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Interview de Nathan Chukueke

Si nous aimons rire d'un certain cinéma déviant, nous sommes très loin de mépriser les hommes et les femmes qui s'y sont impliqués ou compromis. Il nous a ainsi paru enrichissant de faire raconter le nanar et son univers par les gens qui l'ont vécu de l'intérieur. La diversité des intervenants et de leurs réponses nous a rendu encore plus proches du cinéma que nous aimons : vous découvrirez, au fil des entretiens que ces différentes vedettes ont bien voulu nous accorder, des informations précieuses pour le cinéphile et le cinéphage, des anecdotes cocasses et, en esquisse, le portrait attachant de personnages souvent hauts en couleur.
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Nathan Chukueke


Movies like "Hitman the Cobra" are the reason why a website like Nanarland exists. In addition to our interviews with director Godfrey Ho, lead actor Richard Harrison and lead villain Mike Abbott, we have also interviewed Nathan Mutanda Chukueke, another actor from "Hitman the Cobra" who played the character "Blackie", one of Mike Abbott's henchmen. Nathan Chukueke was born on the 5th of August 1959, grew up in Brooklyn, and has been for many years an important member of the Northern Shaolin 7 Star Pray Mantis Association, based in New York. Nathan went to Hong Kong and Japan many times between 1984 and 1991 and, as the South-East Asian film industry offered some opportunities for Westerners, found himself working on the sets of some colourful features. Contacted by Nanarland's Spanish friend Jesus Manuel Perez Molina, Nathan kindly took the time to share some of his memories with us.

Interview menée par John Nada


To start with, could you tell us a bit about you and your life before you went to Asia?

I worked doing construction with a friend, Carden Taft, in New York City. I had also just finished paralegal school and was doing a little temp work. My practiced in 7 star mantis with my kung fu brothers took up a lot of my free time. My mother was a social worker. I stayed at her apartment when I did not have my own. My life was in general in flux, but good overall. In addition to my Gung fu practice, I also went to some acting and dance class (Jo Jo Smith) on a regular basis in Manhattan.


Nathan Chukueke posing with Chinese crew members on the set of "My Name ain't Suzie", a 1986 Shaw Brothers production which was a kind of Chinese answer to the American film called "The World of Suzie Wong"...

What led you to move to Hong Kong, and how did you then entered the movie world?

I went to Hong Kong to see it. But to also learn a particular weapons form, the Gan: it's like a cone shaped sword. I learned it from Lee Kam Wing who was my main teacher's younger classmate. My Chiu Leun did not like the idea of me learning from his younger classmate, but later forgave me for that transgression. Chiu Leun even went on to try and make the communications stronger between the various sects under our grandmaster Chiu Chi Man.

When I got to Hong Kong for the first time, back in 1984 or 85, I stayed in a mid level hotel, until I realized Kowloon side and Chung King Mansion on 2nd block Nathan road was much cheaper and better for social networking, we called it "hanging up" back then. Hong Kong movie agents, casting directors, and other travelers would come to the Garden hostel, looking for extras, young girls mostly. One of the times they found me. They needed a black sailor for some club scene on Hong Kong Island.

After doing that type of work as an extra, I let it be known I did martial arts, but most of the roles I got consisted in shooting guns in some war, gang, or bodyguard scene. You have to understand I was in Hong Kong in and on over five times in maybe seven years.

During the 80's, it seems there were good opportunities for White or Black Westerners to appear in movies in HK and in other Asian countries, which film industries were then flourishing. How many films have you been working on?

I don't even remember how many movies I was in, actually. As an extra maybe eight. Then as a so called action actor perhaps I was in five. All of these movies were done over a span of seven years at least. There was a lot of work at first, it was easy to get, but each time I came back to Hong Kong it got harder and required more searching around.

At one time I got an agent who was a Hung Gar teacher and movie actor himself. Good gung fu but so so agent. His name was Chiu Chi Ling, he was that actor in the funny parody kung fu movie where the guy gets hit into the sky then hit the toad style guy with a big hand print strike from the sky. While my agent was the Hung gar who played his role a little gay I think, funny stuff.


Chiu Chi Ling in Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle".

