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Don Gordon Bell

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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Don Gordon Bell (page 3)

Romano Kristoff, who played the main bad guy in "Bruce's Fists of Vengeance", is one of the few recurrent Western actors of that era we failed so far to get in touch with. We know he was Spanish, ex Légion Etrangère and well appreciated by everybody, including Richard Harrison who "tried to get Romano to leave Manila as he had looks and talents, but the life there seemed to be to his liking". As you were apparently his closest friend, could you tell us more about him?

Romano was more like a brother to me for many years. We shared an apartment in Makati for three years, studied with Sensei Bob Campbell, and partied at all the best parties of the rich and famous in Manila. Bob's business partner was the only son of President Marcos, BongBong, and I knew his sister Irene, but especially Imee, who was a great theater actress.

The women loved Romano. Sometimes I would go to a party and arrive before Romano, and beautiful babes would mistake me for him. He and I both had scars on our foreheads, but I was nothing compared to him in look! Romano was an "Alain Delon" type guy and I was just a regular guy who had to look and be tough. Perhaps the ladies really knew? Anyway, some beauties would slap me and chid me for not calling them, then kiss me passionately, begging me "Roman... please call me". I tried to tell them that I was NOT Romano, but what the hell, I just enjoyed it. Later, when Romano would finally arrive at the party, he would see me and say, "I don't get it, no one says hello to me tonight?", then I would tell him that everyone had already greeted ME and he would laugh.

Romano Kristoff, Carla Reynolds & Don Gordon Bell.

Romano was the most likable guy to everybody. If you respected him, he was your best friend. Actually, Romano seemed a happy-go-lucky type of guy, but I have seen him change if one of his friends was in trouble. I was also a happy-go-lucky guy, but when trouble came I was the one who was 'growling lika bulldog' Romano would tell me. Many a time he cooled me down, because I was a hotheaded person who would shout in rage and challenge anyone to a fight. I was the loud, cocky type, I puffed up cursing in fury, 'got in their face' and dared them to fight. I was known as Crazy Don for several reasons. Romano could stop trouble just by his cool presence, one look from his intense eyes usually made even drunks have second thoughts. When Romano looked at someone with a serious look, THEY looked away and backed off. He was cool, but I have no doubts that he led a dangerous life in La Légion Etrangère (French Foreign Legion). A few times he and I ran into some trouble, but he and I knew each other so well we wiped out several leaders, and the rest took off. In a serious real street fight you would want Romano at your back or fighting side by side.

We did talk sometimes about my experiences in Vietnam or his in Africa with La Légion Etrangère. He knew that I loved the military history and told me that "Legio Patria Nostra" meant that "The Legion is our home". We shared stories of the valor of the US Marine Corps and La Légion Etrangère whose "Esprit de Corps" represents such brotherhood. I learned of Camerone, Mexico where in 1863 a company of 62 men held out against overwhelming odds without surrender. Sharing famous battles of both our elite forces helped to create a bond between us. I know that Romano, after several years, served in the most Elite Honor Guard unit.

In his time Romano was ready to try Europe, but he knew that he needed more experience. As much as he would try, most local producers would not give him a chance. Romano had to depend on Mr. Lim of Kinavesa for that chance. When I left in late 1985 I was certain that he would go to the next level, because he was one of several who had potential to 'go all the way'. He had great ability and potential with his looks for romantic leads and experience in combat for action. His accent was strong at first, so we worked on his English language skills. He would say curse words with a very funny accent, but with a former US Marine like me teaching him, he was soon cussing like an American. He and I would watch many films and discuss the actors, actresses, director's abilities, just about everything. Romano took it very seriously as he did everything in life, to the fullest.

Do you have any idea where Romano Kristoff might be nowadays, or what happened to him? According to some sources, he was running a restaurant in Manilla, Nick Nicholson heard he was in Brazil while others believed he got killed by gang thugs...

What I can tell you for sure is that he is NOT in Manila. Robert Campbell, the last of our mutual friends, told me Romano was off to Uruguay to find part of Former President Marco's hidden fortune! Mystery always surrounded my friend, but I think he could take care of himself. I would have loved to go with him... He has not been heard from again, and I hope that he was indeed successful and is living somewhere with several lovely babes, rich and perhaps writing his own book or movie script.

Updated on September 12, 2016: Since this 2009 interview, I made contact with Romano Kristoff through some Facebook networking with relatives, and within a month was able to meet with him in Hong Kong. We caught up with our lives. Romano has returned to Spain to see family, but with the economy so bad he returned to Asia, with notably a film project in mainland China. In fact he continued to be involved in projects in Southeast Asia, with a number of projects in tourism. He always had such a likable personality with anyone he met. He continues to be in great health and enjoying life, living the life of a debonair gentleman.

Romano and I with our friend and Uechi-Ryu Okinawan Karate master Robert Campbell in Hong Kong, circa 2014. Going that night to the prestigious Hong Kong Club.

You often worked for Kinavesa International (a.k.a. Silver Star), whose boss is Chinese businessman K. Y. Lim. We know very little about that man, who made a deal with American company Cine Excel in the 90's. Would you have any comment about him?

Mr. K. Y. Lim was the consummate Chinese businessman who always seemed to not be making money, but in reality was doing better than most thought. He was a man of many different personalities, mysterious to some, exasperating to others, but I had a long good history with him. I believe that once you had proven your loyalty, he treated you fairly, and in my own experience, Mr. Lim gave me a chance to do what others did not... expand my horizons, play better supporting roles, try my hand at writing stories, treatments, then screenplays with Bugsy Dabao at first, then later with Richard Harrison.

