An Interview with Actor-Stuntman-Director Bruce Fontaine

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Bruce Fontaine was once a Gweilo actor, that is to say one of those Caucasian performers who were hired in Hong Kong’s action cinema heyday to play – often villainous – supporting parts. A high-level practitioner of Wushu, he appeared in some of the most famous films of that time: Operation CondorOnce Upon A Time In ChinaShe Shoots Straight… But when the well of classic Hong Kong action dried up, his career endured, as he took the knowledge acquired from working with the likes of Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen or the Sammo Hung stunt team, and applied it to a career in Canadian stuntwork, quickly rising through the ranks to become a stunt coordinator, including for American Video Game developer Electronic Arts. And yet his main ambition remained unfulfilled: to direct a feature film. In 2015, he kickstarted the third phase of his film career by completing and premiering Beyond Redemption, an action thriller infused with the soul of Hong Kong action cinema.
From martial artist and Hong Kong film fan to Hong Kong film fighter, from stuntman to director, his is a story of wish-fulfillment through hard work and passion. Now in the preparatory stages for his second feature film, Bruce Fontaine was kind enough to answer my questions.

  Can you tell us about your background and what led you from Canada to the Hong Kong film industry?

I started learning martial arts when I was a kid pretty much as a result of the Bruce Lee/Kung-fu movie craze of the 70s. Starting in 1973 I did a little Karate but a short while later got into Chinese martial arts. I initially learnt traditional Chinese styles but would later get into competition Wushu. I also dabbled in gymnastics & Tae Kwon Do. During those years – the seventies and early eighties – I spent a lot of time going to the Chinatown theatres watching old Shaw Brothers & Golden Harvest films. I especially enjoyed Delon Tan aka Tan Tao-Liang and would always try to emulate his kicking. Later I discovered the films of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. The agility, the creativity of what they did really struck a chord with me. After a while I didn’t watch Hong Kong films unless at least one of those three stars were in it. When the first Police Story came out I thought it was fantastic and after that I was into all the Hong Kong modern action films. Then something happened: Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock showed up in Hong Kong films. I had met Cynthia in tournaments as she frequently came up to the Vancouver Seattle area where I used to compete. Suddenly these films seemed accessible to me.

Around that time in 1986 I qualified as a member of the Canadian National Wushu Team and was to go to Tianjin, China to participate in the 2nd International Wushu Championships. First stop there was Hong Kong. While in Hong Kong two of us were invited to perform on the Hong Kong variety TV show Enjoy Yourself Tonight. I was one of the two to perform. After my performance some persons spoke to me that I should consider staying over in HK because westerners playing fighting roles were becoming popular in Hong Kong films. Deep inside I was honestly keen but I still wasn’t convinced I could make that move. I shipped off to China to do the competition. After the competition I went to Beijing to train with the Beijing Wushu Team at the Sports University. There I met two individuals, who would later become close friends and would influence my eventual decision to travel to Hong Kong: Jeff Falcon and Dan Mintz. Both Jeff and Dan had been staying in China. At the time Jeff was only training but Dan was working on the Jet Li film being shot in Beijing, which I believe was Born to Defense.

After spending about a month training in Beijing I returned to Canada. A short while after my return I got a letter from Jeff Falcon. He told me that he had been invited to work in a Jackie Chan production, The Inspectors Wear Skirts. When the film was released in Vancouver’s Chinatown I naturally went. Wheels in my head started turning, I thought to myself if Jeff, Dan and Cynthia could do it, why not me? The big moment that really made me make the decision to go was a short while later when I saw Jackie Chan’s Armour of God. That night I made the final decision that I was going to go and from that point I spent the next year prepping for just that and then in October of 1988 I was on a plane to Hong Kong with a little over a thousand dollars in my pocket.

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Young Bruce Fontaine doing the ‘straddle’ high jump

  Once in Hong Kong, what was the first film you were cast in, and how do you recall the experience?

Well, truth be told in the past I kept very quiet about my first job because I got fired from it. It was on one of the Aces Go Places films. I had a letter of introduction to Cinema City to meet Dean Shek Kin. Dean was very gracious and took me to visit the set of an action film they were working on – I forget the title at this time. Dean also spent a lot of time giving me pointers on working in Hong Kong film. A bit later I got a call from Cinema City’s Terence Chang and was asked if I would like to work on Aces Go Places 5: The Terracotta Hit. A couple of days later I was on set. That day I learned words I would hear frequently throughout my career even in Canada: ‘hurry & wait’. On set were Hong Kong stars Karl Maka, Samuel Hui & Leslie Cheung. Also there was Mark Houghton and Wayne Archer, both of whom would go on to become very close friends.

