Yesterday we posted the first part of our chat with King of the Kickboxers star Loren Avedon so today we have our second and final part of it where we discuss No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers, Deadly Ransom, The Silent Force and more. Enjoy!
It never got an official sequel but one of your earlier movies called Fighting Spirit is also called King of the Kickboxers 2; I have it right here on DVD. Any idea why it was called that in some regions?
Oh god I know that but I had nothing to do with that title (laughs). That’s all marketing. When I went over there they had already started shooting and I sat in the Sunset Hyatt Regency Hotel bar and I made a deal with someone. I had already started shooting the film in the Philippines and they needed a lead. I needed a job. The mother of my daughter is Filipino and so I negotiated for her to come along. I arrived there and I met the Filipino director and all the stuntmen but you may notice that there’s a lot of guys they just dragged off the street and threw them in there. Greg Douglas who I do that fight scene with; now here’s a guy who was in the Philippines movie circuit and he was a real special weapons and tactics police officer. When we got there, I took a look at the script and I asked how much of it had been shot. They had done a few bits and pieces, so we changed the script and I sat with the writer for two days and we rewrote the characterization in the script. The young lady was supposed to be my love interest, but I said “no, let’s make her my sister” but I wanted to have a love scene or at least a kissing scene with (I’m sorry to say this but) a hottie (laughs). So we got the hottie and it wasn’t much of a T&A thing but it ended up at least (let’s say) a bit more cinematic than it would have been.
Getting to work with one of Jackie Chan’s stunt team who was over there was great and we just gaffed all the stuff ourselves and did he best we could. A lot of it was shot in what was going to be President Marcos’ villa but it was never completed because the Marcos’ were ousted. But it was work and I needed the job and that’s the thing people sometimes don’t understand when they ask “why did you do that…” or “why did you play a bad guy?” and I say “well first of all I’m an actor”. I loved playing the bad guy in Tiger Claws III.
I was going to ask you if you found it more fun to be the bad guy?
Yeah! If you know about playing a bad guy he doesn’t act bad; he thinks he can just do whatever he wants that other people aren’t willing to do and he does. It was so much fun to be the baddie. Again a lot of my really cool, explosive fight stuff somehow didn’t make it into the movie. It was nice to work in Toronto though; I love Canada and I was so impressed with the crew getting out in twenty below zero weather.
That’s spring here…
Yeah, so I’m sitting inside with a heater and blankets on, hot tea and just thinking “Oh God! Do I really have to go out there? (laughs)”. Aside from that it was really wonderful and to do Operation Golden Phoenix which we also did some of in Toronto. That was a shame too; we lost a lot of the footage in that film because frankly the lab burned about 20,000 feet of the film we shot. To work with James Hong and Karen Shepherd was great. To go to Beirut was interesting as this was still hairy times over there. There was no police, no American Embassy, 234 marines died from a truck bomb and they still proudly showed the hole in the wall where that happened. There was no law. During that time it was the surrealist thing to see Yasser Arafat on the lawn of the White House speaking Arabic. I didn’t get a Visa until I stepped off the plane and I’m surrounded by military guys. I have to go into this little building, hand him a card that he stamps and I asked them why they didn’t stamp my passport and the guy said “you don’t want a Lebanon stamp on your passport; you won’t be allowed into 50 countries around the world”. I know I’m digressing here but they were wonderful to us in Beirut. We had this Department of Interior Militia assigned to us and we’re going up to the hotel, there’s a brothel down below the hotel with the Russian white slave girls. Literally this is out of a movie but it’s totally real. The guy says to me in broken English “Would you like me to check your room for bomb?” I said “…sure!” so he goes in and looks around and comes back and says “no bomb” and I’m like “well… thanks!”. I know I kind of went away from King of the Kickboxers 2 but that’s just the kinda stuff you get into when you do things on location overseas where you have literal production value everywhere.
