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Interview de Godfrey Ho (page 3)

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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Godfrey Ho (page 3)

The IFD years.

Let’s go into your IFD years. How was your collaboration with Joseph Lai and Betty Chan?

Betty Chan is Joseph Lai’s wife. I worked with Joseph Lai for distribution, I learned film distribution from him. I worked with him on film markets. Each year I would attend to film festivals.

What would you do for him? A bit of everything? Directing? Producing?

At the very beginning, I directed for him but I could not after because I was so busy with the dubbing, the production. I just introduced some people to direct for him. I would take care of the dubbing, the distribution. That was the golden time man! The first years in Milan film festival, he would do the contract himself, like 20 to 30 contracts and finish. Amazing. But now it’s no longer like that. You’re already very lucky if you can do 10 to 15 contracts. Before, 30 to 40 was so easy. Because there was so many buyers, from Turkey, France, Germany… The market was booming. So good business.

Your relations with him remained only professional or you became friend in the process?

I just worked as a staff for him. He said he would give me shares, verbally, but it never happened. It’s too bad because verbally contracts have no value. That’s quite typical of Chinese people. Before I got in the company, he told me “Godfrey, let’s work together, you will have shares in my company”. And if he got his Rolls Royce, I should get my Mercedes, right? (laughs) But actually not. That’s why my wife said to me “come on, don’t work for him any longer, you are making money for him, not for yourself, think about your future”. That’s why I just left him and joined My Way company and established my own, Filmswell, to produce and distribute movies. After that, he seldom made movies anymore, because the movies I make are better than his. They were hard to sell and the market was becoming tighter and tighter. But he still manages to produce things, for a very small market, on DVD.

So, when you were shooting films for IFD, what type of working conditions did you have? You had a script? You were working on several movies at the same time?

Yeah, 2 at the same time. We would get someone as a co-director to shoot some kind of Chinese parts and then, the foreign parts with foreign people, I would supervise them.

It’s in the editing process, you would make one and only movie, right?

Exactly. Some time, the direction was not so good though, it’s only through editing we would combine the story. First time, you just watch the movie, you find it interesting. Second time, “oh, there is something wrong there”. Third time, “Oh, that’s not the way”, that kind. It’s the action which can cheat you, that’s the point.

Usually, who was supervising the editing process? Was it Joseph Lai in person?

Richard Harrison « talking » to Jack Lam in «Ninja Terminator ».

I was the one supervising the editing but afterwards Joseph would ask the editor to make some change. A bad habit of the producers in Hong Kong. It’s not like in the US, if you want to change the script, you must call the scriptwriter to let him do so. Otherwise, you cannot change a single word, you would receive a letter from their attorney. It’s because of union.

In many of the movies you did, there is the same music always being used. Was it something composed specially?

No, that’s what we call can music, from public domain. No copyright. Sometimes, we would ask a composer here, and he would grab music from all around the world. Now, they have to buy the music from Warner Brothers but, before, no rule.

How long would it usually take to shoot an IFD film?

Some were done in 2 weeks. Some in 3 weeks. A short period of time. Because the foreign parts, we would just edit it in between. You can see there is a Chinese part and a foreign part.

You are referring to the movies bought by IFD in Thailand or elsewhere?

Right. We would usually have it in the beginning, the middle and the end.

And it would make the movie more marketable this way?

Oh, yeah, yeah. Because the video market was still ok. Distributors from Turkey, they would buy the copyrights for 5000 US$ for example. Distributors, producers only care about the money. Filmmakers care about art. That’s the difference (laughs).

You seem to often shoot in the same places, I guess it’s once again to reduce the costs?

Yes, we had to. It was a technique to minimise the cost. That’s also quite important. Somehow, that’s also why I teach my students “you want to do a movie? It’s not a matter of high or low budget. If the screenplay is good, even if it deals only with 2 persons in a room, it can make a very good story”. Like Saw. “You’re not like Titanic, you’re not qualified to be Titanic’s director yet, James Cameron. You have to start with small productions. Make somebody think, wow it’s a talented director and climb steps by steps”.

As you said, the movies you did for IFD were dubbed after. Was it because the sync sound would cost too much?

Oh yeah, yeah. Sync sound always cost a lot. At that period of time, most of the movies were not shot sync sound. But now, this past 10 years, most of the movies are shot sync sound. Before, they were all dubbed. So you can see all the dubbing in English is so funny (laughs).

That’s what you told us, because the people dubbing were from Chungking Mansion and places like that.

Right. Somehow, they didn’t care. They didn’t care about the story, only about the action. Most of the audience, they would concentrate only on the action, finding it tremendous. Because compared to Hollywood, it was completely different. Not now because John Woo and some HK action directors work there like Yuen Woo Ping. Doing Kill Bill, Hong Kong action.