Unfortunately for all my preparation in terms of martial arts and such, I would learn I wasn’t all that prepared for the rigours of film fighting. Essentially I was called in to be one of several men that would be in a fray with Karl, who in addition to being a star in the film was also a producer and a partner with Dean Shek in Cinema City. My first action was to throw a front kick into the chest of Karl and although seemingly simple I made it a point to try to control the contact. I was requested to give it more power, more speed, and so on… After a few takes I apparently wasn’t giving them quite what they wanted. So more persons gave me instructions on what to do: push kick, snapping kick… To say the least I was getting confused; at this point I wasn’t sure whom I should be listening to. After about seven or eight takes I connected a little too hard but worse yet a little too high and got Karl in the throat. A small break was taken, there seemed to be some discussion and then I was politely told I was done for the day.

I was devastated. Mark Houghton and Wayne Archer were good sports and took me to the side as I awaited transport. They gave me a little bit of on-the-spot coaching regarding film fighting about distance and fight reactions and such. While I was very disappointed with the outcome I was determined I would improve and persist. I hit the bricks and took my info to every film company in town. Only a few weeks later I would be working on The Inspectors Wear Skirts 2, the sequel to the film Jeff Falcon had been in.

This film included, from the field of western baddies, Jeff Falcon, Dan Mintz and John Ladalski. It was under Jackie Chan’s production company Golden Way. Unfortunately this film was not without problems and while the original The Inspectors Wear Skirts had a huge end battle with Jeff Falcon, Cynthia Rothrock and the ensemble Hong Kong cast this sequel did not. They ran out of time and opted for the simple ending of having the westerners all get arrested. Outside of a minor skirmish with Dan Mintz there was very little action with the western baddies. Little back story: after I received my last check I asked them if it would be okay to cut my hair, they said wait a few weeks, which I did. A few weeks later I called in and asked if it was okay to cut my hair, which I did. Not two days later they call me in: Jackie had seen the rough cut and didn’t like that there was so little action with the westerners and specifically asked to have me brought back to do a fight. I told them that I had cut my hair as the production staff had told me it would be fine, but I was told to come in regardless. I showed up but was sent home with pay as my new hair did obviously present a continuity issue.

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On set of The Inspector Wears Skirts 2 (1989): Bruce Fontaine, John Ladalski, Erica Roe, Jeff Falcon & Dan Mintz

  In the beginning of the nineties you became a regular in ‘Girls with Guns’ films. How was working with these various tough ladies?

Girls with Guns – yes I’ve tangled with my share, including Cynthia Khan, Kara Hui, Sharon Yeung, Joyce Godenzi, Moon Lee, and others… It was definitely a big trend at the time. Whenever I was called on to work I was just happy to be working but honestly, and it may sound a bit chauvinistic, I was always a little apprehensive a first when told I’d be fighting a female. It wasn’t because I was worried about the perception of me getting beat up by a woman, as that didn’t bother me at all. I was more concerned about hurting them… At least initially. I won’t name any names but an actress cracked me in the skull with the unbreakable part of a breakaway prop and really rung my clock. Again not to sound chauvinistic but generally the men could hit harder but they also had more control.

With Cynthia Khan I really enjoyed the final outcome of our fight in In The Line Of Duty 5: Middle Man: I felt I had a moment to shine and was keen to try all of the truck action albeit with no real safety precautions and everyone just kind of ‘winging it’. Ironically that scene was supposed to be even longer. The main choreographer was Chris Lee aka Lee Kin Sang, one of Jackie Chan’s former guys. After we shot I much later learnt they wanted to shoot even more but the production manager had lost my number. I learnt this when I bumped into one Chris Lee’s guys: they wanted me back to shoot more fighting, and apparently Chris was quite upset with the production manager.

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With Michiko Nishiwaki in Angel Terminators (1992)

  With which choreographers did you work most often?

