Entretien avec
Mike Abbott

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Mike Abbott A recurrent leading villain yelling at Richard Harrison or sweating in coloured ninja costumes, shooting at Jackie Chan or shot by Chow Yun Fat, Mike Abbott has some nice stories to tell. A leading gweilo in IFD / Filmark films, as well as an extra during the golden era of the HK film industry, and till Indonesia, this super nice English brawny man shares with us his memories about a dozen years of activity in the best and the worst of Hong Kong movies.

To start with, could you tell us a bit about you and your life, notably before you went to Asia? Where and when were you born? What did you do as a living?

My full name is Michael William Abbott. I was born on June 27th 1953, in Penryn, Cornwall, England. I did not attend University. From 1972 to 1975, I worked as a doorman, a swimming pool attendant, a children's entertainer, a cocktail barman, a wine waiter, a Butlins' redcoat... Then I worked as an underground labourer in the tin mines of Cornwall (1975-1980), as a barman again, and a building site labourer (1980-1983). In March 1983, I moved to South of France, in Vias-sur-Mer, where I managed a bar for a British holiday company. In October 1983, I moved to Germany, in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, to work in the kitchens of The Berchesgadener, a hotel for the American army. In July 1984, I moved to Chicago, U.S.A., and worked there in two bars (I was bartender in one and doorman in the other). From April 1985 to July 1985, I moved to Alaska and worked on board a fish processor ship. I was at sea for 4 months. For six weeks in the U.S., I hitch-hiked 7500 miles through 24 states. A great experience!
In July 21st 1985, I flew from Anchorage (Alaska) to Hong Kong. At first, in Hong Kong, I worked teaching English, as a fitness instructor, a bar manager... I also performed party-grams for an entertainment company. In May 1989, I started my own entertainment company, "Abbott Leisure", which is still in business today.

Once in Hong Kong, how did you get into the movie world?

In October 1986, while I was working as a doorman at a disco bar called "The Madhoose" (owned by a Scotsman of course), a movie agent approached me. He was impressed with the way I looked (I am 6 feet tall and 210 lbs). He asked me if I would like to work on a movie. Of course I said yes. The movie company was I.F.D. Films, with Joseph Lai being the producer and Godfrey Ho and Phillip Ko the directors. This was to be the start of my movie career and a 3 year relationship with IFD. From October 86 to October 87, I made 9 movies for IFD and 1 (and only) movie for Filmark (Tomas Tang). In these movies I was the lead villain. I had a lot of screen time and a lot of dialogue. I was usually billed second on the credits.

Unfortunately, I cannot find my filmography but I have posters and other materials with information on them. Some of the titles are as follows: "Royal Warriors" (with Richard Harrison), "Hitman the Cobra" (with Richard Harrison), "Rage of a Ninja", "Platoon the Warriors", "Goddess Mission", "Heaven's Hell, "Joy for the Living Dead", "Kill for Love", "Angel's Blood Mission". These 9 were for IFD One more, "Death Code Ninja", was for Filmark. In "Rage of a Ninja", there was one scene where I was waving my samurai sword about, and then I screamed "I AM THE ULTIMATE NINJA". Could this line have given the name to the "Ultimate Ninja" website??? It's worth looking into.

Any special memory about "Hitman the Cobra" and Richard Harrison?

Well, I remember "Hitman the Cobra" very well, because it was the second one with Richard Harrison, but I can't remember anything specific about it. I think it was maybe one of the best movies that IFD made, simply because Richard was in it. He made loads and loads, and after he went back to Italy, I carried on with "bad guy" parts, but the lads that were chosen after his leaving to be the leading good guys were just not in the same class as Richard.

How much were you paid on those films?

I was one of the better paid actors (remember I was not an extra in any of these movies). I was paid US$9 per hour. On average, I worked 10 hours a day for about 6 to 8 days per film. Total pay for each movie was then US$540-US$720. Actors like Richard would have been paid more of course.

