I love Hong Kong cinema. So I was intrigued to hear that the latest Donnie Yen flick, Kung Fu Killer, is director Teddy Chen’s tribute to kung fu movies from the ex-colony, and features cameos by producers, directors, actors, and martial arts legends throughout. Fans like me are used to tear-jerking sentiment mixed in with our bone-crushing action, but the star-studded montage that follows the climactic 10-minute showdown amidst speeding traffic is guaranteed to generate a manly tear or two among the hardest core followers.
Chen has been a producer, writer, director, and actor in Hong Kong movies for almost 40 years now. I remember seeing action flicks that he wrote and/or directed (Crime Story, Black Mask, Downtown Torpedoes) in Chinese theaters around the SGV, followed up by the award-winning “Going Home” segment for Three. Bodyguards & Assassins seemed to unite Chen’s love of action and artistic sensibilities, paving the way for his dream project dedicated to the genre.
On the eve of Kung Fu Killer‘s U.S. release on April 24th, I briefly chatted with Chen via Skype about the movie, the job, and Godzilla.
Kung Fu Killer was a lot of fun to preview online, but I can’t wait to see it on a big screen with a crowd. Do you like to watch your movies with audiences when you’re at a screening or do you duck out and get a drink while your movie is being shown?
I watch together, especially with foreign audiences like the white people or black people. They love kung fu films! The world premiere was in London, and I loved it that when they got so excited that they would yell.
You’re on a roll with Bodyguards & Assassins and now this. Is filmmaking more fun than ever or does it become more stressful when the stakes are higher?
No matter how big the budget is, every time my name shows up onscreen I get nervous. You know what? Every time I make a movie that it’s like my first one and it could be my last one.
So it’s always stressful.
Haha, it’s not a job for humans.
Tell me about Kung Fu Killer being a tribute to Hong Kong kung fu movies.
Actually, next year will be my fortieth year in this business. I started out on script continuity, was an assistant director and then a production manager, and I worked on many great action films with great action director. I’ve seen many behind-the-scenes people get hurt. In one of my films, someone was accidentally killed in an explosion scene. These heroes contribute so much, but nobody knows them. So I told myself that one day if I make an action film about kung fu, I have to say something about them to pay respect.
Was it difficult to involve all those people from the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry?
They knew why I asked them to come. And they all wanted to pay their respects to people who work behind the scenes and came without asking how much they would get paid. I appreciate all that they did because it was from the heart.
You’ve written, directed, produced, and acted–what’s your favorite thing to do?
I’ve had many positions in the film industry, so I know what to do when I direct. Sometimes, you have to be like a parent. You have to know how people feel, and not just give orders. You have to be a friend, you have to be like family. You have to know what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling, and then they will be crazy enough to do what you want.
So all those other experiences have helped you become a better director.
They help me be a more understanding director–not a guy that yells and gives orders at the crew.
Have you always wanted to make movies every since you were a little kid?
Actually, I had a very unhappy childhood. My parents always argued and fought and every time that happened, I’d go hide in the cinema. Usually, I’d watch fantasy films with monsters and superheroes and that would make me happy. When I’d leave, I was a new, happy person. So I told myself that one day when I grew up, it would be my job to be a filmmaker. I didn’t think about being a director at that time because I was just a teenager. So after school and college, I was an actor just to be in the business.
What changed your mind and made you think you could direct?
I don’t know. Braveness and guts.
Yeah! Those types of films. The monsters looked funny and we had them as toys. They made me excited and those are all I remember.
You haven’t made a monster movie yet.
I want to stick to the realistic realm. Every time I make a film, I tell myself that the story should be able to happen in any part of the world. Like Kung Fu Killer could be Boxer Killer in the States or Karate Killer in Japan. My movies should be easy to understand so they can travel to Africa, the Middle East, or wherever.
Which title to you like more: Kung Fu Killer or Kung Fu Jungle? I think the original title sounds cool like an old women in prison movie.
The distributor thought Kung Fu Jungle was not powerful enough. Actually, I like Kung Fu Killer.
Well, there’s definitely a kung fu killer in the movie and it’s the bad guy. Wang Baoqiang is a badass, and what an awesome actor, too.
He was in the Shaolin Temple when he was 13!
Those fight scenes with him and Donnie Yen are going to so much fun to watch on a big screen.
Well, I hope the American audiences love watching the film in the theater.
I’m excited to to see it with a bunch of ABCs and Chinese people in the San Gabriel Valley. I think they’ll freak out.
Haha, they might download it on their computer…
Look up locations and times of Kung Fu Killer screenings at wellgousa.com, find another tidbit I wrote about the movie at the626.com, and seeya at an Atlantic Times Square screening sooner than later.