Don (at the center) with Richard Harrison (on the left) and Jim Gaines (on the right), on the shooting of "Intrusion Cambodia", produced by K. Y. Lim.

As I said earlier, I started on Apocalypse Now. Later, my friend Bill James Haverly and I started a Talent Agency for extras on TV and films for Local and International, as well as Advertising in Commercials, for Print, TV, and Theater ads. From 1978-81 we provided many foreign extras and models in the industry. I continued to work in films more so than my friend Bill James, who eventually went on with his Waray wife to run the agency, mainly supplying talents for the commercial advertising field.

By 1980 I was starting to be a regular with Director Cirio Santiago, Bobby Suarez and Mr. Lim, and working with the latter sure had its advantages. I was treated by Mr. Lim like an actor in the days of the Big Studios, on contract, a practice common in Hong Kong cinema as well at the time. In a general way, Mr. Lim paid low, but to us "insiders" he paid well, and he also paid us 'between projects'. The thing was, he asked me to say I was paid LESS that he gave me! Between two films for him, Mr. Lim introduced me to several other Producers such as Monteverde, Pascual, Sining Silangan. In fact, most of the Filipino films that I had guest roles in were from being 'farmed out' by Mr. Lim. I have also been in action films with Rey Malonzo, who I met through Mr. Lim too.

« I was Deputy Sheriff on "Final Mission" (1984), directed by Cirio Santiago. I tried chewing tobacco for my character but had no idea you could get so high. Someone took my beer bottle for spitting from the set. So I went with it during the shot. Sheriff was played by Kaz Garas, who tells me to get rid of the 'chew' so I had to swallow and spit out the wad of chew. After five or six 'takes' my head was spinning. »

When I met Richard Harrison, it was Mr. Lim who told me to work with Richard. Richard Harrison gave me great ideas and on "Intrusion Cambodia" he developed the main theme while I filled in the military tactics, dialog, terminology, etc. After that I got more opportunities among Kinavesa. I know that Richard Harrison was frustrated with Mr. Lim but Richard was a totally different story. I was just a beginner and had to accept what I could.

Don and Tetchie Agbayani on the set of "Intrusion Cambodia".

Mr. Lim gave me some great experience and even a monthly salary to do pre-production work, as though I was on a director's staff or a producers assistant. Of all those who worked with him, I did more in between projects because I would help develop stories, re-write scripts, break down scripts, do budgeting, location hunting, planning, overseeing the set building, and other preproduction work along with Bugsy Dabao, who was line producer and 1st A.D. I also worked with the directors who usually did films with Mr. Lim. Between the big productions I never went hungry and gained a lot of experience but did not get rich either.

I even did some editing of a few Russian films that Mr. Lim wanted cut down in length. Bill James Haverly and I took a Sergei Bondarchuk (Director of "War and Peace") film called "Retreat to the River Don" which showed the delaying action of the Russians until they reached Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad was the turning point of WWII. We took the ten hours and made it into "Attack from the River Don" to show the Russian counterattack that drove the Germans out. Where could I get the chance to do that? Only with Mr. Lim of Kinavesa.

On those Kinavesa productions, Richard Harrison told us "The scripts were very contrived, and on a more than one occasion I sat down with Don Gordon and he would write while I made up a story. He wanted to be a writer, so it was with pleasure I gave him full credit." What are your memories of Richard and writing scripts with him?

Richard Harrison was to me like, well the real deal, a man who had gone to Europe and been quite successful. On our first collaboration, "Intrusion Cambodia", Richard and I would discuss the basic storyline and develop a sequence treatment, then I would type it up and we would go over dialog literally for the next couple of days shooting schedule. On the set, I pounded away on the manual typewriter I had bought, and copies were rushed to the office at the hotel where secretaries would type out extra copies for the Director, staff, etc.

Actually, we all worked together, as I would get a lot of input from other actors on creating their own character's dialog to fit personalities. I remember of at least four films with Richard Harrison that I worked with him to develop a sequence treatment into a workable screenplay. It was truly a guerrilla operation, out in the jungle, on the set with yellow pads used instead of white typing paper if I ran out!! [Nanarland: these 4 films are likely to be "Intrusion Cambodia", "Rescue Team", "Blood Debts" and "Hunter's Crossing", all shot between 1983 and 1985, with both Richard Harrison and Don Gordon Bell. At the same period, Richard Harrison did a 5th film for Kinavesa, "Fireback", but Don doesn't appear in it]

French VHS cover of "Intrusion Cambodia".

In fact, Bruce Baron told us both Romano Kristoff and you were writing scripts as well as acting, and also trying to produce. How did it go?

Romano and I did not try to produce, rather put together the whole project, more like Line Producers bringing the people together for a film. We would often discuss many different ideas that might appeal not only to Kinavesa but Regal Films or other local production companies. One production that we were actually shooting was called "War Dogs" and was about scout dogs used by the US Army in Vietnam. I wrote the screenplay with Bill James Haverly, and also played the crazy Cambodian villain. Our friend Ken Watanabe brought over a Japanese Director, Cinematographer, and Sound Man, we had built two sets, hired Filipino Crew, and were into the fourth week of shooting when the Filipino 'producer' RAN OUT OF MONEY! Sacre Bleu, he was actually running a real estate scam and thought he could raise enough to produce the film. I don't even know what happened of the footage. Well, we learned a harsh lesson but gained great experience.

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