Other Western actors such as Richard Harrison and Bruce Baron, who both did ninja films with director Godfrey Ho Ho and producer Joseph Lai, explained to us they had been tricked. Indeed, the scenes they shot have been edited any which way with some old Asian pictures and, beyond the poor quality of the result, they eventually found themselves appearing in many more movies than their respective contracts did specify. Did you experience the same problems?

I never had problems with IFD or Godfrey Ho. You mentioned Richard was cheated by them, I could tell he was not happy with them, but he was never rude about IFD. Richard was a gentleman. I never had a contract with IFD, these were my first movies so I had nothing to compare to. Richard and his friend Bruce, on the other hand, had a lot of previous experience, so had a lot to lose by being "tricked". I guess I was treated O.K. by Godfrey, he liked me and I liked him. I was well treated by the crew but I'm easy to get along with anyway. If an actor was a difficult person, he would be terminated at the end of that movie!

Were you telling your lines of dialogue in English or in Cantonese?

Everything was always in English. As a lead, I would have as many as (maybe) 30 lines of dialogue (which actually is quite a lot), and a lot of screen time.

Mike in Godfrey Ho's 1990 "Princess Madam", with fellow gweilos Pierre Tremblay and John Ladalski.

By the way, do you speak Cantonese?

Only a few words, as I've never been interested in the language. Actually, a lot of foreigners don't learn Cantonese, mostly because they don't like the sound of it. It's not a problem, because you can perfectly well make a living in Hong Kong if you just speak English.

How were producers Joseph Lai and his sister Betty Chan, if you ever met them? Was Mr Lai sometimes present on the set to supervise or was Godfrey Ho always directing alone?

I've never met Betty Chan. Joseph Lai, I met him once, shook his hand and that's all. He never went to the set. Godfrey Ho was always there, all the time, taking care of everything. He worked really hard. When Godfrey wasn't directing, Phillip Ko would direct. Phillip was an actor (he was in "Fatal Termination"), and was often there too. Both Godfrey Ho and Phillip Ko, as well as their film crews were great to work for.

You said you did one film with Tomas Tang, but as far as we know, it is unclear if Mr Tang was a real person or just a collective pseudonym used by several IFD / Filmark directors, and notably Godfrey Ho. Strangely, "Tomas Tang" was reported dead in the burning of the building in which IFD and Filmark companies had their office...

Tomas Tang is a real person, I have met him! I did one movie with him through his company Filmark. He needed actors, he was desperate, but I was already working for IFD, and the policy was "if you work for IFD, don't work for Filmark" and "if you work with Filmark, you don't work with IFD". So what happened was they asked me to do just one film, that's why I did only one with Tomas Tang and Filmark. At the time I worked with him, he must have been 35 to 40 years old. I remember him as a quiet and quite pleasant person. I do not know if he died in the Garley Building fire.

Bruce Baron also told us "the Triads were heavily infiltrated into the HK movie industry" and that on IFD films, "the crews were among the roughest and most dangerous [he has] ever had the ill fortune to work with, with a lot of low level triad thugs moonlighting as grips". Would you have any comment about the possible links between IFD / Filmark companies and Hong Kong syndicates?

Well, yes, I think that's right. I couldn't tell you much on that subject, but they were closely connected with triads, for sure.

"Thunder Ninja Kids: Golden Adventure" (1990), that Godfrey Ho made with "Charles Lee" nickname.

From time to time, you were also appearing as an extra on some more prestigious movies, like John Woo's "A Better Tomorrow Part 2"...

That's right, in 1987 I spent two days on "A Better Tomorrow Part 2" and did a stunt. I was blasted in the chest with a shotgun. The force of the blast sent me crashing through the door behind me. I had an Uzi in my hand which I blasted through the ceiling as I flew back. The shot had to be taken 3 times before we got it right. I was paid HK$300 (about US$37) for each day. I never saw the movie, so I do not even know who shot me.

Well, actually, the one who shoots you with a shotgun in the film is Asian superstar Chow Yun Fat! Do you have any memories about him and director John Woo?