Anyway, as work got harder to get in Hong Kong, I decided to train more over the next few trips and not hang out so much, so I joined Eddie Maher's gym. That gym was popular with a lot of us action actors, from both the East and the West. Bolo Yeung from "Enter the Dragon" went there, he is not a friendly guy at first, but serious about his training. Donnie Yen from Boston went there also, and some guys from Jacky Chan's stunt team sometimes. Eddy was one really cool guy for the record. That gym had a workout area where some friendly sparing went on at times, but mostly stunt practice. The gym was also on Kowloon side, so it was easy to get to practice. I also found work by training and hanging out afterward with those guys.


Eddie Maher, an HK actor from Macau of Chinese and Portuguese descent, remained an undefeated full contact champion for nearly 10 years. His gym center in Energy Plaza was famous indeed, and used in several films, such as "Magic Cop" or "Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon" for instance. Among other famous people who used to train there, we could mention the names of Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh, Sammo Hung, Dick Wei...

My best conversations there at the gym were with Jeffrey Falcon, an interesting action actor who knows a lot about Northern Mantis, outside of his vast modern Wu Shu knowledge (in fact he was a very dynamic gung fu player, with LOTS of skills beyond the Wu Shu that he was known for doing). He spoke Chinese mandarin very well, and was one of the few that got accepted by the film companies directly. Some people did not get along with him, but I thought he was OK. He was out of my league in terms of getting movie roles, so I never got to work with him on any productions. I guess Jeff, Donnie, Anthony and Bruce Fontaine were in the A league and I was in the minors in terms of movie martial performance skills.


Jeffrey Falcon in "Prince of the Sun", co-starring Cynthia Rothrock.

You notably worked with director Godfrey Ho and producer Joseph Lai (IFD) on at least one film, entitled "Hitman the Cobra". What are your memories of this movie and of Godfrey Ho? Would you have any anecdotes from the shooting, about the working methods for instance? How much did you got paid on that film?

I don't really remember much about Godfrey Ho to think of it. He seemed like a nice enough guy. In fact I don't remember much about that movie other than it was a hell of a lot of fun. I think they took us out in an area known as the New Territories, which is sort of like going to some hot country back woods area in New York state. It was like playing soldiers, but serious. All I had to do to get into character was remember my days in the old neighbourhood in Brooklyn. Heck shooting gun and not getting in trouble.

We did not get paid much at all, really, because on that movie we were not getting paid as actors, but as extras. We got paid in Hong Kong dollars cash, and I'm pretty sure it was less than one hundred US dollars a day, so the money did not last long, but it helped with paying for one's bed in the hostel. Hell, I had fun, it was a safer way to make money other than some of the other things we could do for money...


"Blackie" (Nathan Chukueke) and his evil mates in "Hitman the Cobra", this time in a place known as Devil's peak, which is located in a hill in Yau Tong district. This place was used in many IFD / Filmark productions, such as "Black Ninja" or "Ninja Terminator".

On Hitman the Cobra, there were also an American actor (the lead good guy) named Richard Harrison and an Englishman who's name was Mike Abbott (the main villain). Do you remember them?

I don't remember them by name but if I were to meet them again, I am sure some of them would come back.

On those IFD & Filmark productions, Westerners were usually employed to make the film look like an American made production. Most of the Western faces you see in these films were tourists, students or backpackers from Chungking Mansion with no experience in acting or fighting. It seems you, at least, had some genuine experience in martial arts...

I have been doing Southern then Northern styles of gung fu off and on, since maybe 1974. I started in karate with notable Claude Battle and William Oliver in a community centre on my block in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I have had many teachers since then (Sifu Chan of Hung Kuen, Dickson Lee of long fist, Sifu Su of Northern Mantis, Sifu Chan Tai San of Lama, Sifu Chiu Leun of 7 Star Mantis, my main teacher then, a little with Lee Kam Wing in HK, of the same system, not to mention lots of stuff from gung fu brothers and other gung fu artists in Hong Kong and New York), but 7 star mantis is my main style these days. I have never been famous, just another name in the crowd. My friends and I are known for martial research if anything really. I help maintain my last teacher's organization. Our website is www.chiuleun.com.


Nathan Chukueke (on top left) and his pals from the New York-based Northern Shaolin 7 Star Pray Mantis Association.


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