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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 2)

In these Filipino films, we often seen the same Caucasian / American actors, such as Mike Monty, Jim Gaines or Nick Nicholson. Did you keep in touch with any of them?

Mike Monty

Nope. Don't forget, there was only so much work. It was very much a zero sum game. We were competitors. If Mike Monty did a job for US$1000 or US$1500, it very likely meant US$2K out of my pocket. I believe he often took the work at lower pay than me, if it was offered, just to survive. Usually K.Y. rotated the lead roles irrespective of pay levels, because he couldn't have all the films with the same unknowns as leads. But more than once Mike did jobs offered first to me, just because he was cheaper, or they wouldn't have to pay his airfare. I based myself out of HK because it was a much more mature economy, where it was actually possible to earn enough to save some money, and it definitely kept me from becoming perceived as one of the local bums, or ever falling completely to the producer's mercy.

Actually, I'm surprised you never seem to mention the likes of Don Gordon or Romano Kristoff, who were two other Manila ‘actors' who seemed to do a lot of work [maybe that's just because they never attained the notoriety of getting sucked in by IFD]. They were much better friends of mine than Mike Monty, and we had made an informal pact that we wouldn't work for less than US$2K for a lead in one of K.Y.'s films. Romano especially was the real deal. He was Spanish, ex Legion Etrangere, and a serious Martial Artist. He worked very hard at having a film career, and seemed to work a lot. The fact that he was able to survive full time in Manila, without seeming to get stuck in the mire, was always a source of wonder and amazement to me…

Romano Kristoff

Most of the local Caucasian extras in the Philippines were just unrepentant bums. They were often alcoholics and pot heads that had gone to the Philippines to chase cheap beer, pot and pussy, and ended up marooned in Manila, too broke to scrape together enough to leave.

My Impression was that most of them weren't that serious about film at all. It was just a stop gap, a way to earn a crust without taking a real job, which they couldn't get for lack of skills and/or a work permit. Often they had got some local girl pregnant and got mired in a cycle of guilt and responsibility, and couldn't earn enough to pay their way out of it. Understand, the Philippines are truly a third world economy. If you get relegated onto that economic level it is really hard to make enough money to extricate yourself, especially if you have created moral or financial responsibilities for yourself in that environment, or overstayed.

One of the biggest problems these guys used to get into was overstaying their visas. Legally it wasn't that bad, but to get an exit visa after you had overstayed, you had to pay a fine of 100 Pesos a day [US$5] for every day of overstaying. Foreigners couldn't get any straight job without a work permit, which were only issued overseas with lots of documentation, prior to arrival. So a lot of these guys were stuck in a vicious “Catch 22” cycle. They couldn't get a real job without a work permit and they couldn't earn enough to pay for their exit visa without a real job, and the fine mounted daily. The extras on those films were paid 100 pesos a day [US$5] plus room and board if on location [double occupancy in a bamboo shack without plumbing and all the fish and rice you can eat with a bottle of San Miguel]. That was the same they would pay the locals, who would be happy to take the jobs if they were fair haired enough to pass as Caucasians. Consequently there were a lot of down and out types working on these movies as extras [no work permit required] but they weren't making nearly enough to break the cycle.

I often amused myself by counting how many times I could kill the same extra in a different costume in a single film. My record was 41. His name was ‘Mad' Mel. He was a smuggler by trade, who got thrown out of Nepal for being a homosexual paedophile. He used to bring his little boys on location with him in Manila. The last I heard of him was doing a 15 year stretch in Japan for trying to smuggle a key of hash into Fukuoka, on the ferry from Shanghai. He was pretty much typical of the types of guys who worked as extras on those films.

The guys whose names you mention were certainly better off than the extras, but often not much from what I could see. Some at least pretended to take it seriously, as if they honestly believed that this was going to lead them into stardom, somewhere along the line. I think mostly they did it out of laziness, for the fun, the pussy, and the notoriety. Even the day players with lines only made about US$20/day. It's only enough to get by if you are living the vida local, eating fish and rice and staying in a shanty deep in some third world slum. But if that is the only job you can get you're screwed, because it surely wasn't like they could find work every day. A few days a month at best.

Nick Nicholson and Jim Gaines

Mike Monty worked hard at it and took it [a little too] seriously, I thought, considering how lousy the films were. I think he married a Filipina, at least partially to beat the visa problem. Jim Gaines, I think, was half Filipino, half American with dual citizenship. Nicholson, I think was in the mire. Romano Kristoff and Don Gordon, were writing scripts as well as acting, and trying to produce. Both were pretty seriously committed, not that it seems to have done either of them much good. If you take a look at their filmographies as published on the web, it seems all the work fizzled in the early ‘90s. Is anybody making these films anymore?