Over the years I worked with a lot of choreographers; the one I probably worked with most was Ridley Tsui aka Tsui Bo Wah. My favourites were probably Chris Lee for what we did in Middle Man, and Yuen Bun whom I worked with in the little known film Forsaken Cop. Forsaken Cop was another film where I felt I got a nice chance to shine. I also worked with the Jacke Chan Stunt Team as a whole and especially liked Benny Lai. One thing I have to mention about the Hong Kong stunt guys like Ridley, the Jackie Chan team or Sammo Hung’s guys: as a foreigner some of the Hong Kong producers – and even some of the celebrities – didn’t give a rat’s ass about you or your safety or even whether you were getting paid on time. The Hong Kong stunt guys always had your back, even though we were foreigners they watched out for us.

  You got a chance to work for one of your favorite actors, Sammo Hung, on She Shoots Straight. How was it?

She Shoots Straight came at a interesting time for my ‘partners in crime’ Kenn Goodman and Mark Houghton, both of whom were two of my closest friends at the time. At the time we found ourselves getting busy. I can’t remember the film nor the company but the three of us were at one film company for an audition, and within a few minutes of each other our pagers all went off: it was for Sammo’s company. We all jumped in a cab together and headed over. All three of us were asked to be in She Shoots Straight and it was our understanding that we would be part of a big fight scene. A couple of weeks later we were all on set together to work on the film. I had been training with Sammo’s younger stunt team, as they used to all train at Eddie Maher’s gym. So I was in good company. Also there was Corey Yuen and Meng Hoi, both of whom I had followed in their careers for many years.

Unfortunately as we started to film things changed from what we had believed we were there for. The first to learn that he wasn’t going to be fighting was Mark Houghton. Well this did not sit well with Mark, who cussed out a few key people. Kenn and I were told that we would still be doing fight scenes. Finally as my scene was still to be filmed, I was told I would be doing all the fighting. Of course as seen in the movie my part is essentially a struggle and a fall. Most of the working western fighters had an understanding that none of us would work for less than a certain dollar figure. Sammo’s company paid us that amount, so while I was a bit disappointed, my rationalization was that I got paid in full. There were others westerners in Hong Kong that did not have our skill set and worked for a much smaller amount, and they could have hired them.

Probably the best part of that film for me was having lunch with Meng Hoi. We took a break during filming and he asked me to go have lunch with him. I have to say I felt honoured. Funnily, most of what he spoke about was his ex-wife, Cynthia Rothrock. But that’s another story! As it was, Corey Yuen remembered me, and while I was on Operation Condor a bit later, Jackie pulled me aside and said that Corey had made a special request for me to be released to go work on the film King of the Kickboxers being filmed in Thailand. Jackie said with a wink ‘I let you go because of my brother Corey, don’t screw around in Thailand, get right back here when you finish’.

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On set of King of the Kickboxers (1991), warming up before a fight with Billy Blanks

  Arguably the peak of your early-90s Hong Kong career was sharing the screen with Jackie Chan in Armour of God II: Operation Condor, and fighting him in one of his most memorable and spectacular action scenes. How do you look back on that particular experience?

Operation Condor was the pinnacle for most of us westerners working in Hong Kong. I think for all of us Jackie was a legend. While a few of us had worked for Jackie’s company – The Inspectors Wear Skirts 2, for example – none of us I believe at that point had done anything directly with Jackie. He actually showed up on the set of Frankie Chan’s The Outlaw Brothers when we were filming, specifically to check us out: several of the JC Stunt team were there and told us to expect him. There was a set of auditions set up, I showed up and Benny Lai laughed and said ‘oh you don’t need to do anything, you’re in!’

The first scene shot was the hotel scene where the characters of Kenn Goodman, Dan Mintz, Jonathan Ishgar and myself are introduced. The set was built in the hillsides of Hong Kong’s new territories near Sha Tin. It was said that Golden Harvest always gave Jackie a blank check. On this scene alone Jackie spent a month. When we first started shooting, Jackie asked us why we were in Hong Kong and Kenn and I said because we loved Hong Kong action films and we wanted to learn and we were both fans. I think he didn’t expect this, and from that point he really warmed up to us. The film certainly had its ups and downs in terms of execution: it took almost nine months to finish filming, never mind the post-production. But Jackie was always good to Kenn and I.

