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Bruce Baron

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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Bruce Baron (page 3)


We apologize for insisting on the embarrassing « Godfrey Ho's ninjas » episode, but we'd like to know more about the methods of these producers. Who appeared to be the real “brain” behind those ninja scam operations : Godfrey Ho or Joseph Lai? Did Godfrey Ho give you any kind of script to work with? How was he on the set? When did you realize what was going on? Did Godfrey Ho give you real dialogue to work with or did you and the other actors more or less improvised on the set? Did you dub yourself for the English version?

I don't mind. Those guys deserve to be reviled and exposed for the unreconstructed hacks they were [are]. All the Whore and Lie [Ho and Lai] footage I was in was shot within a single 3 week period, on stolen locations in HK [mostly in Kowloon Park, 5 min. walking distance from their now burnt out office]. We would work out a fight choreography, put on a ninja costume and shoot it, then rotate the camera 45 degrees to change the background, change to a different colour costume and shoot the same choreography again. Then rotate the camera again 45 degrees, change costume to a 3rd colour and shoot the same choreography again. 4 times for every choreography, once at every point of the compass, in a different colour costume. I think this was the original reason for such bright colour ninja costumes, so it looked completely different when cut into different [or the same] films [and I am not sure they even bothered to cut them into different stock and old footage]. Sometimes they used the same old stock, and just gave them different titles, packaged them in different box covers and resold them as new films, year after year. Most annoying though, is they did this while maintaining the pretension that they intended to make half way decent kung fu films. I don't think there were any real ‘brains' between the two. They surely never made any real money. They were both just small time exploitative opportunists who were not capable of [or were just too lazy to do] better. The crews were among the roughest and most dangerous I have ever had the ill fortune to work with, with a lot of low level triad thugs moonlighting as grips.

There was no script I ever saw, except for the obligatory character intro scenes, which were in broken English and delivered on the day, written in longhand on a single page. That resulted in some improvisation, because of the broken English, but they were not shooting SoF, not even a guide track, so who knows what they had the dubbing guys read into the loops [?]… I was not invited to do any dubbing [which in HK is a whole other thing with set ‘pro' crews who are paid weekly to do dubbing by the studios they work at]. I wouldn't be surprised if they used the same dialogue scenes over and over with different dubbed dialogue, so they could put it in different films.

I realized part of what was going on when they called a wrap, 3 weeks into shooting. I had expected that we would be working for at least 3 months, instead of 3 weeks, since I was contracted for 4 titles and was paid a weekly rate. When we finished so quickly, I asked how it was possible, since we had so little footage in the can. Then Ho explained his ‘method'. It was at that point that I offered to take a 50% cut in pay if he wouldn't use my name. It wasn't until years later that I found out approximately how many titles they would release incorporating parts of the footage, again and again. It was an especially bad rip off, because I had negotiated the weekly rate cheaper than normal because I thought [and they negotiated on the basis] that I was going to get at least 12 weeks of work instead of 3. It is hard to say without buying and watching their complete library, but I think they eventually released 10 or 12 titles crediting me as the lead, using parts of that footage interspersed with stock and remnants pirated from other productions.

As an aside : I have my own theory about one of the reasons why the continuity in these [and even the Kinavesa films] was consistently so bad, which you may find amusing. None of these Chinese producers ever spoke any but the most rudimentary English. When they went to see real Hollywood action adventure films, I think they never really understood the plot twists because they couldn't understand the dialogue. So they ascribed their own lack of understanding of the plot twists to [what they felt must be] continuity problems in the Hollywood flick's plot or script, and they perceived it as some kind of artistic style or licence being exercised by the Hollywood film makers [thus they thought it was actually stylish and artistic to have continuity and script inconsistency problems in their films]… I believe this because I tried many times to have them shoot a little scene of a telephone conversation to some OS character, that would explain some glaring script inconsistency, and was always told “no, we don't need it, it would hurt the pacing”.

