Interview#16…Mike Leeder, actor, casting director, producer

There is probably not one of us that reads this blog that hasn’t seen a film where Mike Leeder has not worked on or been consulted in some capacity.

A Hong Kong based casting director, producer and actor, Mike has worked across many projects such as Fearless  (2006), Ip Man 2 (2010), The Raid 2  (2014),The Man with the Iron Fists  (2012),Man of Tai Chi  (2013),Ultimate Justice  (2016),Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  (2016),Chasing the Dragon  (2017) and Donnie Yen‘s Big Brother  (2018).

As an expert in Asian cinema – I wanted to learn more about Mike’s unique experience in the film industry and how he views the modern/digital trend in movie consumption.

10 Q’s

From Croydon to Hong Kong, when did you move and why?

Mike: Yes, I was born and raised in Croydon, grew up there and always had a great interest in film with a real passion for action cinema, Asian action cinema and especially Hong Kong cinema. Always wanted to get into the industry somehow, but back then it seemed like, in the UK at least for me, it was a very closed door industry, if you didn’t know the right person or the right handshake you weren’t getting in. So after failing miserably at college, I got distracted ok! I ended up taking a 9-5 job for a few years, and while it paid the bills, it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my life and I kept thinking about heading to Hong Kong and seeing what it was like out here. So in 1990, I thought ‘f#ck it’ and packed my bags and jumped on a plane to Hong Kong, and when I look back, I am amazed at how ill prepared I was, I had no real game plan, I literally jumped on a plane and figured I’d work it out once I got here!  I think I was expecting to stay for a few weeks, maybe a few months at most and yes I had some kind of dream of maybe getting to visit the set of a movie, or maybe I could even be an extra and work on a film! And 28 years later I’m still here! And yes getting to work in movies and the like, and still loving it!

Now of course in a true ‘doh!” moment, within a week of me leaving Croydon for Hong Kong, Hong Kong came to Croydon with the late Philip Ko arriving in Croydon to shoot the classic Killers Romance starring Simon Yam & Joey Wong, and the pot-boiler Phantom War in Croydon. With several scenes in Killers Romance being filmed in my road!

Of course like anywhere else, Hong Kong has its ups and downs, there have been good times and bad, but Hong Kong is my home, by choice! And moving here was the right thing for me to do, I have no regrets about that. I’ve been lucky enough to get to do exactly what I dreamed of, to make movies and work with some incredibly talented and very cool people. I’ve made some fantastic friends and memories here, and I really can’t imagine what I would have ended up doing if I hadn’t come here!

From the Hong Kong golden era – what are the challenges/opportunities faced in the Hong Kong film industry now, is it competing with or part of the wider China film industry?

Mike: While a lot of people, most of whom don’t actually seem to work here or have a clue as to what they’re talking about, sit on the sidelines and play the “Red Scare’ card and claim that China destroyed Hong Kong Cinema! No, it didn’t! Unfortunately Hong Kong Cinema had lost its way in the late 90’s, and the growth of the China market overtook it and redefined it. When I arrived, it was I think the 2nd or 3rd largest industry in the world, with an average of 300-400 movies being produced a year in Hong Kong, and absolutely everything getting a cinema release, there were so many cinemas in Hong Kong I used to go to the movies probably 4-5 times a week. Now there’s about 30-50 movies a year being produced in Hong Kong, while the majority of the industry has changed its focus towards the China market which is where the real money is, not just at the box office but also to make the productions.

If you’re making a movie just for the Hong Kong market these days, you’re very limited by the budget and the box office, with a cap on both, whereas if you can access the China market the opportunity is almost limitless, with films like Operation Red Sea and Wolf Warriors 2 making US$500 and US$800 million respectively.

