Mike: Just got back from spending a month with Jean-Claude van damme in Bangkok revising his script for "The Tower" which we should be shooting in Ukraine and the States next March, April and May.
Andrew: It's his story, then? Producing as well?
It's probably his last Martial Arts Movie...he's 50 years old next year and it is a little autobiographical...more like JCVD meets Bloodsport!
Jim told me the story about Van Damme auditioning for Kimmy Lim
Before my time the story. Baxime...but Mr. Lim told me the story. Apparently no producers were interested in Van Damme at that time!
His accent was too impenetrable, supposedly.
I'll see if I can get you and interview with JC...but he's s busy these days.
What brought you to the
That's a movie in itself! In a nutshell...I married a Filipina I met in the Middle East in the early 80s and we then moved to
As a struggling writer I continued to sell short stories to paperbacks, and also had some stage plays produced in the provinces...but never in
How did you land your first film gig?
A Filipino friend discovered by accident that I was a writer and introduced me to two local Movie Prodcers, Jesse Chua and Boy Agbayani. They asked me to write an Engliah script for them which they bought but never produced. That was around 20 years ago. That got me into the Filipino Movie circle and I was soon acting in local movies (I'd been a stage actor in the
I remember seeing Rom's name on Bobby's unproduced posters.
Rom did a lot of Italian and Local Movies here as the lead.
That was the Director Teddy Chua, whom I'd met through Boy Agbayani. Forgot to mention that a few days after meeting Jesse Chua and Boy Agbayani they invited me to the first day's shooting on their new Movie starring Rom Kristoff and entitled "Angel In The Dark", directed by Teddy Chua (maybe under a different name?) and that's where I met the other kwailos working in the movies here...James Gaines, etc. I ended up acting in that movie as a Goon called "Casey"! Actually I also played an extra (different disguises) in 5 other scenes!
Teddy Chua (who died last year in October) introduced me to Kimmy Lim as a writer about a year later. I did two scripts for Mr. Lim which were produced. One was an action thriller called "Tukso ng Panahon" whose English title was "Dangerous Passion" and the other was "Anino" (The Shadow) which was a lame rip-off of "The Mask of Zorro" (something I hate doing).
But the copycat industry dictated it must be done!
It was also Teddy who introduced me to several Hong Kong Directors, including Philip Ko and Ringo Lam. I always strive to be original...but of course we occasionally "pay homage" to other movies...ha ha!
I'm particularly interested in the early 90s, as it seems there's a spike in
Cynthia Khan was a lovely woman both as a human being and an actress. A very "gentlemanly" woman...if you know what I mean! And I think Teddy Chua was a prime mover in getting some of these productions over here. He would then act as the movie's production manager. He had a lot of experience and connections both here and in Hong Kong and
It almost feels like the HK guys took up the slack once the Americans and Europeans started to leave… Now, Philip Ko's English is rather limited - how did he organize his productions? Were they mainly local crews, with an AD who could speak both Cantonese and Tagalog?
Very professional. I worked with her on "Matira ang Matibay" (check the date and English title on imdb!). Apparently it was my original script that brought her into the project. Unfortunately, Philip Ko (one of the 3 directors on that project!) was never one for sticking to a script, so the resulting movie was a bit chop-sockey! Because Philip was doing one version for the Philippine market and another version for the Chinese market. We in fact were shooting two versions of the movie at the same time.
Philip's English at that time was very poor. He used a lot of sign language, references to American Movies and an interpreter named Louis Kantana, who was also an Actor here via
When you look at the timeline of Silver Star's productions, you come in at the tail end, when he's down to one or two a year, down from 5-6.
Yes. Kimmy Lim is now in his 80s I believe. He was getting old when I met him and he was slowing down...but still earning money from the movies he made thirty years ago. Like Bobby, I guess who still manages to resell his old movies even today. In the 1970s and 1980s the
Like you said, I arrived in the
Were Regal really interested in getting into the international market? They didn't make much in English, as I recall…
Mother Lily was scared of making international movies because she, like most of the local Producers (with the sole exception of Bobby Suarez) did not understand what was required for international movies, especially technically speaking. There were almost no Filipino writers, cinematographers, cameramen, editors or composers who really understood the needs of international Distributors and audiences.So Mother Lily wanted to stay in her comfort zone of producing local movies only for the local market. It's what she understood and was good at. To her, it was almost the same as selling sacks of rice.