The producers of these films were often anonymous, or hiding behind pseudonyms. The burning of the Filmark / IFD studios and the mysterious death of the person known as Tomas Tang (apparently, that name was used by several people, including Ho himself...) seem to indicate that Ho's business had a more sinister side than we guessed. Did you have any suspicion about this, and do you know anything about the “Tomas Tang” case?

The Filmark / IFD ‘studios' was a dirty little office with cubicles and a cutting room on the 7th floor of a cheap old high rise on Nathan road in Kowloon. It was less than 500 sq. feet total space. We shot the ‘plot intro' scenes in it. I know about the fire in that building, because I was in HK when it happened. It was a really bad fire. Many people died. The fire started in the bottom of an elevator shaft where there were workmen doing repairs. It spread quickly up the shaft, often skipping floors, because they had wedged the doors open on different floors, for ventilation.

Most of the deaths were on the 2nd , 3rd and top 4 floors of the building. I do not know if anyone was listed as dead on their floor. However, I would not be surprised at all if Ho or Lai tried to profit through some sort of fraudulent insurance claim using the fire as a pretext. I find it infinitely more likely they might try to claim one of their own aliases as a dead employee, to make a fraudulent insurance or compensation claim, than that they had anything directly to do with the starting of the fire, which was extensively investigated by the authorities, and reported on in depth in local papers and TV.

Could you briefly elaborate about the other Caucasian actors you worked with in HK : Stuart Smith, Pierre Tremblay, etc? Were they professional actors? Were they aware of what was going on and did they take their acting jobs seriously? Have you kept in touch with any of them? We heard that Pierre Tremblay was from Québec and became a music producer there, do you know if that is true? We also heard Stuart Smith came from Australia, is that correct?

Don't know them, really [not that I remember, anyway]. I got the impression they were just passing through HK. I think I met Stuart Smith once, and probably Tremblay, when I killed them both three or four times in one day [I think they played parts in one of the fight scenes during my IFD experience]. I'm pretty sure they weren't professional actors, though they may have been serious about martial arts [unlike me]. Not that it means much, but I never saw them on any other productions and I'm pretty sure they were earning less than US$50/day as IFD extras [and, if IFD was the only producer they ever worked for, how could they possibly take it seriously without being completely self delusional?]. They may have become lionized, or made famous, more by [yours and] these completely silly Ninja / Kung Fu movie websites, rather than by anything else, much in the same way I appear to have been [I really was quite flabbergasted to discover last year (on the internet) that anyone knew (or cared a damn) about my silly film ‘career', even as a joke].

How were you hired for « Overdose »? What are your memories of that film, of director Jean-Marie Pallardy and of your co-stars Gordon Mitchell and Laura Albert? You apparently speak French to some degree, and your character speaks in the French version with a heavy accent, did you dub yourself?

I was in Brussels winter 88-89, supposedly to do inserts, pick-ups and re-shoots for my last film, Cruel Horizon [produced and directed by Guy Lee Thys, who is one of the very few personalities from my film career with whom I am still in regular contact]. We were continuously having problems with the financing of the film, and I ended up having to spend the whole winter in Belgium. Guy got me the job with Pallardy to help convince me to stay in all winter for just room and board, but without pay, and to get us all sent off to the Costa del Sol in January [where it snowed for the first time in 15 years]. I remember Gordon Mitchell as a fading icon with an enormous head, and a striking profile, playing the ‘godfather' role. Laura Albert I assume was the American girl who played the female lead [?] She was a young bimbo L.A. who thought she had hit the big time. She didn't talk to lowly bit players such as me. I don't think she even knew I spoke English. Otherwise it was a pretty typical crew. A gang of alcoholic Spanish electros and grips [drinking Armagnac at 5a.m.], a gang of star struck French stagieres, working for nothing, and a few old pros [the 1st AD, the sound guy, and the set dresser, and parts of the cast]. I didn't realize Pallardy had such a rep until I read your review of him. He seemed OK to me. The script was obviously exploitative crap, but at least there was one, and a copy in English too! I didn't care. It was a decent hotel, good Spanish food, great sherry, and cheap hash from Algeceiras [a paid vacation in the south of Spain]. I think I shot my part SoF in French [can't really remember]. I didn't dub it. I often speak French with an exaggerated American accent, just to annoy French men, and because French girls seem to like it [the same way American girls like to hear Frenchmen speak English with a strong French accent]. I know Pallardy was amused by my French, so he might have had someone dub it that way on purpose. He at least has a sense of humour and didn't take himself too seriously, as I remember.