...I never met Chow-Yun-Fat, because... well, he just wasn't there. You told me he's the one who guns me down in the film, but then on the set, what I had in front of me wasn't Chow Yun Fat but a camera! I did this movie in 1987 and I only find out it was Chow-Yun Fat now you tell me so, some 20 years later...

As for John Woo, I would have met him briefly, exchanging a few words without knowing who he was. Obviously, he wasn't so famous then... (was he?)

During the 80's, it seems there were good opportunities for Westerners to appear in movies in HK and in the Philippines, which film industries were then flourishing. Was it the same in Indonesia? What were the main differences between shooting a movie in HK and shooting one in Indonesia?

Indeed, the 1980's were a golden era for Westerners in the Hong Kong movie industry, but also elsewhere in South-East Asia. I never effectively worked in the Philippines, although I was there in mid 1986 for a few weeks and spent one day as an extra on a movie called "The Spear of Destiny" [a.k.a. "Future Hunters" / "Les Nouveaux Conquérants", de Cirio H. Santiago NdlR]. It was a boiling hot day in the jungle, I was dressed as a soldier and I was shot with a bow and arrow by a dwarf in a tree!!!! (more on how to kill Mike Abbott later) My first movie as an actor was "Royal Warriors".

In October 1987, I got a call from a guy called Rik Thomas, who owned and operated a movie dubbing company. He told me an Indonesian movie producer was looking for a big guy to play the lead villain. The name of the movie company was "Rapi Films", owned and operated by Gope and Sam Samtani [producteurs de "Lady Dragon", entre autres NdlR]. I had a meeting with Gope, then on November 3rd I flew to Jakarta to make the first of 3 movies: "Final Score" (1987) with Chris Mitchum, "Empire on Fire" (1988) with local actors, "Lethal Hunter" (1988) with Chris Mitchum and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace.

Indonesia was great! The sets were bigger, there was studio work, more cameras, more crew and more money! Working with Chris Mitchum was great, a Hollywood actor who had worked with John Wayne, my idol! I still keep in touch with Chris, he's a nice guy. I love to hear him talking about his father Robert Mitchum.

In July 1988, I returned to Hong Kong and till the end of the year, I made about another 4 or 5 IFD movies, and about 3 other movies of no significance. 1989 saw the end of my career with IFD. I made about 3 more films for them, but my roles were getting smaller. In May 1989, I started my entertainment company, "Abbott Leisure", and started making money straight away, so I parted company with them after 3 years as their lead villain in about 15 or 16 movies. They were good days...

During 1989, I made 3 quite significant movies: "Casino Raiders" in April, in which I had lines and a fight scene with star Allan Tam. I made about US$200 per day for 5 days (it is with this money that I started my company on May 5th). "Fatal Termination" was in 1989, after "Casino Raiders". I played the part of a real psycho who kidnaps a little girl. I spent about 6 days on the movie and enjoyed it very much. In the end, I had a fight scene with the star Ray Lui, and ended up being impaled on a metal spike! (Yet another way to kill Mike Abbott)

Mike in "Casino Raiders".

Also that year, I spent one day on a movie called "Hong Kong Gigolo" [from director David Lam, and starring Mark Cheng and Simon Yam among others NdlR], danced and stripped my clothes off in a night club... can you believe it?

It's not the first time I have stripped in a movie. Another time I was in an alley way with 3 other guys, we were dressed as policemen, then this girl comes running with a guy chasing her with a knife. Then the 4 of us shine our flashlights on them and then start to strip out of our uniforms; the whole thing was a joke played on this poor girl! Anyway it was fun to do. The director was Jing Wong, I met him again 3 years later while shooting "City Hunter". He said he thought the movie was stupid, I think he was right. [Nanarland: the film Mike is talking about is called "The Big Score"]

So 1989 was a good year I suppose. During 1990 and 1991, I can't remember doing very much in the movies, I might have been an extra once or twice. In 1992, I worked on "City Hunter" with Jackie Chan and a beautiful young Japanese actress called Kumiko Goto.

