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Monday, December 8, 2014

Director Antony Szeto Interview (C) 2014 A Dan's Movie Report Exclusive! FIST OF THE DRAGON!

Above Photo: Antony Szeto as "The Buyer" From Fist OF the Dragon (C) 2013

Greetings fellow action fans! Closing out 2014 in style is an interview with director Antony Szeto chatting up his cool new film "Fist Of The Dragon". Antony has built up a solid reputation all over the world with his variety of talents, ranging from acting, to stunt work, film editing, and more recently directing. Perhaps best known for "Jackie Chan Presents: Wushu" recently Antony has directed two films for Roger Corman, a horror film called "Palace of the Damned" and "Fist of the Dragon". 

With "Fist of The Dragon" rolling out release in Thailand, and soon to be worldwide, what better way to find out more about the film than an exclusive interview with Antony about production! No filler, no BS, just honest, hard hitting text from a talented film mover and shaker. Antony wore many hats on Fist of the Dragon" , stunt driver, editor, director, and a maniacal character called "The Buyer" sit back, relax, grab a cup of tea, and prepare for action!


Chat about the initial ideas to do Fist Of The Dragon, and how you were approached to work on the project.

I was finishing off I think the 5th or 6th edit of Palace of the Damned and Roger Corman was really happy with the outcome. He then offered us, ACE Studios, to make a second film with him. He knew that my forte was action so he wanted to do an action film with me directing. Over the coming months, after Palace of the Damned was delivered, Roger sent a few scripts to us, which were all based on previous action films that he had made. He finally decided that we should do a remake of Moving Target, which was a Don Wilson actioner filmed in Ireland and released in 2000. What really hooked me was Roger allowed me full freedom with the action part of the new film.


How long was the shooting schedule? 5 and a half weeks, with no stoppage.
Budget on IMDB says $500,000, I know budgets are a closely guarded industry secret, but perhaps, the budget might inflated. I loved the final project, were there any sequences that had to be shortened or edited due to budgetary situation?

From the very beginning we had to make decisions based on our budgetary constraints. For starters, we made sure the script didn't have any outdoor night scenes, so we can keep the crew on the same hours and not lose rest time, as one normally needs to schedule in if changing from a day shoot to a night shoot, and vise versa. Next, we decided clearly that the main selling point of the film was action, and all else just had to be good enough to hold the audience from one action sequence to the next. This meant that only the bare basics was spent on wardrobe, sets, special effects and visual effects. On top of that, to keep things in complete control, everything was shot at the studio. Once this was done, we didn't make any compromises with what we could squeeze out from the action. In the end, we did cut out and/or simplify a lot of the drama. But action, we gave it all we could (given the money we had).


I am a balance guy about women fighting, I think it is a great idea to present strong female characters in films, like Roger Corman has always done, did you have discussion with him and Associate producer Juju Chan about this. 

The original film already set out the female roles, so there wasn't anything further to discuss in that respect. However, a lot of time was spent discussing the action sequences. I don't like it when I see women hitting and taking hits like men, especially when we're talking about small women. That's just too fake. So we made sure to choreograph the Maria vs Josh fight in a way that the audience can believe a woman getting the upper hand. A good amount of time was spent getting that fight right.

Juju told me that she initially she was to play Maria Tran's violent role, but was bumped to a central character, and not a martial artist. This is a great idea, Curious if you know the specifics of the change. 

Because JuJu has a strong martial arts background it was obvious that she should play the role of the Lady Killer. But when we started looking for an actress for the lead role it became clear that JuJu was always the better choice. Also, because Maria was working with JuJu on the fight choreography it wasn't difficult to find someone else to play the Lady Killer, Maria. The question was if Maria could act. We tried her out and found that she could, so the rest became history.

Yes, Maria is a natural at facial expressions, and Juju, is full action ICON, and the world will know in 2015! Speaking of fighting, chat about fight sequences and filming pressures in close quarters action like in the hotel room with Maria's fight. How long was the set up for that?

We had no pre-production time at all with the actors, so that was a huge disadvantage for us. On the other hand, all of our action related actors were actually accomplished martial artists, and this was a tremendous advantage. Our fight choreographer was Trung Ly. Though this was his first gig to fight choreograph on a feature film, he had tremendous experience choreographing live shows, and had worked with Maria Tran on choreographing fights in short films for her. When I saw his work I was blown away by his creativity. On top of that Trung knew how to organize things. Bringing him on board was fantastic for the film. He pre choreographed all the fights, so that we had things to give to actors to work on as soon as they arrived at the studio. Trung was also very quick to make changes so we could take advantage of people's abilities, or the location. In the end though, time was very tight. We would sometimes film 20 hour days so as to get everything in. It was incredibly tiring work for everyone, especially the actors themselves. I can't thank them enough for the hard work that they put into the film.