One thing that was probably the most interesting for me was sitting in on Jackie editing. Often times Jackie would have a trailer on set and between setting up shots he would go and edit. He would always invite me to sit in on the sessions, and even did so when I visited Drunken Master 2. I must say what I learnt there still serves me today as I simply apply what he did with physical film stock, reels and a mini monitor; no computer editing back then. He would turn to me and say how he set up certain shots knowing exactly how they would look when edited. Jackie and many Hong Kong filmmakers don’t shoot ten angles and multiple coverage of a scene, unless it’s something huge like the Police Story jump, they don’t do master shots on action – never! Some would call it ‘editing in the head’, meaning you only shoot what you know you need to make the action look the way you want it.

Behind the scenes, especially when we got to Morocco, was a bit like adult camp. The western cast members that were there had a lot of spare time and not a lot to do so there was a lot of clowning around. Ultimately for about a month’s time in Morocco we only worked a few days. When we got back to Hong Kong, we all went to work on the final scenes in the underground Nazi fortress. Several of the westerners that hadn’t been used were brought in. This included Nick Brandon, Wayne Archer and Vincent Lynn. At this point Jackie was behind schedule and didn’t have the time or patience he had at the outset of the shoot. So he’d try out many of the westerners, and if they didn’t get it quick enough Kenn and I would hear our names being called and we’d be thrown into the scene. At the time we weren’t supposed to be seen as much in the underground scenes but things worked out for us so we got used a lot more than expected.

Overall I learnt the most from working with Jackie. It was extremely educational, I probably learnt more from Operation Condor than all of the other films I had done combined. I learnt the importance of camera placement, hitting your marks, editing, and so on… In many of the western projects I would do when returning to Canada in the mid-nineties,  none of the directors and stunt people had, at that time, a real understanding of those things when shooting action.

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With Jackie Chan in Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)

  Another HK film classic you appear in, albeit briefly, is Once Upon A Time in ChinaHow did that come about?
 

Oh well there’s some stories there, but I’ll give you the abridged version: the last production manager on Operation Condor did what a lot of production manager types did. He covered his ass which cost me the role of Tiger in Once Upon A Time in China, which later went to my buddie Steve Tartalia. Originally there were no fighting roles for westerners in OUATIC but myself and Kenn Goodman went out to audition for some of the potential speaking roles. While we were there, they asked us to show a few martial arts moves anyway. A few days later I get called and told they have created the role of Tiger and would like me to do it. Of course I am ecstatic at the opportunity. I am still working on Operation Condor but tell them I only have a week or two left and I know that OUATIC isn’t going to start on time; they never did. At the same time the OUATIC production manager calls the Operation Condor production manager who, unbeknownst to me at the time, tells him I am booked on Operation Condor for at least another three months.

I think I’ve got the part. Operation Condor wraps up for me and a few weeks later Steve announces to the guys he’s got the part of Tiger… I call the OUATIC production manager who tells me that the Operation Condor production manager told him I would not be free. Operation Condor was still filming stuff that I wasn’t involved in so I went to set and gave him some choice words. Later the OUATIC production manager called me in as a conciliatory gesture to do a scene where I play an old-time British cop with the billy club and all. I was supposed to get chopped up by several of the baddies during a chase scene but as is often the case the film was behind schedule so the scene was shortened and later never made the final edit. As it was I got to hang out with a lot of Wushu stunt guys from China, including Yao Kin Kwok, aka Nanquan Wang.

  You often shot films in Thailand, including Kickboxer King, which is not only your first official credit as a choreographer, but credited to the master of schlock Godfrey Ho and the late, great Panna Rittikrai. Can you tell us more about that?
 

Godfrey was not there, in fact Godfrey was not involved with IFD Films and Arts [Editor’s Note: the studio behind Kickboxer King] during the production I worked on. There was a young guy named Alton Cheung that did all those films. I worked once with Godfrey but honestly don’t even remember the title. He was definitely a schlockmeister, but a nice guy. Also Panna Rittikrai’s film, like all the others, had been sold to IFD who basically shot our stuff separately on a much lower budget. Whenever we did IFD stuff we never knew what film it was being cut into. In fact Kickboxer King was the only film that IFD ever let us see, as Kenn and I played a lot of different parts in the film. That film went over budget and later Alton, who was friends with Kenn and I, got a lot of flack from IFD boss Joseph Lai.