But, the opportunity in Hong Kong is still here, there’s some great indie film and subject matter that can be explored here that might not be so well received by investors or audiences in China, and there’s a resurgence in Hong Kong style film. Donnie Yen‘s BIG BROTHER for instance was very much a Hong Kong driven movie, the setting, the story, the plot elements etc, a look at the problems in the Hong Kong education system was very much Hong Kong focused, and it was well received in HK and China etc. There’s a lot of films now that have the crossover potential, and its becoming harder to classify what exactly is a Hong Kong movie, Emily Ting‘s Its Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, is that a HK movie? Its directed by an American Chinese film-maker based on her own experiences in HK, its shot in HK, and HK plays such an integral part, Joe Fiorello’s Love Stalk is a Hong Kong movie directed by an expat.

Hong Kong film is making a comeback, and I think we will see more Hong Kong centric films in future, even the China audience and producers talk about missing Hong Kong film, its just making sure the film works for the widest possible audience. Its sometimes very hard to make a film for just a ‘niche’ audience these days, but Hong Kong film is far from dead!

Not only a casting director and a producer, but you’re also an actor too – what’s it like being on the other side of the camera?

Mike:  I like acting! I’m not sure if everyone else likes my acting, but instead of playing the “oh I don’t like being in front of the camera (please hire me!)” card that some people seem intent on playing. I will happily admit that I love getting to play on set, and especially in the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to get to play some nice supporting roles in projects both locally and internationally with films like Helios, Big Brother, Ultimate Justice, Pound of Flesh and more. I don’t have any delusion that I’m going to become a leading man, or that there’s an Oscar waiting for me, but I think I hold my own pretty well.

I really enjoyed my role on Big Brother as I got to work with a lot of good friends including Brahim Achabbkhe, Jess Liaudin, Semi and of course Donnie Yen, who I’ve known for close to thirty years and been able to work with on several projects recently. I had done the casting for the fighters and brought in a solid team, and Donnie and the director saw some BTS of me and the guys at rehearsals, and they felt “Mike, looks exactly like a big sweaty loudmouth, he should play this character!”  Sometimes I’m cast because I’m on set and I’m around, and fit the bill. Sometimes I get to audition or a director remembers me, on SENT for HBOAsia the writer and director used me as reference and pretty much wrote the character for me and I play a violent vegetarian yoga practising Cantonese speaking enforcer. “Type Casting!” But I think one of the best challenges I’ve had as an actor is with a new project I’ve just started on, as I play a supporting role throughout the film and that’s going to be a lot of fun.

From my interview with Philippe Joly, we touched upon the type-casting of Westerners, do you still see this being the case for the immediate future in Asia

Mike: Look at my face! Of course I’m going to play the villain! Is there type-casting of Westerners in China and Hong Kong film? Yes, there is a lot of the time, in exactly the same way that Western movies and TV often type-cast Asians or other ethnicities. The next time some Asian American actor complains about “white-washing’ and the limitations of the roles they are being offered, I would ask them to come to Asia and experience the life of a Western actor and see some of the roles we get offered a lot of the time!

Of course it can be frustrating at times when a lot of the time producers/directors do think of us as the stereotypical villain, but the times they are a changing, even if we are playing the villain, they are starting to give us some real meaty roles as the villain. For example Philippe Joly’s role as the villain in his new movie Ultimate Code, its a major role, he plays an integral and important part in the film and they let him build the character and have input into the way he acted and behaved. They treated him as one of the main cast and respected his thoughts and ideas, which helps make the character come alive. I’ve played plenty of bad guys in Asian movies and TV, but I’ve also played some good guys!  I even got to be a semi-romantic lead in a wacky Chinese movie about Supernatural Detectives, it was a comedy and my character was trying to win back his ex-wife, who was played by a Chinese actress who also happened to be the director’s wife which lead to some interesting direction “kiss her more passionately, no not that passionately!” And in the project I’m currently working on, I get to play a good character, I’m a friend of the hero and am throughout the movie in a supporting role. Directors/producers here are starting to widen their vision with regards to Western actors both locally based ones and even with regards to bringing in actors from overseas that can add value to their projects.