While I admit, I originally took the work in the [vain] hope that it might lead to something better [and to justify keeping the flat on Roxas Blvd.], that illusion was quickly shattered by the first Kinavesa film. It was obviously worse than the stuff I had been doing in HK. When I stopped doing film I had no reason to follow-up with those guys, who I felt were chasing a dream to their own destruction. After all, by then none of us was getting any younger or any prettier. I wouldn't mind catching up with Don or Romano, but I haven't been to Manila in 15 years. My wife doesn't like me going there, for obvious reasons, and I don't have any real excuse to go. If you have email for them I‘d love to have the addresses.

In « Fireback », you worked with one of our favourite actors, Richard Harrison, whom you may also have met on the sets of Godfrey Ho's ninja flicks. What memories do you have of him? Harrison told us that he felt manipulated by Ho and Lai and that these films – which were distributed worldwide – permanently damaged his career and reputation. Was it the same for you? To what extent did these movies damage your career?

As I said earlier, I met Richard Harrison under the auspices of Kinavesa, in the Philippines. I never worked with him under the auspices of Ho & Lai [I think they hired me after they fucked him over and he wouldn't work for them anymore]. It is only from your site that I learned that they [years] later cut some footage of him and some footage of me into the same ‘film' [“Flic ou Ninja”]. That is yet another example of how IFD rehashed footage, and re-released it as a ‘new' film |2 or 3 years after both of us had long refused to have anything to do with them].

Richard was easy to get along with, though of a completely different generation [quite a bit older] than I. I only did one or two films with him [only at Kinavesa] and very few scenes. I think he was the good guy and I was the bad guy in one and vice versa in another [can't remember, really]. I think it was one week's shooting where we did scenes for two films, scheduled overlapping. We only had 3 or 4 scenes together, [usually in the finale confrontations and final shoot outs]. I enjoyed hearing his stories about working in Hollywood in the old days and in Rome at Cinecitta. We didn't hang out together off the set, as I was a bachelor and he was always with his wife.

Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai

I only did one ‘set' of films for Ho & Lai [Whore & Lie, would be more appropriate]. When I found out what was going on, I offered to take a 50% cut in pay if they would not use my real name, but they refused. While I doubt they much damaged my “career' [let's face it, nobody ever saw those films] they certainly didn't help it at all, and they ripped me off, by re-releasing the films under different names and intercutting the same footage into god knows how many other titles, marketing them under our names, and without paying [any of us] a cent. This would be less annoying to me if they had paid more or made even the slightest attempt to make a decent film, or paid us again when they re-released and rehashed the footage. My only consolation is they ripped off everybody and not just me, right down to any idiot distributor who ever bought any one of their films [did anyone, ever?] and anybody who ever bought or rented a copy of one. Richard may have been worse damaged by the films than I was simply because he was much better known and had more of a reputation to protect. Also, I think they screwed him on the money [never paid him what they had contracted] and threatened to fuck him up with the HK authorities, which if he had known better, he would have called their bluff on. There is/was no ban on foreign actors or crew working without work permits temporarily in HK [in fact, there is a specific exception, to help promote HK as a location for foreign films to come and shoot], and I believe the taxes on what he actually got paid would have been fairly negligible.

I find it especially annoying that most of these Ninja Movie internet sites tend to lend Ho & Lai some kind of credibility as film makers. They were just crooks, totally unethical and unrepentant hacks. Their only contribution to film making was a demonstration of how laziness and a certain ingenuity in rehashing old footage could allow a film producer to plumb new depths of ethical bankruptcy. In the process they set a gold standard for how low an unethical producer can sink with a little stock footage and a complete lack of scruples.

We'd like to be sure that we understand perfectly the chronology of your career. Apparently, you first worked in HK (making commercials, working for Shaw Brothers and then Tsui Hark), then went to the Philippines, then came back to Hong Kong to make these awful ninja movies. Is that right?

More or less. The filmography I sent you is in chronological order, and complete to the best of my memory. But suffice to say I was in Asia, based mostly in HK, and flying down to the Philippines, or to locations wherever. I kept a flat in Manila, even though I was only there a few months a year, because it was a great pad and extremely cheap to live there relatively well, compared to HK. I actually did quite a few TV commercials in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia as well. Don't forget, excluding mainland China, S.E. Asia is a pretty small neighbourhood, and Manila is only an hour away from HK. Your original filmography, [and many others on the net] have me credited with a Japanese film of the ‘70s, called Seishun No Mon aka The Gate of Youth by Kiriro Urayama. For the record, I was not associated with that film, in any way [except erroneously in various internet filmographys]. I never did a movie until the ‘80s, and I never did a film in Japan or in Japanese, or for a Japanese production company. Please rectify that error, on your site. As to the section on IFD, I mention the titles they told me about.

