked to a prominent distributor recently and they said, ‘It’s a Kung Fu flick and it’s too hard to sell.’ And I thought, no one makes Kung Fu flicks anymore! I mean Kung Fu flicks were made in the seventies and if you think this is a Kung Fu flick, then what’s Mission Impossible? What’s The Matrix? Twenty years ago, we had martial arts movies and we had action movies; you had fights in one and you had car chases and explosions in the other. Today, everyone has everything. Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, they do martial arts in their films. Jackie Chan has car chases and explosions – you just can’t stick to one element.

“I’m getting really annoyed at people saying that it’s hard to sell. We had another meeting just recently with some people that hopefully want to make a movie with us in the Philippines. And one of the things they said is that action will always sell. You can make bad action and you can make a profit, you know? This Hong Kong influence is just coming through Hollywood now. Lethal Weapon 4 had Jet Li in it and Jackie Chan’s now popular in America. In a way we’ve got a head start on Hollywood. It’s flavour of the month at the moment, this kind of action but you watch the Hollywood people and they don’t quite get it. Like Wesley Snipes made Blade, he tried to get that Hong Kong-style happening there, but he just didn’t get it. The last Jet Li movie Romeo Must Die, well, some of the action’s alright but it’s nothing like the action that he can do if he had his Hong Kong crew making it in Hong Kong.”


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