Kickboxer King was a lot fun for Kenn and I and the other westerners that took part. We helped on the script, fight choreography, and so on… But honestly the film is horrid. IFD has a certain way they do things; they don’t like to deviate from the formula. In this case Alton wanted to try to make something a little better. I remember Kenn arguing with their regular in-house camera man about angles during the fights. We all took IFD for what it was: a chance to do a little more than what we had done on the regular Hong Kong films and a nice in-between paycheck.

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Fighting Jacky Cheung in Curry and Pepper (1991)

  After 1993 you stopped appearing in Hong Kong films, save for Benny Chan’s Big Bullet. What brought about this early retirement from Hong Kong films?

At the time the Hong Kong film industry hit an all time low. Hong Kong stunt guys were out of work and many of the westerners had left Hong Kong. Myself, Mark King & Mark Houghton were probably the last of that group to stay on. Purely by fluke I got a job working for a US Trading firm doing manufacturing in China with offices in Hong Kong. So I stayed on. I was actually offered the occasional part in films but regrettably I couldn’t take them. Essentially movie parts became few and far between. Eventually the American firm went under and that sort of work was moving further and further into China. As I had no desire to work in China I decided to return to Canada. Big Bullet and a part on the Wong Fei Hung TV series shot in Shenzhen, China were to be my last gigs before I returned to Canada.

  Once back in Canada you started working as a stunt performer and coordinator. How was the shift, and did you hesitate before pursuing a career in action somewhere else than Hong Kong?

Honestly the shift when I returned to Canada in 1996 was tough, plus in hindsight I think I underestimated my worth. I did not have a very easy time finding work; there was at that time pretty much an old boys club running things in the stunt community. I got work from time to time but found myself up against a lot of closed doors. I worked on a Wesley Snipes film, Futuresport, and had lunch with his stunt coordinator of the time, Jeff Ward. He basically said to me, I’m paraphrasing, ‘you have something none of them has – all the Hong Kong experience – and they don’t want to see you in their circles.’

For a while partly out of necessity and interest I was more into the Wushu scene and did a lot of coaching. Then by fluke I got into [American Video Game developer] Electronic Arts and went on to become their main guy stunt coordinating for the motion capture department for their many video game titles. It paid well and I didn’t need to deal too much with the politics of the stunt community so I kind of just kept my focus on EA and coaching Wushu.

  In a nice twist of fate, you ended up doing stunts in Vancouver for two major Hong Kong directors, Ringo Lam on Replicant and John Woo on Paycheck. How was it? 

Both those films taught me lessons, in that while I respected the Canadian stunt coordinators doing them, I realized that with my history and experience I could be doing their job: as I mentioned, I underestimated my worth. Paycheck was one of those typical big Hollywood films and the Canadian stunt coordinator was pretty much second to the US stunt coordinator. For the most part he just helped bring in the Canadian talent.

What I got from Replicant was my experience with David Leitch. It was his second job as a stunt performer and since then he had an obvious meteoric rise being one of the main guys in [Action Design Studio] 87Eleven and doing something like John Wick. A few years ago he came back to do Tron: Legacy and was the boss to the Canadian stunt coordinator he had worked under on Replicant. That made me realize that pursuing a career as a stunt coordinator as a Canadian has a definite ceiling. That’s when I started thinking outside of the box.

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On the cover of June 1997’s COMBAT Magazine

  You also worked twice with controversial German director Uwe Boll, first on House Of The Dead, then on In The Name Of The King, which was action-directed by the great Tony Ching Siu-Tung. What’s your take on Boll, and how was working with Ching?

I had met Tony Ching on a few occasions in Canada through Byron Mann, who was a private student of mine for several years. On the set of In the Name of the King however, because there were so many stunt people I barely got to say hi, I was literally one of probably 30 or 40 stunt guys charging a hill in monster suits.

Uwe I only interacted with on House of the Dead, I honestly never saw him on In the Name of the King. I was doubling the main zombie on House of the Dead and choreographed the sword fights. I honestly hate choreographing for TV or low budget US features because they don’t care about your opinion on shooting. They think it’s only the choreography; when in Hong Kong it’s also the choice of angles, the editing, and so on… But in the US they never get that so I don’t get too attached to any of the work I did in Canada on these types of projects. Uwe himself on the shoot was always yelling ‘shoot, shoot, move the camera, get the stunt guy…. we are losing light’.