But one of the big problems with regards to a lot of Western actors being taken seriously here, is that sadly a lot of the self proclaimed “Western actors’ here are their own worst enemies, and their attitude and behaviour causes problems for themselves and everyone else. You would be amazed by how often I meet the “most famous western actor in China” or read interviews with them talking about their “stardom” in China and Hong Kong, and the BS tars all of us.

When we were shooting Big Brother for instance, I cast and brought in a group of action actors/stuntmen to play the key figures in the locker room fight scene, and we had a lot of extras in the scene too to add atmosphere. I don’t have a problem with extras, I worked as an extra when I first started. But on BB, one of the extras was a Hong Kong based expat actor who often talks about his stardom in Asia, has done interviews about his co-starring role in Dragon Blade with Jackie Chan etc, and during the course of his three days on set, he tried to get into every shot mugging in the background, pestered everybody about how much money they were being paid, told anyone and everyone “how a strong supporting role like this in a Donnie Yen movie would serve him well in Hollywood!” tried “live streaming from the set’ to his fans! Asked me to write dialogue for him in the scene, and by the end of the first day had listed himself on IMDB with a character name and bio, which was kind of interesting considering he was an extra and none of the main cast even had character names listed yet. It was a 7 day shoot, but Mr Professional only turned up for 3 of the days he was too tired to come back for the 4th day onwards.

The BS of certain people is amazing here, when we did Fearless I was casting some supporting roles in Shanghai, and a gentleman comes in to audition for a role, and tells me how he worked on several seasons of Power Rangers back in the States, so I ask him if he knows Isaac Florentine or Koichi Sakamoto (the Director and Fight choreographer of a majority of the series over the years), he said he didn’t and then changed his story slightly to tell me how he’d actually spent more time in the Power Rangers live show, so I asked him if he knew Pat Johnston (fight director for the live show), and then it became “oh I put on a Power Rangers costume and did kung fu in a shopping mall”….he didn’t get the role, and a year later on another movie he comes in to audition prior to Fearless release and this time round he introduces himself as having not only played the role of the British boxer in Fearless but also having been one of the fight choreographers. I had to point out to him that he hadn’t played the role, let alone been on the fight team, and that became yet another misunderstanding. He then does a bunch of English language press in China, on how he is a big name star in China! I think the scary thing is he believes his own delusion.

When we did Abduction with Scott Adkins, we were filming in China and had to shoot a flashback scene set in London and had a lot of western extras on set. One of whom, an African American gentleman comes over to me and tells me how he is not an extra, he is just here to network as he is a major name in China, not just an actor, but a STAR!  I ask him about some of the projects he has worked on, and he reels off a list of titles including the movie Helios, I ask him if he means the movie Helios starring Nick Cheung & Shawn Yue etc, and he confirms, telling me that he was one of the stars, playing the main bodyguard to the bad guy in the car park action sequence. I start laughing and explain that I actually played the bad guy in the car park sequence and that he wasn’t there, without missing a beat, he tells me that it wasn’t that scene but the other scene with the Western characters in Macau, and I have to explain that that’s the scene where I play the twin brother of my other character and he wasn’t in that scene either, and politely asked him to leave the set as I didn’t need the insanity anymore.

There’s a Western actor in China who proudly proclaims he was the first ever Westerner to be on a poster for a Chinese or Hong Kong movie, the countless “I am the star of this show!” or the “I know more about acting and film-making than anyone in China or Hong Kong”, and the increasingly frustrating “China is not as professional as I am, its not on my level, I am so great’ BS. If you are really so great and China is not on your level, why are you here trying to get work?

It’s easy to come to China and Hong Kong and complain “oh I should be the lead, oh I am not getting the roles I deserve’ but its a market that is 99% Asian’centric, it’s taken how long for multi-ethnic leads to become the norm in the west and there’s still controversy. When we did Chasing the Dragon, one local western critic took offence to the racist portrayal of the evil white bad guys, hmm well one the characters of Godber & Hunter were based on the real life British bad guys Godber and Hunter who were involved in all kinds of nasty stuff going on in Hong Kong at the time, and as can be seen by any footage of them at the time of their arrest etc they were very much the arrogant “white guy’ in Asia with their behaviour, but that was wrong for that critic, who neglected to mention in his review how he tried very hard to get cast on the film as one of the shouty evil white guys, I guess if he’d been hired it wouldn’t have been a racist portrayal?

