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Gary Daniels

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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Gary Daniels

B-movie action star Gary Daniels is familiar to many thanks to his performance in the live-action film "Fist of the North Star": but whatever you think of this movie, when it comes to martial arts, Gary is the real deal. After working in the Philippines and Hong Kong, he became one of the most prominent straight-to-video icons of the 1990s. Mr. Daniels was kind enough to grant us his time and review his own career, with frankness and lucidity.

Interview conducted by Nanarland

To start with, could you tell us in a few words what was the chain of events that led you from the martial arts world to the movie industry? In fact, we know that except for a bit part in a "Miami Vice" episode, you really started your career in the film industry in the Philippines: how did you get on the set of "Final Reprisal"? Jim Gaines (James L.M. Gaines Jr.) was also an actor in "Final Reprisal", and then directed what was your second film, "The Secret of King Mahis Island", which remains unknown in Europe and in the USA. What are your memories of Jim, of these first two films and of your staying in the Philippines?

I think most people know that I started martial arts in England at around the age of 8 or 9 years old. I first went to the U.S in my early 20's where I got involved in acting classes and started doing commercials and small parts before going to the Philippines when I was around 23/24 years old, which is where I met Wilson Tieng who was at that time running Solar films that signed me to a 2 year contract. It was Wilson that introduced me to the director Teddy Chiu [Nanarland: alias Ted Johnson alias Teddy Page. For the release of "Final Reprisal", Teddy Chiu used the pseudonym "Ted Hemingway"] and James (Jimmy) Gaines who was the writer of `Final Reprisal', the first movie that I starred in, in the P.I.

From the left to the right: Teddy Chiu, Max Thayer and Jim Gaines (the photo has been taken by Nick Nicholson).

Obviously at that time I was very naïve about the film industry so Jimmy became a kind of mentor and good friend that showed me the ropes. He showed me around Manila and started to help shape me as an actor. Jimmy is a very likable person as he has a great sense of humor and a very calm, mellow personality so it was easy for us to get along. I was young and impatient back then so Jimmy was a good foil to my personality. I spent 2 years in the P.I and they were 2 of the best years of my life. `Final Reprisal' wasn't a great film but I had the time of my life making the film and working with Teddy, Jimmy and a lot of other ex pats, ex military guys living and working in the P.I. I also learned a lot about the realities of film making that you can't learn in an acting class.
The 2nd film I did was called `The Secret of King Mahis Island' which was supposed to be an Indiana Jones style action/adventure film but it did not go so well. The original director quit after about 1 week and Jimmy took over but there were many problems and the film turned out terrible. It is not surprising and I am glad that it never received a wide distribution.

After these shootings in the Philippines, you then started to do films in the USA through Cine Excel, a small US company linked to Filipino company Kinavesa/Silver Star, owned by a Chinese businessman named K. Y. Lim (who produced films you appear in like "Capital Punishment", "American Streetfighter" or "Final Impact"). Is it Jim Gaines (who worked a lot for him) who introduced you to Mr. Lim? Do you know more about the association between Cine Excel and K. Y. Lim?

I first met Kimmie Lim in the P.I. before I had met Wilson Tieng. Originally I went to the P.I because my girlfriend at the time had gone to the Philippines and met a director named Wilfredo Lim, she gave him my pictures and showed him a tape of me training so he said if I went to the P.I he would "make me a star", so that is why I went there, but it turns out that this guy thought I was a rich American that was going to finance his films so when he realized I wasn't he cut of contact with me. As I was already in the P.I., I started going to meet different producers and Kimmie was one of the 1st I met. He offered me the role of an extra in one of his films and I turned it down. Back in the U.S i had gone to the American Film Market to visit Kimmie Lim and David Huey was in his booth, that is where they discussed using me for some movies here in the U.S. At that time I was waiting tables and teaching martial arts so a chance to work in films again was welcomed.

So, you made several films with Cine Excel and continued to work with them for several years. Actor Mel Novak, who also worked with Cine Excel on several films, described the company's CEO David Huey as someone who always made the best out of his limited budgets. Was that also your impression? How was the work with Mr. Huey and the working atmosphere on the set of an independent production company like Cine Excel? You came back to Cine Excel in 2006 to star in "Reptilicant", almost ten years after your last film with them. Do you have any thoughts about that last opus?

David Huey is a good man and again we quickly became friends. As Mel Novak put it `David is someone who gets the most out of his budgets', and those budgets were very small. `Capital Punishment' was the first film we did and I think David's contract with Kimmie said there must be no more than 15 minutes of dialogue in the film. So we shot about 42 fight scenes in 3 weeks, it was physically very demanding. Looking back I would say that I should never have done those 3 movies as I believe they hurt my career but it was all a learning experience and I had a great relationship with David that continues to this day. I agreed to do `Reptilicant' because of that relationship although once again it was not the best career choice I could have made.

On "Capital Punishment", your final fight against Tadashi Yamashita (alias Bronson Lee, the name he used in some bruceploitation movies) remains the highlight of the film. How was the work with Yamashita, and what did you think of his skills in martial arts?

Tadashi Yamashita was a friend of my sifu and is one of the modern day karate legends. So getting to work with him was an honor, he is very talented and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. I let him choreograph most of the end fight and he did a good job.

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