You had a non-fighting role in Peter Chelsom’s Hector and the Search for Happiness. Does acting still factor in your career plans?

When I was hired for Hector I thought it was just to take a hit, I didn’t know I’d need to act and I also assumed they’d have a double for Simon Pegg. They didn’t. He was a good sport and hit me hard, it didn’t hurt that I egged him on and told him he hit like a Nancy boy. Actor, me? No, it was just a day’s work. I lost interest in pursuing acting-type things a long time ago. I do the occasional line but again don’t see myself as an actor or pursue it.

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With Simon Pegg in Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

  You’ve now entered a new stage of your career by producing and directing your first feature film, Beyond Redemption. Can you tell us more about the film, and how you look back on this first experience as a director?

It has been my objective for the longest time to be a filmmaker; even back in Hong Kong I had this goal. As John Lennon said ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’ When I came back to Canada I spent a good portion of my time just trying to make a living and later got kind of sidetracked into the Wushu thing, opened a full time school… Then I met a wonderful young woman, my better half Dodo, and we started a family together; we have two daughters, Nia and Kiera, 3 and 6.

And a few things occurred around me; one involving Darren Shahlavi and the other Osric Chau. I brought Darren Shahlavi into EA Games where he did a lot of Motion-Capture work. We were close friends and of course had that Hong Kong connection. One day Darren asked me to have a couple of beers with him. Basically he wanted my opinion: he was doing okay with stunts in Vancouver but his heart wasn’t in it. He asked me if I thought if he should go all out, move to Los Angeles, focus on acting, etc… I told him what I tell most in this type of conversation: to just do what’s in his heart. This was all prior to Ip Man 2, Mortal Kombat, Pound of Flesh… Honestly while I gave him that advice there was a bit of doubt in my mind if he could do as well as he obviously did. I was happily surprised and impressed.

I had a similar conversation with Osric Chau: he and his brothers had been my Wushu students for some time. Osric also had the acting bug, his parents were concerned for him. He and I chatted and he kind of had the same goals and aspirations in mind. I encouraged him of course and as with Darren, Osric pleasantly surprised me and has done better than I had expected. Those events made me kind of look at my own life and goals. While I had done the Hong Kong thing, the Wushu stuff, and so on, at that point in my life I was a little unhappy with where things were at, except of course with my family. At that time a friend of the family went back to China and asked us to look after their house. I sat in the house one night and asked the wife if we could make a movie there. The family friends said yes. At that point I made up my mind that no matter what I was going to listen to the advice I had been giving others and achieve my own outstanding goal. I resolved that no matter what I would complete my first feature.

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Wrap of Day 1 of shooting on Bruce Fontaine’s Beyond Redemption (2015)

But the truth of the matter was I had no script so I just resolved that we would develop whatever the story concept would be around whatever resources I had first. I then approached three key people: writer Patrick Wong, producer Phil Planta and investor-producer Tony Towe. At the same time I knew there were three people I wanted in my story: Brian Ho, Don Lew and Paul Wu. I had known all three for a long time and all of them had been very successful as stunt people. While I was still working out the story I knew that I wanted to do something that had a Hong Kong style to it – my homage to the films I came up in. Several persons I spoke to at the time suggested getting certain actors and coach them to fight but I know how very painful this can be. I wanted to do what I call the reverse engineering, which was essentially how it worked for Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen. Take someone that can do the action and see if you can’t get the acting performances out of them.

As it was Brian Ho had done a live action promo video for the Sleeping Dogs video game as the lead and I felt he was awesome in it. Don Lew was someone I had known pretty much since I got back to Canada and personally I think he was one of the best screen fighters Vancouver had to offer. He also has a presence to him  and a dynamic quality to the way he moves that you cannot ever coach out of an ‘actor’. Paul Wu has been doing films since the days of Christophe Gans’ Crying Freeman (1995) and was well established as a stunt guy. I had seen him in the Wesley Snipes movie The Art of War playing a hitman, and he always stood out to me he as havin an unforgettable presence.