Could there be better roles for Western actors in Hong Kong and China yes? Could a lot of the Western actors lose the madness and stop behaving badly and making things worse for everyone? YES!

“I look for people who have the talent, as an actor, a screen fighter, who have the right attitude, who are going to embrace the opportunity not be a nightmare, people who see the big picture, who have a professional attitude.”

As a casting agent what do you look for in terms of new talent wanting to breakthrough?

Mike: I wouldn’t really call myself a Casting Agent, I work as a Casting Director or Consultant. I don’t take commission off of the actors, I work for the Production, I will do my best to help the actor but I’m not an agent.

I look for people who have the talent, as an actor, a screen fighter, who have the right attitude, who are going to embrace the opportunity not be a nightmare, people who see the big picture, who have a professional attitude. One of my biggest issues is people’s attitude and lack of professionalism, you want to be taken seriously, be serious, present yourself the right way. I always find it amazing when a name actor can audition for me, but Joe No-Credits can not audition, can not present a showreel, or anything but I should just take their word for it! The right attitude is so important.

When we did Big Brother, I brought in actor Jess Liaudin (Holmes and Watson, Nightfare). He’s a former MMA champion and UFC veteran who divides his time between the UK & France. I had met him in 2005 when we were casting Fearless, and while we didn’t use him for that film, he made a good impression on me, and over the years we kept in touch, he sent me his updated materials regularly and auditioned for me for several other projects and never copped the “you haven’t hired me, screw you!” attitude and when we first started talking about the roles for Big Brother, I knew he’d be perfect for the MMA champion and I brought him out and he did a great job. It was a tough introduction to Hong Kong action movie making, but he embraced the challenge and rolled with the literal punches and kicks we threw at him, and passed the test with flying colours and I would happily recommend him and use him again. The reverse of that, no sooner had we finished filming than I get a message from someone who decides to introduce himself to me by telling me how stupid I am for hiring Jess, how I don’t know what I’m doing, and if I am looking for a star for my next movies, I should hire him as he is a former Belator Champion soon to be champion again, now messaging me to tell me how stupid and unprofessional I am, and that I should hire you, but you can’t be assed to even send me a reel or any materials, yes that makes a great first impression. I won’t be hiring you!

What frustrates me is when people not only misrepresent themselves (BS wise) but also when people so badly represent their genuine skills, I can’t tell you how many times people send me showreels and stuff that makes them look so bad, and you realize the ego has kicked in and they don’t seem to comprehend that the showreel is supposed to show them at their best.

Attitude is just as important as skills! Making a movie is hard enough at the best of times, I don’t really want to work with someone who is going to piss me off, piss everyone else off, and just be a nightmare to work with!  I don’t necessarily need to be your friend, but I need to know you can do the job! There are people I don’t personally like but I will recommend if they can do the job, fit the bill, but lose the attitude!

Can budget stifle creativity in film making, or can it bring about more innovation …how have you dealt with this?

Mike: Big Budget, Low budget, No Budget I’ve worked on projects at all levels, and the budget is not what makes a good movie. I have been lucky enough to work on some very big movies where I got to see money being well spent, and also some very big movies where I saw it being frustratingly spent in all the wrong ways. The same way I’ve also worked on smaller budget and no budget projects where the vision and the talent overcame any budgetary issues.