Ought to mention that Mother Lily's husband and her son Dondon
From what Jim Gaines told me, Mother Lily had no interest in the action films - more comedies and teen romances.
Mother Lily was only interested in one aspect of a movie...the budget! Whenever I would present her with a 10-page proposal for a project, she would skip past the story pages, the actors, locations, etc. and go straight to the bottom line of the budget and say, "Too expensive!" End of meeting! For her, action was too expensive to shoot, which is why she stuck to comedies, dramas and romances. And to her credit, she knew exactly what local audiences wanted in terms of those limited genres. For her, action was too expensive to shoot, which is why she stuck to comedies, dramas and romances.
But other companies made a good go at the export trade. Cine Suerte, for instance, not to mention Cinex.
Yes, you're right. There were a handful of local companies concentrating on action movies, starring local action stars like Fernando Poe Jr., Bong Revilla, Ronnie Ricketts, etc.
So why the DRAMATIC drop around '89, '90? Surely it has something to do with the international market saturated with jungle action films and Platoon knockoffs?
Yours is a good point, Andrew, that maybe the market was tired of the Vietnam war movies being made here and re-hashes of lost treasure stories, but personally I don't think that is the real reason. Most local movie people attribute the collapse of the movie industry here to the upsurge in video/DVD piracy. I totally disagree with that simplistic opinion. In my humble opinion, there were two reasons for the collapse of the Philippine cinema. One was technical and the other was corruption.
Let's start with technical...
Okay, on the technical front, International Movie Distributors and audiences were becoming more demanding and sophisticated. Remember that in the early 1980s we already had stereo TV and as early as 1984, Philips in
So Pinoy-made action films were starting to look relatively threadbare and impoverished?
Audiences expected their movies to have live-sound (not dubbed), be in stereo (UltraStereo was the fad for B-movies back then), to be in widescreen, to have great soundtracks and (thanks to MTV) be fast-paced and tightly-edited. Local Producers and Directors just didn't keep up with the changing cinematic trends but instead kept churning out the same old low-tech fodder. The local post-houses also did not update their equipment. The international Distributors were just buying these products any more.
Going back to the technical aspect of local movies...When I, my American Producer and Bobby were recently talking about the remake of Cleopatra Wong...Bobby was quite surprised when we told him that he would have to shoot it differently to the way he used to shoot in the past. We gave him a list of demands that he had to meet such as shooting on super 35mm, always using two cameras, having live sound with a stereo soundtrack, with post-prod. done in
The other main reason for the collapse of the Philippine movie industry was local corruption. By the late 1980s, the
I think that because I was involved more with writing (and eventually directing...I've directed stage plays in the
[10 years ago] was around the time that Hiroshi Akanoma hanged himself in his apartment because of mounting debt and no movie deals. I live in the same building that Hiroshi lived in and was the first one to get to his body after his girlfriend found him. But he was already dead when I got there. hanged himself with his own underpants! Very sad...a really nice human being. I miss him a lot but his girlfriend is back here now after living in
This is Hiroshi of Rodeo Films? That's a very sad story. I'm not aware of the films he was producing for the Japanese market in the
I'm not sure of all the movies he produced here, but they were usually co-productions between Rodeo and various Japanese movie companies, usually with Japanese actors in the leads and the usual local kwailo crowd in support roles. Should be easy to check on imdb. The only title i can remember is one called "Double Barrel" with Mike Monty. Rom Kristoff (who introduced me to Akanoma) often played a key role in these movies.
Can we moves back into your films as scriptwriter? I'm fascinated in the series of video features you scripted in the late 90s directed by Teddy Chiu and Philip Ko for what looks like a Malay company? The Resort Murders, for instance.
That was all through Philip Ko, who was wheeling and dealing to get movies projects from all over
These are between '96 and '98 - where are the markets he's selling to at the time?
We often had a mixture of Chinese actors, Korean actors, Malaysian actors, Western actors...all speaking their own languages! Pure bedlam! But a great way to improve my writing skills. No writer's block on those movies!
Philip was trying to cover and sell to all the Asian markets. Some were shown theatrically in some countries, some only on TV and some direct-to-video.
