In the studio, and on the road, with
prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /China’s greatest actor.
The thing about working with Chow Yun-fat or Gong Li or Jackie Chan is that they spoil you for other actors. Besides their luminous talents, they’re industry veterans, true professionals who provide the maximum performance with the minimum maintenance.
prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /
I remember noting this fact when I was a producer on the film Dragon Squad (AKA Dragon Heat). The cast’s older players, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Michael Biehn, all came in to get the job done. Our posse of younger performers was surrounded by a bevy of managers, minders and assorted hangers on, and had to be mollycoddled at every turn. I wouldn’t have minded, but you could have rolled all of them into one and not had a movie star who could open the film (as we discovered to our cost!). Where was Chow Yun-fat when we needed him?
Shanghai’, Chow gave everyone a lesson in preparation and professionalism. We all wanted to call him ‘Mr. Chow’; he likes everyone to call him ‘Fat Gor’ (‘brother Fat’). Some months after principal photography, I met him and his lovely wife Jasmine in
Beijing to record some ADR for the film. (This was the day after the session with Gong Li.)
Chow arrived at the appointed hour, wearing a baseball cap and still sporting a silver goatee cultivated for his role in the just completed period epic ‘Confucius’. (He looks disconcertingly like Fish Fong, a guy who works with Yuen Woo-ping…) As with Gong Li, we had a connection to a studio in
New York and went to work. Further complicating this session was the fact that we also had to have Fat Gor re voice some lines in Mandarin. Let’s hear it for the redoubtable Doris Wang, who was on hand to help and had worked with Chow in
Hong Kong, years earlier. I was also grateful for Chow Yun-fat’s usual unfailing patience and good cheer as he was drafted in to not only re-record his dialogue but to help rewrite it as well! He always calls me ‘beylogan’, like its one word, and I felt very honoured every time he said “Beylogan, would it be okay if we said this?” I kept thinking, “You were The Killer, sir. You just say whatever you like…”
The session wrapped, I hitched a ride in the Chow’s limo and we headed back to the city. As we hit the expressway, we passed a jeep that was in the middle of the road, on fire. I mean, this thing was burning like Ghost Rider’s head, and fragments were flying off it in all directions. Our driver just stepped on the gas and we raced past. About three miles further on, our rear back tyre starts going chunk-chunk-a-chunk, and we realize that it caught some shrapnel. The driver pulls over to the side of the road.
By this time, the police have arrived to check our the automobile equivalent of the Wicker Man and stopped the traffic behind us, meaning that we’re parked on the side of the road in the middle of exactly nowhere. Mr. Chow keeps his usual calm head, and starts to change the tyre, which is fine, except for the fact that the wrench in the trunk of the limo doesn’t seem to match the nuts on the tyre. Initially, it seems there’s nothing to do but wait for rescue, so we sit at the side of the road and chat. I have to tell you that, for a
Hong Kong film fan, there are worse places to be than talking movies under the stars with Chow Yun-fat…
He really has had the most amazing career, a simple fellow from
Island who got picked to join the Shaw Bros acting programme, and became a huge star on
Hong Kong’s TVB. He had an initially challenging time making the transition to film, until John Woo cast him in the seminal gangster epic A Better Tomorrow. From there, he established himself as a superstar in films of every genre. Though his high octane actioners (The Killer, Hard Boiled) play better in the west, Asian audiences loved him comic turns (Eighth Happiness) and romantic roles (An Autumn’s Tale). He became such a phenomenon that, in Taiwan, per director King Hu, producers seeking financing were asked the same question, insistently, by the distributors: “Is there a role for Chow Yun-fat in your film and, if not, can you possibly write one for him?”
We first met on the set of Hard-Boiled, and a few years later I interviewed him on the roof of
London’s now sadly defunct Scala Cinema. (It was such a hot day, the sound girl fainted and almost clocked him with the boom mike as she fell.) And here we are, all these years on, sat at the side of the road to
Finally, the driver uses his cell phone to get hold of the right guy at his Mission Control and, Apollo 13 style; they talk him through the tire changing programme. With the spare in place, we’re on our way. Chow has maintained his calm throughout: younger stars take note…