There’s a Hong Kong producer Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, Fearless) that I’ve worked with many times who taught me a lot about how to work a budget the right way, he understands various budget levels and the right way to spend money. Sometimes for casting he will ask a very simple question as to is this person worth the money? If so, then we should spend it, if not we shouldn’t! Sometimes having a great big budget is fantastic you can hire the best people, equipment etc and sometimes it shoots you in the foot if the right planning, right script, right people for the job aren’t in place. I have shot various versions of one very famous reality show as a producer/facilitator and on the American version the budget is great but veers into the ridiculous, as money is spent on crazy things on a whim, and then when we shoot the local version, sometimes we run into problems where for the American version we walked in and the American producers threw money at you to secure a location, and now they are expecting that same payment every time.

When we were shooting Pound of Flesh, we had a modest budget but we made sure cast and crew were fed and taken care of, a number of my action team went straight from our movie to working on a very big budget action movie with a US$75 million budget, and I would get calls from them asking how come they were being expected to work without food or water! Money spent well is great, money spent badly is a waste!

I just saw a couple of UK movies that were modestly budgeted to say the least, that not only delivered on their potential but raised the bar, Adam Collins action thriller OUTLAWED, Nightshooters with Jean-Paul Ly, Ross Boyask’s I Am Vengeance, Mark Strange’s Red Con 1, and Tom Dart’s upcoming Stairs. These films are a prime example of what can be done when the right people come together to deliver on their vision.

I hate when I have first time film-makers coming to me sometimes telling me how they can’t make a movie for less than several million dollars. You have to prove yourself, develop a track record and people will believe in you!

“In China the multiple platforms are giving a lot of new directors the chance to show what they can do, its giving producers the opportunity to risk new genres and ideas too.”

People absorb content differently now on various mediums such as Netflix and Flix Premiere on tablets and phones – all broadcasters have had to readdress their digital offering – what implication does this have to the broadcast/film industry?

Mike: The great thing is, now there is even more of a market for Film & TV, now the new platforms and ease of access have made it so much easier for people to watch media, and for film-makers and creatives to get their work out there.  I do love it, but sometimes I do miss the old days when you had to be sitting in front of the TV at a certain time to watch something or that was it, BUT now its giving Broadcasters a bigger, more immediate audience and also a more vocal audience thy get an immediate reaction to what works and doesn’t.

In China the multiple platforms are giving a lot of new directors the chance to show what they can do, its giving producers the opportunity to risk new genres and ideas too.  I do wish piracy could be handled, as it amazes me how sometimes releases are mishandled and end up on the web somehow before their release. And I do wish downloaders understood that they are destroying the market and really affecting film-makers and the budgets. Yes a big studio can withstand a certain amount of piracy, but for smaller projects, a small DTV film for instance leaking on the net and being downloaded, that’s a killer.

There is no stunt category for awards at the Oscars, should there be?

Mike: Absolutely there should be a stunt category or categories at the Oscars! Its insulting and disrespectful on so many levels that there isn’t the recognition for stunts, and I don’t really buy into most of the excuses that are thrown around as to why there isn’t one. I don’t have any problem with other categories, but don’t ignore stunts. This as a category where people are quite literally risking their lives for our entertainment and they are being unfairly overlooked. What amazed me was when for instance a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road that was excuse the pun, so stunt-driven, was nominated for and won multiple awards, and none of the winners really called out a thank you or acknowledged the contribution of the stunt department on the movie. Take away the stunts from Mad Max: Fury Road and you don’t really have much of a movie!

The only real issue I could foresee, is the ins and outs of who and what gets nominated? Are you nominating a specific stunt or the overall action? Is the coordinator or the performer being nominated. On a lot of movies there can be multiple coordinators, choreographers working under an Action Unit Director (don’t call it 2nd unit!), who would be nominated? It needs better minds than mine to work that out, but stunts do need to be recognized for their contribution. The Emmy’s for instance recognize stunts, but one problem that raises its head is that they only have so many nominations for each category, this year Into the Badlands which is a very fight/stunt driven show didn’t even get a nomination, and many of its team including leading man Daniel Wu were quite vocal about their disappointment and frustrated at the lack of recognition. BUT this is another issue, you might have a show or movie that is non stop action or always delivers a consistent amount of quality action, does that mean it should get the nomination straight away but what about when a show or movie that you don’t expect to suddenly delivers an action/stunt/fight sequence comes along and grabs all the attention. Say for instance an episode of EastEnders has a mad fantasy sequence that has the whole cast suddenly going full Crouching Tiger and its done so well, that everyone is talking about how well it was done, does that get the nod due to that one sequence or does it relegated as its not a normally action/stunt driven show? I think there needs to be an expansion of the category, stunts is such a broad term.