This was my favorite movie of all. I spent 16 days on the movie: 10 days in Japan, with 5 of those days during which we were on a cruise liner sailing the high seas, and a few shooting days in Hong Kong. This movie was important to me because there is one scene where there is just Jackie Chan and I. I'm shooting at him with a rifle and he is running like crazy to get away from me.

"City Hunter", with Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Gary Daniels...

Jacky Chan was always busy, so I did not get to know him personally but we got on just fine. Got to know Gary Daniels and Richard Norton quite well, they were really good to work with. I have never seen them since "City Hunter", but I believe they are both doing well.

There is another scene where I am trying to kill Kumiko, but she ends up killing me! She hits me off the top of the ship, I hit the deck and go right through it! What a way to go! Kumiko was so beautiful (sometimes, when we were resting, I would pretend to read a newspaper but I would be looking at her out of the corner of my eye). She was only 19 years old and I thought the world of her. She married a French racing car driver some years ago, do you know who he is? [Jean Alesi NdlR]

After "City Hunter", the movie industry went very quiet for me, but my entertainment company was doing well. As far as I can remember, I did not work on another movie until 1997. In the summer of that year, I had a 3 days work on "Enter the Eagles" [aka "And now you're dead"], a Golden Harvest movie directed by Corey Yuen. I played a tough guy in the background who was shot to pieces along with 3 other guys. A martial artist called Benny "the Jet" Urquidez had a big role in the movie, and Michael Wong starred along with Bruce Lee's daughter [Shannon Lee NdlR]. Apparently, the movie did not do well and Golden Harvest lost a lot of money!

"Enter the Eagles"

In 1999, I had one day on "Purple Storm". I played the part of a psychotic father who smashed his young son with a baseball bat! (what ever next!?!) I was paid US$150 for 3 hours work. That was the last time I worked on a movie, I have then appeared only in a few T.V. commercials.

"Purple Storm"

You did some TV commercials too?

Yes, I can't exactly remember them all, but I remember that in 1986 I did a Sapporo beer commercial, and that was paid like US$35 a day. More recently, about in 2001, I went to Taiwan and did a motorcar commercial (I think it was for Camaro). I worked for only a day and a half, and earned US$1500. That was good extra money, unusually good I would say (actually, that was one of the best paid jobs I ever had, but there were so few like that one!). There's also another one I did in 2000 I think, in Guangzhou (Canton), and for which I got paid about US$1000 for one day's work. Not bad too.

I have been killed in a lot of ways, some of them rather bizarre. I have been shot with pistol, rifle, shotgun and machinegun. I have been punched and kicked to death. I have been stabbed, blown up and impaled. There was one IFD movie where I had bright colored powders packed in my ninja suite at chest level. When it was my turn to die, somebody threw a sword at me. The sword hit me in the chest, the explosive charges under the powder were fired, then my chest exploded into a rainbow of colors... how ridiculous! I have had over 100 bullet-squibs on me during my career. In one movie (I think it was "Angel Enforcers"), I was machinegunned by about 3 or 4 guys and had no less than 10 squibs fixed to me (only 9 went off though). The bullets blasted from my knees to my chest... what a way to go! In Indonesia, Chris Mitchum blew me up with a hand grenade while I was in a helicopter. In another Indo movie, Bill Superfoot Wallace kicks me to death... I'm left floating face down in the swimming pool. I was impaled in "Fatal Termination", and have been shot to death in one way or another in about 15 movies. I get to live in only a few films. It's all in a day's work for an action movie star! Ha ha!!

How was it to be a gweilo in HK? For instance, which way were you considered by Chinese actors?

Well, on IFD movies, there were no Chinese actors (or very few) and only gweilos most of the time. Now, on movies like "Casino Raiders" or "City Hunter", it was of course a bit different. For instance, Chinese women can be very snobbish: they would never talk to foreigners. I remember there was a girl on "City Hunter" named Joey Wong... God, she was just horrible, nobody liked her! Richard Norton and Gary Daniels couldn't stand her neither, I remember Richard told things about her you just couldn't print in this interview...