Were they any professional English dubbing artists working in Hong Kong?

Actually, I trained an American guy to be the dubbing supervisor. I trained him to dub first and then he became supervisor. There was a lady also working as dubbing supervisor, she did good quality, for higher budgets like Cinema City, this kind. Professional dubbers are not more than 15 people. Most of them, they would work for radio or TV station. The dubbing, only amateurs, part time, because it’s hard to survive only on dubbing. But at that period of time, some of them became professional dubbers. Because, there was so many movies! So, they would quit their jobs to be dubbers. But, after that, when the market fell down, no more. Even the dubbing supervisor, named Scott, he went back to States. He cannot survive here anymore. Now, not many dubbers can be found. They are back to radio or TV station.

Joseph Lai is also credited as producers on many cartoons and credits show many of your usual crewmembers. Do you know more about that?

The cartoons were made in China. It would make the budget lower there, he invested in them. But I don’t think it ever got to be popular. Because it depends a lot on the screenplay too and there are so many cartoons all around the world. That kind of cartoons can’t compete with those like Walt Disney. But somehow, it shows he was ready to invest and participate in filmmaking. Like, when he emigrated to the States, before I would do films like Honor and Glory with my own company Filmswell, I told him “you want to make American movies man because you’re now living in the States, you can meet the distributors there, like Imperial, Canon, talk to them!”. And also, actually, Joseph Lai is the brother of the boss of Intercontinental, a Hong Kong based company. They are a big distribution company, they buy a lot of rights of foreign movies to distribute them in Hong Kong. So she met a lot of distributors. With this connection, why not produce B grade American movies? Still, he didn’t make one. He was scared to do so. But I did 3 : Honor and Glory, Undefeatable and Manhahttan Chase. They did ok.

On some credits, there are people listed like Homer Kwong, Benny Ho… Is it you or other real people?

(laughs) Normally, the films I direct, I use my own name, Godfrey Ho. But the others may be not my own name, only distributors. Joseph Lai would change the name to have another Ho something like that. But Benny Ho is my own name too. The others, no, I don’t know who they are.

In a website interview you supposedly did, it is said you use the name Alton Cheung…

Alton Cheung is an actor’s name. It’s not my name. The only names I used are Godfrey Ho, Benny Ho, Godfrey Hall or Ho Chi Keung. Other names are not me.

How did you recruit the western actors for the movies?

One side of Chungking Mansions

Going to Chungking Mansion, things like that. I would send some kind of line producer “go to Chungking Mansion, meet the foreign people there, ask them if they want to do movies or not”. I just need their face, they would be ninjas, the stuntmen would do the fights for them. They would just say a line and go, very simple acting. I need their face only. “Bring anybody you can find”.

Do you remember how many movies had been made by Philip Ko for IFD?

Quite many. He would be credited under his real name.

Some people who worked for IFD said the working conditions were very harsh, shooting in the night, very late and that even some triad society were involved in the crew. Do you confirm?

Actually, sometimes, it can happen because of low budget. At that period of time, the shooting conditions for the crew could not be compared with Hollywood. In Hollywood, I had to make a coffee table ready for 24H00 with some biscuits. Because the crew people, especially the best boy, the electrician, when they are working they go there to have a coffee and bla bla bla. But not in Hong Kong! There is just a lunch box and a bottle of water, that’s all. It cannot compare because we don’t have union. That’s why. It’s a bad thing for the crew here but now is better because if you want to be professional, you have to become like Hollywood.

Do you have an idea of the number of movies you directed?

Pretty close to 40 or 50. Something like that.

According to Mike Abbott, when you worked for IFD, you could not work for Filmark, and the contrary. Was there a rivality between the 2?

Oh yeah. Because the boss they were in the same company originally, Thomas Tang and Joseph Lai, after they splitted. There was competition. As I’m a good friend of Joseph, I just worked for Joseph, not Filmark.

It’s not easy to figure between all the production companies you’ve been involved in. There was IFD but also Ada Communication, Bo Ho and Win.

It’s IFD again. They were mostly dealing with video. Joseph Lai created Ada to deal with video distribution. Bo Ho, I don’t know what it is. As for Win, it’s the company which was previously China Star.

Rights of Filmmark films seems to have been sold in Philippines, to a director, do you know about that?

They sold the film to anywhere, worldwide. I remember on one film, he did a very good deal with Japan. Thomas Tang had good commercial gimmicks.

Like Joseph Lai.

Yes, they were very good at doing this kind of B grade movie. At that period of time, movies didn’t have good distribution. Except Terence Chang, the partner of John Woo. He worked for D&B. They were doing good movies, he brought them to markets and sold them for good prices, the A prices. Our movies were only for B prices because they were different budgets.

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