Was there a Malaysian theatrical or direct-to-video market Philip was targeting?
I think most of them made money...for someone!
Not to the West, at this stage?
Philip's style meant that he could never really break into the mainstream and so his market was always "B". that also meant low-budgets, short shooting schedules...and lots of confusion. I was never in on the marketing schemes to most of these productions, so don't know much about their back-end deals. I'm sure some of them wound up on in Western video stores. Most of the post-production was done in the countries that financed them, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia...we just provided the raw footage. So I never saw the final cut of these movies...or even knew their release titles!
Do you remember the name of the company? I've found "HVD Entertainment" listed.
Yes...I think that was a Malaysian company. We never met the producers at all, just the actors. Philip released several of them under his "One Take" company in Hong Kong.
So you don't remember much about the individual films...
Sorry I can't be much more help. We shot around 9 movies back-to-back and I was writing, acting and Assistant Directing (with Teddy) on all them so it's all pretty much of a blur! And I usually had to baby-sit the actors that didn't speak Cantonese...you know, take them to restaurants, sight-seeing, etc. Whew!
Then there was Xtreme Warriors/Digital Man (2001), another Ko film with Yukari Ôshima aka Cynthia Luster. What do you remember about Yukari?
That was produced by a Hong Kong company and Solar Films here in the Philippines. I was always on-set for all of Philip's films, rewriting, acting and directing some scenes with Teddy. Cynthia Luster became a close friend for a while and she's another really professional actress with a great personality. She was actually recovering from a knee injury while shooting that movie, so it was pretty difficult for her...but she never complained. A real trouper I've actually got some behind-the-scenes video footage of that production. Haven't watched it in years since my video camera packed up. Be good if I could get it transferred to DVD and send it to you.
Wow! I'd love to see it!
Give some time to find it among my boxes of stuff!
So Solar were quite active securing overseas deals?
Yes, Solar had some movie connections in Hong Kong. The two brothers that run Solar (forget their names off the top of my head...will check later) were part Chinese. Again, I sold them two action scripts that Philip was slated to direct with Hong Kong actors and local actors. But they never reached production stage. God...if only all the scripts that I sold were produced, then my imdb credits would be longer that Steven Spielberg's!
Solar was the Tien Brothers? Wilson and...?
Right! I always dealt with Wilson. All our meetings were in a Chinese Restaurant! Filipino producers always have eating-meetings!
They love their abodo…Can we please talk about your association with Bobby A. Suarez?
I believe it was early in 1992 that I first met Bobby. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Spanish actor Rom Kristoff who took me to the Basfilm office in
It was a family-run company. His Wife Gene who was the company Secretary-Accountant was there along with his two sons Ritchie and John. It was a very warm and friendly atmosphere, so I immediate felt relaxed and at home.
Bobby also seemed to like me right off the bat, too. He told me later that I reminded him of the late Mr. Digby (don’t know his first name), the Boss of Rank Distributors here in the Philippines many years ago and the man who took the orphaned teenaged Bobby under his wing, gave him his first real job and thus introduced him to the international movie business. He became a father-figure to Bobby and made a great impression on his life and his future. Bobby calls us both “British Gentlemen”, which I appreciate. Although these days, Bobby and I call each “brother”, which is a term that signifies our closeness and our mutual respect. We also help one another out and our respective families whenever there is a problem, because his family and mine are more than just close friends.
Back to the first time we met in 1992...before long I was a regular visitor to Bobby’s modest office, working on movie storylines and scripts for him, as well as helping him write important international letters and other specialized documents for his company. I never asked for a salary, but Bobby always fed me and gave me travel money and little extras here and there for my daughter’s birthday, etc.
This close, unique professional and personal relationship has continued right up until the present day...almost 18 years now. But many of the Directors, Producers, Stuntmen, Production Crew and Actors that used to frequent Bobby’s doorstep have moved on like James Gaines, Maria Isabel Lopez, Rom Kristoff, Franco Guerrero, Nigel Hogge, or even passed on like Jim Moss, Teddy Chiu, Mike Monti, Steve Nicholson, Ken Metcalfe and Hiroshi Akanoma. Although Bobby and I have never actually yet worked on a project together, today, Bobby and I are still regularly in touch and I’m still helping him with Storylines and scripts on a regular basis.