We had a brief chat on Instagram about The Silent Force where you said it was going to be the first of many; any idea where the character of Frank Stevens would have gone next?
Well I think Frank after leaving with the cute little dog and the hot woman on the yacht after about a month probably would have been somewhere in Monte Carlo but he would have gotten pulled back into some sort of deal. That movie was made for literally no budget and it started with a friend of mine who was hired as the Line Producer and Dave May was directing. First the script was called Asian Task Force and was supposed to star a very nice and athletic Filipino guy who was a great martial artist and he was going to be the head of the task force. When I got involved I started calling in markers; “hey Scotty, can you come and coordinate this no budget movie?” “Hey Matthias! You wanna come and work for a day?”
George Cheung always made for a great bad guy so I asked if he would come on board to play the villain. So it all just came together and we had basically one location downtown where we shot most of it. We had a terrific script; we were able to use Dave May’s dad’s yacht to shoot on and we did some shooting that you could not get away with now. We were out in the middle of L.A. harbour zooming around and we had the harbour police coming up to us with their light on and we’re shouting “student film!” and they would say “oh OK, go ahead! (laughs)”. We’re flying past these oil tankers and this is way before 9/11 so we could get away with it. I got to give J.J. one of his first fight choreography jobs and Chad Stahelski even came in to do that little stick fight. It all came together but unfortunately we had this rather nefarious girl who was representing the executive producer; there was some money behind it. Cindy Ahern was her name and she stole all of our ideas, took the film and put it in limbo because the guy who gave us the money for this movie was an insurance guy. He just had a lot of money and wanted to make a movie. The girl who was in charge of the funds was manipulating him and with the money she made 18 other films over the course of 5 years. She ripped off a lot of people and was banned from every film market because she was finally found out. That’s why The Silent Force was released in 2001 because finally those 5 years were up and we were able to go to the executive producer who had been flim-flammed by this woman. She had created this whole other series of films that I don’t think ever saw daylight. She knew how to manipulate the money. We were going to do 2-3 pictures a year of hard action, bring in new talent and have a production company.
Then I got a second chance with Deadly Ransom but with that I was in Canada working on a film and I got a call as I hadn’t paid the writer yet who wrote a film on spec. He calls me and says “we’ve got 2 million dollars to make Deadly Ransom so when you come back you can meet the distributor and executive producer”. Everything was set up and all I had to do was sign on the dotted line. So I’m thinking to myself “oh boy, I should’ve paid this guy (laughs)”. I’m happy that it happened; I got to work with Francesco Quinn, I got to work with Brion James but what happened with that film is the director didn’t let me do what I wanted to do with the action. I was supposed to second unit direct the action; I got to do it once. I don’t know what he did with that money on this movie but he saw me direct one little bit of the fight where Dennis Keiffer comes in on the motorcycle and I think he was worried I was gonna steal his thunder. I wasn’t trying to steal anyone’s thunder; I just wanted to have some badass action!
Then things started to degrade in that sense because he wanted it to be more of an acting film. We would have had the best underwater fight scene ever but unfortunately why you schedule to shoot in hurricane season on Puerto Rico I don’t know (laughs) but we had a diver to help us gaff this underwater fight which was going to be 80 feet underwater against what’s called The Wall there. That’s the continental shelf dropping so you go from 60ft of water and sand to this abyss. So we were gonna have this fight scene with knives and all of the SEAL guys doing cool stuff but instead we ended up shooting it in 8ft of water getting nothing because after the hurricane (which shut production down for 5 days) we had a lot of silt to run off so there isn’t the 300ft visibility.
That would have made that film absolutely a standout in 1997 for having that scene underwater. As an aside I have something called Squeeze where I have to go down slowly; when you’re at 80ft depth; you go through compressed air very rapidly. We shot a little something to show the director because he wasn’t about to get down in the water with sharks and God knows what else. So I would come up and get on the boat with blood coming out of my nose and my ears; these are little blood vessels popping after being pressurized. That was just an unfortunate situation as that scene would have blown people away. The end fight we did the best we could but man, I had so many great ideas for a badass car chase and some other cool things but it was all nixed because I didn’t have anything really in writing that I could do second unit.