Yes the fights were spectacular, and creative especially given the limited set up time, getting back to Maria and her odd brand of torture in Fist of The Dragon haha! I spoke to Maria about this, ahha, when she was holding Juju Chan Hostage and threatening her the facelicking was a joke, but Juju had such an amazing reaction to it.

Haha… yeah. The wonderful thing about shooting with digital is that I can shoot everything without worrying about extra costs. In the old days, when shooting on film, I would rehearse things over and over until it was near perfect before shooting it. This goes for both action and drama. Nowadays I would shoot rehearsals in case something great happened…and it often did. The face lick was one of them. It's also my rule that actors must always stay in character no matter what, until I call cut. JuJu's reaction during a rehearsal is a perfect example of her staying in character when something unexpected happens. It was perfect.

Yeah not only was Juju in character, she looked surprised and disgusted haha! Speaking of cool characters, chat about The Chef! amazing classic person, Kwong-Keung Kong did Juju cast him? How was it to work with him in full power "heavy crane" style action? 

Yes, Juju did cast Kong. With any film I think you need maturity in a lot of the characters to give the film more depth. Not many actors can upkeep themselves to do action as they get older. Of course you do get a lot more of them nowadays, as the action genre seems to never get tired. Kong was an old hand at it and I was really pleased to have him on the team. He gave us everything, showing us his unique way of fighting. It's actually a martial arts style that he invented and I thought Trung worked well with Kong to bring the style out.

Yes the style he used was unique and entertaining, speaking of action, in this era of CGI must have been a blast to get down and dirty action, Chat about working with non film fighters and actual fighter Josh Thompson onset. Is it hard to teach an MMA person to film fight? 

Specifically Josh Thomson was the only martial artist who didn't have any film experience, so before meeting him I was most worried about how he would take to film fighting. I've worked with martial artists who wouldn't do moves on film cause they argued that the moves wouldn't work in real life. In the end they would insist on using "real" moves, and the results were really boring. Josh turned out to be great to work with. He understood immediately that film fighting would not be the same as what he did in the octagon. He also readily admitted that he wasn't experienced with what worked and didn't work on film and so submitted himself to our expertise. To me, that sort of humility showed he was a confident martial artist with nothing to prove. And it also meant that we could do great fight scenes with him. In the end, Josh worked the hardest. He was always happy to allow his character to start every fight as the underdog, which made for much more engaging fights. Everyone had nothing but good things to say about working with Josh. 


Great to see Josh taking an active interest in the process he seems like a cool guy ready to learn. Shifting gears, you are also the film editor for Fist Of The Dragon, was there a time pressure to keep it right at 85 minutes? Were there scenes left on the table?

No, we basically left in all that was good, and took out what dragged. Often directors leave too much of an original film in because they make decisions that are tainted with the emotions of filming particular shots. I know this so when editing my own work I keep asking myself if I'm leaving a shot in cause it really needs to be there, or because I just like it for some reason or other. My first edit was about 95 minutes. There were many things we cut out from Roger's advice, and things that I trimmed down as we re-edits. I think we had this down to the present film by the 4th edit.

Interesting with regards to the running time, shifting to creative control in Fist Of The Dragon, how important is that, as I think it is so important.

I think if a director knows what they're doing, and they know their audience, then they must retain creative control. It's always difficult for an investor/producer to allow this, but I would argue that by not doing this you end up with a more generic film, and the audience today doesn't go for that.

I know you have more materiel to work on, let us wrap up our discussion, chat about things you wish you could have changed about the film, and the aspects you liked the most. 

Oh, there are MANY things I wish I could have done differently, but given the resources I had very few of these things could have. Everyone talks about the ending CGI being poor. If I had known that would be the way the CGI would turn out I'm sure I would have argued harder to shoot in a real location. But even so it might not have made any difference as the time was so tight then I still might not be able to shoot it any other way. Of course, I love our fights. Loved the opening fight between Andrew Dasz and Xin Wuku Sarith, loved the fight between Josh Thomson and Xin in the palace, loved the fight between Maria Tran and Josh, and of course loved the final fight of Josh against Daniel Whyte and Kong. Then there's the big fight of Josh against the world! Gotta love that one too.

Finally, chat about what is on the horizon for Antony new projects etc?

I'm now in post production for Death Mist, which involved a lot of the cast from Fist. That was a lot of fun to shoot. The investor of Death Mist is now preparing another fight film which might bring me back to direct and use the same Fist team again. Fingers crossed.

Thank you Antony for taking time out of Post Production, to conduct this insightful interview. I am sure 2015 will be an epic year for you, and action fans worldwide will have something to enjoy when Death Mist drops from the sky!

Although this interview is a few years old, check out Antony with Maria Tran, with him chatting about the industry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrjHy9JQqaI Keept reading Dan's Movie Report for more Antony and Fist of the Dragon Exclusives!

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