You next appeared in « Atlantis interceptors », an italian-produced film shot in the Philippines by Ruggero Deodato. How were you hired? How was the work with Deodato, who doesn't have the reputation to be a very easy person?

I was in the P.I., shooting other stuff, or just hanging out, and was sent around by my local agent for a casting call. Deodato was OK. I was a small fry in that script, just the lead Bad Guy. He had an ensemble of unknown B movie American actors who were trying to be big shots on that movie |to abuse], and he was satisfied with just making me wear that infernal plastic helmet in the Bataan sun for a week. For the record, he did not make me wear the helmet as an afterthought [after finding me a lousy actor, per your original bio]. It was always in the script, and was considered necessary because of the death sequence of the character, whose head was spectacularly exploded in the finale |shot at Cinecitta in Rome without me present]. Before shooting began, the first thing we did was make a prosthetic mold of my head, for use in the death scene, and the fake head they made from it wasn't good enough to be seen directly by the camera.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti on « Code Name Wild Geese » (Arcobaleno Selvaggio), which has quite an impressive cast. How was it to work with such genre veterans as Antonio Margheriti / Anthony Dawson, Lee Van Cleef, Klaus Kinski, Ernest Borgnine etc.?

That film was a real pleasure. One of the few times I actually enjoyed the process. I had my collarbone broken early in the shoot, when some idiot German TV actor jumped out of a hovering helicopter [off cue] and landed on me [he was wearing a gas mask, and claimed he couldn't see me standing below him, and forgot his directions to pause in the door, while we who were in the first wave out the door took positions below]. Maybe the highpoint of my movie career was having [Oscar winner] Ernest Borgnine offer to tie my shoe laces one morning on the set, [to keep me from breaking my neck] because I couldn't manage it myself with the broken collar bone. Kinski was a great actor, and a terrific pain in the ass. He was a complete coke freak, and caused lots of primadonna type problems…you couldn't take him anywhere because he was such an ass grabber it was completely embarrassing, and fights broke out wherever he went between locals and his bodyguards. He was on course to a [real] shooting in super macho Manila. They had to hire an Italian named Mauricio to keep him coked up to his eyes, knee deep in whores, and away from the set, so he wouldn't be a problem. They only brought him to the set when absolutely necessary. Van Cleef was completely past it. He did a case of beer before lunch, and was drunk daily by noon. He had to have all his scenes scheduled before lunch or he was useless. By contrast, Borgnine was a consummate pro through and through, and a real pleasure to be around. Same for Margheriti, whom I remember very affectionately as creating a fantastic atmosphere, almost magically, just by being very calm and assured, no matter what happy horseshit was in the fan. Likewise, Lewis Collins was a pleasure to be around, both on and off the set. I learned a lot on that film, just watching those guys [and by contrast, Kinski]. We shot it on the old Apocalypse Now set at Lake Caliraya in Pagsanjan.

You then don't appear in another movie before 1985 and the shooting of « The Legend of the Golden Pearl », an entertaining big budget movie with an interesting role for you. Is it a film you appreciate? Do you think this kind of David Lean / Indiana Jones adventure films were more suited to your talent than the actioners you usually made?

Well, obviously it is always better fun to shoot big budget with pros than small films with the likes of Ho & Lai. And anything that didn't rely on kung fu was more to my liking [I always said I wanted to play one film from start to finish in a clean tuxedo, without a fight scene, but I never got to]. We shot that film on locations around Giza & Sakkara at the Egyptian pyramids, at a huge Mosque in Cairo, in the Mustang Valley in western Nepal and in a studio in HK. But there were some major screw ups on that film too. One day in August [45C in the shade] in Sakkara, the camera assistant managed to let the [US$100K] rented Panavision camera fall off the big legs, and it landed on its cassette, which popped open and spewed exposed film all over the desert. It would have almost been funny if it hadn't been my intro scenes with close ups in the cassette, and he hadn't then dropped the heavy tripod on my foot in his mad scramble for the camera. The falling tripod's heavy metal head landed on my foot. The corner poked a hole through my shoe, and broke my foot. It continued bleeding through the hole in the top of my shoe, for the rest of the day, as we reshot the scenes in fading light with the back up Bollei, and no sound.

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