As I think you know, Andrew, even though Bobby is now getting on in years (aren’t we all?) he would still dearly love to make a comeback to his first love of making movies. In our own modest way, I and an American Movie buddy Larry Cain (who has worked as a Cameraman, Steadicam operator and Technical Consultant on many Filipino movies and TV commercials) are trying to raise the funds so that Bobby can do a modern remake of either “Cleopatra Wong” or “one-Armed Executioner”. British action star Gary Daniels (who is a close friend of mine and Bobby’s) has shown an interest in starring in these projects out of his respect and gratitude to Bobby who helped Gary kick-start his Hollywood movie career by giving him producer contacts in Hollywood when Gary was in the Philippines (like Van Damme and others) hoping to get a role in the multitude of low-budget actioners being shot here in the 1970s and 1980s).
Let's go back to when Bobby first approached you with the idea of doing Vengeance... It's a title he'd had on the shelf since '77! How had it mutated by the time you came on board?
Actually, a few years ago (maybe four or five?), Bobby was approached by Bigfoot Entertainment, a movie production company and Movie School based in Cebu in the Philippines and founded by a German. He knew the old Cleopatra Wong Movie and wanted to use it as a starring vehicle for his Vietnamese girlfriend, model Bebe Pham and so approached Bobby about a remake co-production.
And then Bobby called you in? At what point did this happen?
Yes, Bobby asked me to work on a new "Cleopatra" script. Bobby and I work very well together as a writing team. Bobby has great cinematic ideas, so we met at my apartment in Ermita and Bobby explained his ideas and jotted them down on paper. I'm one of the few people who can understand his writing "shorthand" and I instantly understand where he's going with an idea. Then he left me alone for a few weeks to work on the first draft, sending me occasional e-mails with more ideas.
If Bobby has one flaw about his story-telling, it's that he forgets that today we have the Internet, cell-phones, GPS, etc., so I have to work those factors into the script. But yes, Bobby was "on fire" because like me, he is so passionate about his craft.
Bobby's ideas are usual "general" and not too specific, so I have to work on the characters and what makes them tick, as well as figuring out story elements such as a "ticking bomb" scenario, double-crosses, moments of pathos, etc. Stuff to provide the tension and audience interest in between the five or so set action sequences. And like Bobby, I hate loose ends and plot loopholes. We don't want an audience asking questions like, "Why did he do that instead of...?" when they should be just carried along by the movie!
I did five rewrites of that script until we were both happy with it. But Bobby does worry about some details...such as his leads' costumes and weapons. But like you say, Bobby just wants to "cut to the chase", and he has great ideas about new action angles, too!
Gary Daniels was lined up to play the male lead, with Doris Young (the original Cleopatra Wong) playing the "Mother" and with Bebe Pham as her daughter...the new Cleopatra Wong. The torch passed from the Mother to a new generation. The German executive producer, Michael Gleissner also had a role under his screen name of Ken Arden. Your readers can check out BigFoot's website at www.bigfoot.com.
But as you know, that movie eventually fell by the wayside. That was due to problems over the budget. Bobby really wanted to shoot the movie in and around
Michael Gleissner had a good reason for wanting the movie to be made at the Bigfoot studios, which I understand perfectly. He has a
How do you think Bobby would adapt to the new film world - new audiences, new technology, new markets?
Excellent question. To be honest, I don't think he realizes just how much movie-making has changed in the past 10-20 years. As I think I said before, even low-budget movies must now have live sound, better lighting, Dolby Soundtracks, fast-paced editing, a good soundtrack, be in widescreen and with great cinematography with 2 cameras. The stories must also embrace new technologies such as mobile phones, GPS, Bluetooth, the Internet, satellites, etc. In the small movies made in 1960s and 1970s, those criteria did not exist. For example, a page of script 20 years ago was always timed at 1-minute of screen time but today one page of script is reckoned at 45-50 seconds screen time.
With Michael Ironside in FORTUNES OF WAR
With Matt Salinger (Captain America)
With Jim Gaines in ANGEL IN THE DARK
With Jim Gaines in a Roger Corman movie
Me with Eddie Garcia
Me with Dolphy
Me with Christopher de Leon
THE HARDER THEY FALL press clipping
TO BE CONTINUED...