After those two experiences you sort of lose your desire to try it again because somebody’s always trying to manipulate something that should be left alone. I’m so blessed to have had any of these experiences though.
Fan Question: Roger Renman was a big fan of your Seasonal Films and was wondering why you stopped working with them?
They had gotten to the point where they were paying me a decent amount of money but their whole formula was to do 3 pictures (Western films). Ng would still be doing Hong Kong movies and action pictures; the Hong Kong paradigm was that everybody kind of worked on different things, swapped spots and so on. I did King of the Kickboxers; that was something that made Seasonal and Imperial so much money – that and Blood Brothers. I was supposed to get some net profits but never saw a dime but Imperial led me on saying “we’re going to put you in this and that”; they did Lionheart, Double Impact and more. I was left out in the field. Seasonal had used me for what they wanted to use me for; there was no choice for me as my contract was up. They now wanted to find the next guy and pay him a very little bit which was Gary Daniels in Bloodmoon. Gary sent me his demo reel years ago and I said “mate you’re going to be a massive star but can you please go away because I don’t have muscles like you do (laughs).” Anyway, I’d had some really rough experiences and I was played out so that’s why.
Lee Golden asks: The fight action in No Retreat, No Surrender 3 continued the franchise with some of the best kung fu action ever produced in the west. Talk about the kind of performance caliber it took for that kind of action, and doing that kind of work, and how you perceived your own career trajectory at a time when this style of action on film for a typical Western studio production was such a foreign concept?
Well here’s the thing, we had the best stunt team there; we had Keith Vitali, we had the cooperation of the Tampa Police Department and we had the unbelievable luck of George H.W. Bush coming into Tampa Airport so to get that footage was pure gold. You couldn’t get away with that today.
After No Retreat No Surrender 2 I understand what is expected of me and I didn’t get to read the script but Keith Vitali was somebody I looked up to in training even when coming up myself. Every magazine cover had him on it. I loved the idea that we were going to do a movie and do these fights together so we brought Tony and his 5 man stunt team over. There were all these incredible guys who would just kill themselves for the film. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought in it; you just had to be ready for anything. I had trained for 6 months in martial arts, stuntwork, weights and everything. I knew that now we were going to get to shoot in America so whatever they bring they are going to bring it. Keith broke his arm in a stunt rehearsal 3 days before we were supposed to start shooting. Ng came to me and asked if I knew anyone who could play my brother; I said “no” which means if you get rid of Keith then I’m walking because this is what’s going to work. He stayed in bed for 10 days and they redid everything and gave me more fights including that great bar fight. It was a loyalty and honour thing. All of a sudden everything was on my shoulders as we’ve got to let Keith heal so the movie changed a little bit.
Nobody knew what was going to happen; we just knew that this was going to be a badass movie. I was going to make sure of that! So you have that there already and when we were doing the auditions we had some of these martial artists like Mark Russo who’s a real ninjitsu practitioner. If I could show you some of these screentests they are absolutely phenomenal. One of the first ADs walked off the set because the directorial department is responsible for safety other than the stunt department. We were doing a SAG film that had certain insurance and he quit because a guy was going to fall over a railing in that warehouse scene and land in some mattresses and boxes. He’s like “That’s not safe!” We’re all thinking that nothing we do is very safe… so what? We just carried on and did the whole thing but he didn’t want to be responsible for that and you can’t blame him because people did get hurt and could have gotten hurt.
So Lee I was ready for anything, I was ready to die for this; I was ready to break my arm like Keith did and take the hits. You want to be the best you can be and all I can say is because of all of the wonderful talent around we were able to do it and make it work. That is really just magic.