Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu Reveal Their Kungfu Secrets
?Cinema Real? Kungfu Fighting Action Comes to BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER
by Dr. Craig D. Reid
KAOS REIGNS IN CANADA
What happens when Kaos rips a city apart in Canada? The people go ballistic. And so does the new Warner Brothers Antonio Banderas-Lucy Liu-Ray Park action extravaganza BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER.
Kungfumagazine.com was invited onto the set of Thai director Wych Kaosayananda's American directorial film debut being shot in Vancouver, the Cranberry capital of the world. Stepping out of the taxi, I literally bump into the freckle-faced Liu who leers with ALLY MCBEAL intensity as she heads to her trailer after a series of just-filmed chase sequences through a maze of Canadian back alleys. What can we expect? Here are a few things to mull over.
Why was the highly sought after and touted Hong Kong action coordinator Andy Cheng, Jackie Chan's fight choreographer for his last six films, who spent an inordinate amount of time training the actors and preparing wowee-zowee action choreography sight gags for the film, replaced by someone who did the pathetic fights for THE WILD WILD WEST movie? But even more intriguing, how does an unknown director from Thailand, whose only credit is a low budget Thai action movie, ink a deal to direct a reported $70 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Banderas and Liu?
I sit down with Kaosayananda, who goes under the moniker Kaos (first four letters of his last name), and producer Chris Lee to ask them these questions. Kaos frankly and forwardly blurts, "I'm just very lucky."
The son of a diplomat, Kaos was born in Thailand, raised in Moscow, Islamabad, Wellington and Copenhagen, and has no family connection with show business.
"It's been a blast,? he says. ? All I'm being asked to do is be on schedule and be on budget. It's been a dream come true."
Lee, who had a hand in introducing Hollywood to another Asian director, John Woo, was instrumental in handling the deal. "Kaos was someone who has been living in my basement for six months since he moved here from Thailand," Lee blurts, "anytime you're a director, you've got to start somewhere. Kaos has a strong sense of importance about collaborating and working with everyone, and he's smart enough to be the general and have good soldiers working for him."
Kaos continues, "I mean, I went to film school in Emerson College in Boston, lived there for five years but never went to classes. I was just there for access to equipment. So then I went back to Thailand, walked into a studio with a script, had a budget and schedule and gave it to the studio. A month later, they said fine we'll make it and that's how I got my break."
That would be his film FAH (1998). But of course being 24, in a land where elders command respect, Kaos was resented by his older contemporaries. He says, "I'm an outsider and don't want to make another movie in Thailand because of all the politics but I am proud to be the first Thai director working in Hollywood. Although film is an art, I'm not an artist and I subscribe to the Hollywood philosophy of bigger explosions, louder sound effects and booming music. I love John Woo and Sam Peckinpah, and my biggest reference for this film is Frank Miller's graphic novels and Steve McQueen's BULLIT where I just love letting a scene a play out. It's something you don't see in today's action films."
Kaos is a big fan of Hong Kong kung-fu films, Chang Cheh's BLOOD BROTHERS (Woo being the assistant director) being one of his favorites, but ironically he was determined not to incorporate the Hong Kong style of action in BALLISTIC.
"Even though we do have Lucy's character," he notes, "and that's why we have martial arts, we have no wire work, and I wanted the action to be grounded. It bothers me to have a film in real time, and real place, and that a hero can fly across the room. Choreography should be cinema real."
So much for Andy and Jackie Chan stylized action.
Taking place over a 28 hour period, BALLISTIC is a story about two clandestine killers, Jeremiah Ecks (Banderas) and Sever (Liu) engaged in an intense cobra vs. mongoose battle amidst the shadows of hidden agendas and memories of lost loved ones. The lead villain is played by Ray Park in his first real talking role. Kungfumagazine.com will soon be featuring Park in an exclusive interview where he talks about his intense martial arts background and his work on X-MEN, STAR WARS, LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW and of course BALLISTIC.
In the Nintendo GameBoy Advance video game being done in conjunction with the film, Ecks and Sever were both male assassins. In the film version, they were also initially male spies but when the deal with Vin Diesel never happened and then Banderas signed on, Kaos changed Sever to a female character. After Michelle Yeoh turned down the project Liu stepped in.
Koas tells, "Sever was originally this hard-ass person that kills everybody, so my biggest challenge was to make him much more sympathetic without being corny, so making him female worked. So even though it is an action film, the aquarium scene was the most difficult scene, a scene with a whale, very emotional. This is one of the scenes in my opinion that will make or break the film and having Sever female is better. And with her, there will be surprises in the film that I'm not aloud to speak about."
And as if almost on cue, Liu steps in for a few words before leaving for the day. After the required, "I love working with this guy" and "this film has been fun" sort of dialogue, she gets right into the martial art nitty gritty of her involvement in the film.