I have so much respect and admiration for stunt people, I’ve worked with some of the very best over the years including many an unsung stunt performer who didn’t get the attention they deserve, I’ve seen them risk their lives, I’ve sadly seen some get hurt and even lose their lives, I’ve seen them keep me and other people safe and all for our entertainment. So yes the most respected award ceremony in film should acknowledge their work.

You have worked with so many film-making heavyweights including Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, Jet Li plus one of my favourite directors, Gareth Evans.  Looking at your career, what stands out to you as a defining moment, or is that yet to come?

Mike: To sound cheezy as hell, there’s a lot of moments filed away in my ‘that was cool’ box! The easy thing is to pull the “I’m a professional, I’m not a fan, its all just a job these days!” card, but sod that, I came into the industry as a fan, and am still very much one, and I think the day I stop being a fan is the day I know its time to stop making movies and the like.

I’d like to think the real defining moment is still to come, but there are moments that mean a lot to me, be it myself and Gareth Evans exchanging “whoa” looks after we were nearly taken down by an errant SUV when a stunt went wrong on The Raid 2. Luckily thanks to the know how of Car Stunt Coordinator Bruce Law who had insisted on an over-ride and the driving skills of his son Norman, we all lived to see another day and it was a case of appreciating the fact you chose the right people to work with!

Getting to see friends like Scott Adkins go from strength to strength with their careers, while remaining as much a fan as when they began! Scott’s one of the good guys, and while we’d known each other for a long time, we only finally worked together on the same set at the same time on Abduction in China. It was a great shoot where at the end we both commented on how much we’d enjoyed the experience and that we’d both been worrying, “what if the other guy is a dick!” and been pleasantly surprised by the positive experience! Scott also won me over with his geek credentials when on the way back to Hong Kong, we were watching Seasonal Films cult classic King of the Kickboxers and by chance the films leading man Loren Avedon called me and Scott went full fan-boy! It sounds stupid but that made me appreciate the experience even more, that you can still be a fan no matter where you are with your career.

One of my fondest memories of Mark Dacascos on Ultimate Justice was his interaction with the rest of the cast and crew, I had not really seen Mark for 20 years before we did this movie, and he was so easy to deal with, its great and much deserved to see him getting the attention he’s getting for the upcoming John Wick 3 and Wu Assassins. But one thing that really impressed me was one of his interactions with a young stuntman on the set, who had a stutter, and Mark sat down with him to talk and teach him Shakespeare, explaining to him that James Earl Jones had also suffered from a stutter and had been told by a family member that Shakespeare would help him, as to own those lines from Shakespeare you have to control that voice and its power. And it worked, there’s probably a lot of people who’ve learnt how to kick from watching a Mark Dacascos movie, but I don’t think there’s a lot of people who got to learn Shakespeare from him!

Have some great memories of working with Jet Li on Fearless and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, he’s a quiet man and harder to get to know than a lot of people, but we got along well, and one of my fondest memories is sharing dinner with him and a bunch of crew one night and getting to talk movies and him complimenting me on my knowledge of his work and martial arts film as a whole. Hey I’m a geek what can I say!

I’ve known Jean-Claude Van Damme for over 30 years, we met back in the UK when he was promoting Bloodsport, and we’ve seen each other at our best and worst and we’ve fought literally at times, but he’s also been there for me as a friend. Years ago when my mother passed away, he stepped up as a friend when I needed one, and I will always remember that and respect him for that and so much more.