You played a part in « Dallas ». How did you find yourself hired on that shoot? That series allowed you to join the Screen Actor Guild. Did you work so little in your country of origin because of a deliberate choice, or for lack of opportunity?

I got hired for that shoot because I was basically the house stunt actor at Salon Films in HK during that period. Salon was the Panavision agent in HK / P.I / Thailand, so they did all the HK shoots that used Panavision. They did a lot of commercial work and I got hired whenever they needed somebody to do a stunt or wear a funky costume in a commercial, and I did a ton of work with them [my face was by then too over exposed to do most straight commercial work for HK TV, but I was friends with the House directors and crew]. They called me to the casting, and I could fake a Texas accent, and it was a union shoot, and I had got enough lines to qualify to join SAG [to join you need to have performed a minimum number of lines of spoken dialogue in a single Union shoot, and in most cases they will not hire a non member for those roles unless forced by circumstance].

SAG Union shoots are very rare in HK [or anywhere else except USA]. That one just happened to be, so it allowed me to qualify to join SAG. It was the only opportunity I ever had in Asia. I never got an opportunity to shoot a single day of work under Union rules, and never actually joined.

The shooting of « Cruel horizon » was apparently a troubled one and you had to direct part of it. Could you tell us a bit more about this cursed film?

The film was eventually sponsored by the Belgian Ministry of Culture. I met the producer / director, Guy Lee Thys, at a reception in the Belgian Embassy in Manila in ‘84, when I was dragged along there by a Filipino chick I was going out with, who was paid to appear as a model at a fashion show that they had at the reception. Guy was in Manila, scouting locations for the film and trying to get laid. We hit it off and I started hanging out with him, introducing him to the local glitterati and generally misbehaving Manila style, pre- AIDS. About a year later ['85] he got enough sponsorship to shoot a few scenes, mostly from Stella Artois®, which he intended to string together as a ‘trailer' to use as a promo to get full sponsorship. He cast me in the lead and cast the other major roles with Filipino locals, including one chick named Jesse Elmido, [a newcomer] as female lead, who happened to be the best looking chick that he managed to screw during his previous sojourn [he eventually married her and lived to regret it, but that is another story]. Anyway we shot for about 10 days, using my famous Roxas Blvd. pad as the production office and interiors set.

Then he disappeared back to Europe to find the money, and didn't turn up again until fall of 1988, when we shot 45 days of principal photography, mostly along the Batangas coast. By this time he was living with Jesse and devastatingly drunk most of the time. She actually encouraged his drinking because it made him easier for her to ‘manage' him. More than once he had to go sleep it off in the middle of the day, and that meant somebody had to take over, or we lost the day. One love scene he didn't want to direct because Jesse was nude in bed with me and the script called for me to play with her tits. He got jealous and drunk and passed out. It was in the studio and we were set up and we had to do it, so I just called sound and action and we did it. That was how it started, I think. The precious little Belgian A.D. was too wrapped up in his own little job and unwilling to accept responsibility, so I did. Surely the film suffered for it in a few scenes, because I had no direction, and was not up to the task of acting and directing at the same time. It only happened a few times.

It wasn't a simple film. It was a documentary / drama set in Thailand about Vietnamese refugees being forced into white slavery in Thailand, loosely based on news clippings and other reports of horror stories from Thailand, shot SoF and 35mm, with a full imported Belgian crew. Eventually, we wrapped and he took it off to Belgium for post. Turned out we needed a few more scenes, which we didn't get to shoot until the winter of '89 in Belgium. When released, it had a few days of theatrical release in Belgium and went straight to video. Thus ended my illustrious film career.


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