"I've been training for about three and a half months," Liu admits, "worked closely with different stunt people and of course with Andy, whom as you know I worked with on Jackie's SHANGHAI NOON. So during the training he would go over and do the very basic stuff for Antonio and I. As we were going through the choreography, we would add in things that looked better for me, things that I could sell with my abilities and then remove the things that were too flowery. We also did a five man fight with a kali team of martial arts. I've never done that sort of thing before so we'd work on that twice a week. And as I think you've seen the clip, I'm shooting up the street with this big-ass gun so I've had to train with guns.
"The first thing we did was meet together at the shooting range and shoot live ammo to see what my body was most comfortable with. It was interesting, in America many weapons were not available because they are illegal there, so when we shot in Thailand we shot them and that was cool. It's amazing how you become fluent in gun vocabulary. You even have to walk correctly."
Liu explains that what is so unique for her about the project is that it's the first time her character is entirely seeped in action compared to her other works that use her comedy skills and sexuality. "But this is all hands on aggression," she gleefully points out, "and it's so interesting to take on a character with very few lines. This I can really appreciate, because once you say something, people will stop and actually listen to what she says. Sever is out for revenge and people can tie into that and hopefully understand that compassion. She has nothing else to live for except this and doesn't care if she dies. The perfect enemy.?
As a martial artist, Liu is quick to point out that practicing martial arts is not about getting a black belt or attaining any rank (unlike her latest pseudo-martial artist, cinematic competition Kelly Hu) but it's just about the knowing, the knowledge. She adds, "I practice martial arts on my own and am beginning to finally understand what it entails. People often ask me if I'm a black belt of this or that. The bottom line is that you must first understand the art of it, and that it's not about killing anybody. It's a way of meditation and it's the real martial artist that could kill anybody in a New York minute....but it's about the strength of knowing that they can contain themselves and keep it as an art form.
"So I have a lot of high respect for people that train on a regular basis, because even when your training and doing basics, it's very stressing and painful. So to be frank, I only train for film and not really on a regular basis, so in that sense, I'm not really a martial artist. As I'm sure you've heard from all actors that train for film, we train to sell what we are doing, learn the basic forms and for us to say take it to the next level on film is a great thing to do. But what one needs for either competing or to have martial arts be used as a life dedication, and all that one needs to put into that, well, economically I just can't do it."
Liu closes by telling us what the film is not. "Ecks has also had something taken away from him also," she gives away, "he basically needs information from me and we are both determined people and that is what we have in common. The dynamic energy of coming together is going to be very electric and wonderful. Nothing sexual in this film at all. So we won't be fighting then start to kiss or anything like that, which is a good thing. But there is a tension in regards to the action and the heat of what happens which will make it very heightened for the audience. Action films try to have happy endings, have them get together, this is not that kind of film. No flying fights, or fakey stuff, it's old school action film."
And this is exactly what convinced Banderas to work with someone he's never heard of. The suave Banderas, whose original quest in life was to be a professional soccer player in Spain, flips his curly hair to one side and in his smooth accent says, "I was immediately bought into Kaos's philosophy of filmmaking and it was his energy and ideas that convinced me to be in the film. He reminded me a lot of the first meeting I had with another young starting director, Robert Rodriguez. Kaos told me that today's action is very hip where new directors doing action are video game or commercial directors and they sell the film with its form where a five second bit may have 30 shots. But he wanted to go back to the '70s and not sell the film on its content but to not be hip and do clear action with the flavor of another time like in DIRTY HARRY.
"Ecks is a cop working for a detective agency, his wife (Talissa Soto from MORTAL KOMBAT) got killed seven years prior to the film and he's riddled with guilt and depression so he left the police force. But they want him to do a mission, and under that condition, they'll reveal to him that his wife didn't die."
So is the action too intense for Banderas? "ZORRO was very tough," he confesses, "DESPERADO was tough too and I had no stunt double, everything you see on the screen is me. And I do remember all those days going to the emergency room in the hospital because of my elbow, dragging my arms all over, I was like Jesus Christ on the cross man.
"Today, I'm in a little bit of pain, doing a lot of physical action these past few days and of course (smiling) Lucy has been kicking my butt big time for three days. But I love doing lots of physical action and it's essential that I have to tell that Lucy can take on this guy completely. Later I will be on top of a bus that is running around so I'm sure that is risky. But again, Zorro is more difficult because we are playing with real swords and it is easy to tear each other. We had blood everyday, but this film is more controlled and stunt doubles."
On a final note:
Although very passionate about video games, Kaos insists his film is not based on the game. "It seems every game can now be a movie and any successful film can be a video game but you can't recreate the experiences of each into the other medium, though they can be complementary," he affirms. "And to me, my films have no message, I have no philosophy or beliefs, it's just about making a fun and entertaining film."
Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2002.
About Dr. Craig D. Reid:
Dr. Craig D. Reid is a writer, martial artist, choreographer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Watch for his exclusive article on Ray Parks?s martial arts soon on kungfumagazine.com!