After that we kind of worked out the story – an undercover cop, Billy Tong (Brian Ho), similar in many ways to the character in Sleeping Dogs. He infiltrates a gang run by Big Brother Yuan (Don Lew). Once in the gang our hero, Billy Tong, finds out that his wife, whom he is separated from, is pregnant and wants to patch up the relationship. Billy is in too deep for his superiors to let him out so he has to ride it out. A home invasion is executed: Tiffany, the daughter of a Triad boss, is kidnapped. Billy finds out that Yuan plans to execute Tiffany and decides he can’t stand by and takes on all sides to save the girl. That’s the gist of the story.

Getting this project off the ground literally took less than a couple months, but full execution was another story. As we were working on it, the biggest constant was change. Tony Towe for example spoke to his friend Eddy Ko Hung, who said he’d help us out. Phil’s buddy Theo Kim came on board originally to help as an assistant director but proved so valuable to the project, he became a co-producer. Theo basically brought in Peter Chao and The Chengman, both stars on Youtube. We cast the rest of the film and I got my former Wushu student turned actor Osric Chau on board: he’s best known for the TV series Supernatural, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and the David Carradine film Kung Fu Killer. Local actors Johnson Phan, Patrick Sabongui and Vicky Huang rounded out the cast. The biggest problem was casting the daughter Tiffany, who was a major character in the film. By chance I helped a friend of Osric on a student film and met Linna Huynh, a runner up in Fairchild TV’s Miss Chinese Vancouver. I had my girl.

After that we began shooting. Most of our shooting was done in the first couple weeks of January and February of 2014. The rest of the shooting and post-production took another year. Our single biggest problem was scheduling, I did a lot of Rodriguez-style filming in that for a lot of scenes we shot the actors weren’t all there on the same day. There was constant rewrites and some scenes that were in the script were completely taken out, as were characters. For instance, my buddy Darren Shahlavi was supposed to be one of the main and few non-Asian henchmen: but was written out at the very last minute as he was constantly booked for films with Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steve Austin. In the middle of filming I took time out to do a paying gig or two, one of which was taking over direction on a Bollywood film: Killer Punjabi. A film about an Indian hitman. It was a paycheck essentially.

As it was I still had the lease on the space of our Wushu school and my wife and I had had our second daughter just a year prior. So she was not teaching and I was running a full time Wushu school while trying to execute a feature. For about six months I was getting by on little sleep. The lease expired about six months into Beyond Redemption so we decided to close the school. We had some investment but it really only covered our basic filming and we had not so much for post-production. So that was hard but as my producer Phil Planta put it, horseshoes kept falling out of my behind. We managed to work some deals and got sound covered. For special FX editing we got one guy for gun shots and ricochets, one for blood FX and one for what I call the Tony Scott edit. For the music a friend named Yuen Mak came through.

VAFFfamilypic

The Fontaine family at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival: Dodo Gao, Kiera, Nia & Bruce

In 2015 – almost two years after concept – we previewed at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. We eventually settled on LA-based Premiere Entertainment Group for distribution. The film has now started going to the film markets such as the European Film Market in Berlin or Hong Kong Filmart, and we will be going to Cannes, the American Film Market, the Toronto International Film Festival, Mipcom, MipTV, and so on…I had set out with the goal of completing a film, I have always believed I had it in me to do it but the hardest part was actually saying ‘let’s just do it’ but once I started I never looked back.

I’d like to sincerely thank Bruce Fontaine for taking the time to answer my questions.

 


 

HONG KONG FILMOGRAPHY :

The Inspector Wears Skirts 2 (1989 – Wellson Chin)

Casino Raiders (1989 – Wong Jing & Jimmy Heung)

Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit (1989 – Liu Chia Liang)

The Outlaw Brothers (1990 – Frankie Chan)

Curry and Pepper (1990 – Blacky Ko)

Forsaken Cop (1990 – Henry Fong)

In The Line Of Duty 5: Middle Man (1990 – Cha Chuen Yee)

She Shoots Straight (1990 – Corey Yuen)

Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991 – Jackie Chan)

Once Upon A Time In China (1991– Tsui Hark)

Mission of Condor (1991 – Lee Chiu)

Retreat of the Godfather (1991 – Chen Chi Hwa)

Fun and Fury (1992 – Frankie Chan)

Angel Terminators (1992 – Wai Lit)

Angel Terminators II (1993 – Tony Liu)

Big Bullet (1996 – Benny Chan)

 

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2 Comments

  1. I had no idea Bruce was in KING OF THE KICKBOXERS!! :) Great interview. Thanks a lot!

    Reply

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