Donnie Yen I met literally hours after I first arrived in Hong Kong and over the years I’ve interviewed him various times, but its only in the last few years we got to know each other better and work together properly. It might sound stupid but when I did an interview with him recently he thanked me for things I’ve done and support I’ve shown to him and Hong Kong cinema over the years and I gotta admit that hit me where it hurts.

But some of the moments I will always treasure are the friendship and brotherhood I shared with a fellow Brit, the late great Darren Shahlavi from Ip Man 2 and so much more. We shared a mutual love for martial arts movie that saw both of us heading to Hong Kong as youngsters, we shared the same birthday (ok his was a few years after mine!) and plenty of adventures over the years from Sixty Million Dollar Man, Ip Man 2 to Pound of Flesh. And while the Pound of Flesh shoot was a hard one, some of my best memories are me and him turning into giggling school kids about the fact that 25 years previously we’d had posters of Van Damme on our walls and now we were working with him.

Not trying to throw out the cliché of what a great life I have, it has its ups and downs like anyone else’s but I will say that following my dreams and my heart and coming out to Hong Kong was the best thing I’ve ever done. I made a life here, and have made friends and memories that will last a lifetime and I hope the best is yet to come!

“there’s probably a lot of people who’ve learnt how to kick from watching a Mark Dacascos movie, but I don’t think there’s a lot of people who got to learn Shakespeare from him!”

As a writer yourself (Mike has contributed to many magazines and martial arts books) have you ever been tempted to pen a screenplay yourself?

Mike: There are a few scripts out there with my name on them, they may not be the best scripts in the world, but they do have my name on them! I’ve actually contributed to a lot of scripts and done plenty of rewrites on projects over the years, sadly not always got credited for them, but I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from doing so. I actually find it really hard to write a script from scratch, give me a blank piece of paper and I’ll struggle to get my ideas down a lot of the time, give me something to rewrite or build from and I can do it, I find script writing frustrating but rewarding. There’s a couple of projects that I have written that I do need to revisit, a very personal script for a black comedy Semi-Charmed Life, and several action projects that I think I need to go back and work on some more, that I would like to bring to the screen.

On Chasing the Dragon with Donnie Yen & Andy Lau, I do wish I’d gotten a credit on that as writer, even it had just been a credit for additional scenes by, as I did a lot of on set re-writes and did most of the English dialogue and wrote several scenes from scratch. For some scenes it was here’s a basic translation, rewrite and expand upon the idea, but there’s a couple of scenes I wrote from scratch or both versions of the ending, the original and the re-shoot, where a huge chunk of it was me getting to sit down and discuss the idea for the scene with Donnie Yen, Andy Lau and Wong Jing and work out what we wanted and how we wanted the English dialogue to drive the scene in terms of structure and dramatic beats. The dying speech of the character Hunter where he taunts Donnie and Andy about how he never stole any money, it was his to begin with, how he was sent to Hong Kong on behalf of the Queen, that it was people like him who made Hong Kong etc, that was all me. We wanted the character to switch between arrogance and cowardice and disbelief as he faced his final moments. I like that sequence. But I will not take the credit for a moment in the finale where someone says “where did he come from, where did he go?” I think that was Rednecks and Cotton Eye Joe!

On Ultimate Justice in Germany, I did the English script based on Marco Theis’ original German version, I really liked Marco’s original version so reworking certain dialogue and scenes was not a problem. Sadly the finished film suffered somewhat from some post-production interference that feel really affected the flow of the story and the final film.

One day I will get round to writing the epic script I have always wanted to, until then, plenty of rewrites credited and uncredited to come, and currently working with some Chinese writers where  we are working together on creating projects and sharing credit and rights. In the meantime am working on a new book 52 Weeks of Bad Ass with an American writer Jason McNeil that is going to be fun, and still doing interviews for various magazines and websites.

Mike, from one ex-Hong Konger to one more successful one – thank you for taking the time out your hectic schedule to answer my questions.  May I wish you all the best with your upcoming projects!


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