Joey Wong

"Purple Storm", that Teddy Chan directed in 1999, stands as the last film in your filmography. Did your career in films took an end because of a lack of opportunities? Didn't you try to go on working, in a way or another, in the film industry, and if no, would you work again as an extra if you were granted that opportunity?

Well I tried, of course, but there just have been nothing around. However, I got a list of agents; I now have to get a couple of new photos done, and plan to sort of "re-launch" myself. I have kept myself in good shape, and with my hair looking really long now, I got a bit of style to it (even if that also limits my opportunities, as so many foreigners are used as CIA agents or gangsters of one kind or another, which often don't need long hair - actually my hair is right down to my waist!).

At the present time, you work in kids' entertainment, running your own company - you even appeared on TV. Could you tell us a bit about it? You also work as a fitness trainer, right?

Actually, I've been entertaining kids in HK since 1986, but I got my own company going in 1989. I don't do a lot of business nowadays, though. I used to do loads but I got a lot of competition now, because there are so many companies doing this... but my show is excellent, it really is! I work with puppets, as a magician, as a professional balloon tier, etc. I appeared on TV three times, first in 1993, then (I think) in 1997 and again for another show in 1998, appearing for about 5 minutes as a guest.

I'm also a personal trainer, that's right, but that's another thing for which there's not a lot of business at the moment (right now, I got only one client!)... nothing much exciting to talk about, though...

Apparently, you also have a genuine and vivid passion for photography and travels, describing yourself as a "seasoned photo hobbyist" and making exhibitions. Could you tell us a bit more about it too?

Yes, I like to take photos and have exhibitions. You can take a look at my work [a href="" target="_blank"]here.

So far, I've had about 4 exhibitions; I've only sold a few things, but it doesn't matter as long as you have somebody appreciate what you do (and it's great knowing that some half a dozen houses around HK have got my photographs hanging on their wall).

"Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is a Hindu / Buddhist temple built on tiny islands on Lake Bratan, Bali Island. The temple was founded in the 17th Century and is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Goddess of the Waters. The temple, the lake and the cloudy mountain backdrop make this a truly beautiful place..."

With the hindsight, what look do you take at your career in cinema? Did you ever have a keen interest in it, or was it just one more job among many others?

Doing films wasn't quite like another job, because it was special. This is something that I really would have liked to work out harder if the opportunities were there... From 1986 to 1999, I have been featured in about 24 movies as an actor with quite a lot of dialogue and screen time, in about 8 more movies as an extra, and in about 5 TV commercials. I really did enjoy it and would have loved to have done more.

What are your best and your worst memories as an actor or an extra?

I think the best memory I have was when I went to Indonesia to do my first movie there, "Final Score", because the sets were really big, there was studio work, I've met Chris Mitchum who's famous, we were staying at a beautiful hotel in a lovely place... everything was just so much better than what I have been working on before... IFD was fine, but they were low budgets, very low budgets, and then I find myself working on this quite big movie, with Chris Mitchum who was really a good guy... it was just great. That's my fondest memory, I will never forget.

I don't have any really bad memories, I have never been injured, I mean I have never experienced anything serious to complain about. The only thing, maybe, was with IFD. We often shot in the summer, and were often given quite heavy clothes to wear, so it was very, very hot. And also there were long days, 10 to 14 hours a day, so it was very uncomfortable, and made work extremely hard sometimes.

Has life changed for Westerners living in HK like you, from what it was in the 80's?

Yes, it's very difficult here now, there is less money around, the economy is not so good... of course, the retrocession of Hong Kong to China probably has a lot to do with it, it has made this city different. Honestly, I never really got into politics, but I believe that if the British were still here, Hong Kong would be a better place to cope with... However, HK has been my home place for many years now, and I wouldn't live anywhere else.

- Interview menée par John Nada -