Hong Kong Cinema

Robin Shou Interview - July 2005

Robin Shou has earned the rare distinction of success in both Western and Eastern cinema. In a career spanning three decades he has performed in a variety of roles and genres. This versatility comes as no surprise when considering his life. Born in Hong Kong in 1960, he moved with his family to California when he was eleven. After completing a degree in engineering and winning numerous Wu Shu competitions, Robin moved back to Hong Kong. After several years in the Hong Kong film industry as stuntman and actor, he moved back to the US when he got his big break as Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat.

Robin's career highlights include Eastern Heroes and Tiger Cage 2 in Hong Kong, plus Beverly Hills Ninja and the Mortal Kombat series in Hollywood. Robin returned to Hong Kong in 2003 to direct and star in 'Red Trousers – Life of the Hong Kong Stuntmen'. Part tribute and part exposé, Red Trousers provides an inventive perspective on the challenges involved in the Hong Kong stunt industry. The documentary style film also includes contributions from screen legends Sammo Hung and Lau Kar Leung. Red Trousers will be released by Tai Seng UK on 22nd August in a special two disc edition.

Robin Shou Interview - July 2005

PR – As both writer and director what was the inspiration behind The Red Trousers?

I started off as a Hong Kong stuntman and then went on to do Mortal Kombat in 1995 (Robin played the character of Liu Kang). At the time Hong Kong movies were very popular but only to a cult following. I did Red Trousers to show that there is more to the stunt industry. So I tried to do this and I had nothing else on the table that interested me.

PR – Was it a fun movie to make?

It was fun but also really hard work. We had to film the sequences in two 24 hour shifts! When I say 24 hours, we were filming non-stop and there was no time for sleep. We were doing 45 to 60 set ups a day, whereas in the US you would normally do this over three days. It was really brutal work, it literally kicked my ass. We only had sixteen days to complete the entire project so we couldn't change anything.

PR – What was the most demanding action sequence in the movie?

The most demanding scene was actually not in the movie. It was when I had to kiss Silver (Beatrice Chia). I was so tired after the shooting schedule that it was impossible to be romantic, so we actually cut the scene out. Credit must go to the stuntmen, they were amazing. They all worked really hard and I spent a lot of time watching them being thrown around and falling out of buildings. I never thought I would have those sympathies for the performers!

PR – How was it for your first job as director?

he hardest thing was to finish a full day's work and have all the shots done. This was very challenging. When I hear people within $40m budgets I just think it is so crazy, and then you hear they want even more! I get really amused when I only have something near $400,000 but there are different types of film. I also learnt very quickly how to do powernaps on Red Trousers! I would always try and get 10 minutes sleep between shots to keep my energy

PR – To focus on your career, how did you first get into the film industry?

In LA I was a soil engineer, but I decided I needed to change and went over to Hong Kong. When I was practising martial arts in the gym an actor approached me about a part in a movie ( City War) . The movie required some stunts and I could do anything they asked of me. They couldn't believe I was not from Hong Kong. I told them I was born over there but brought up in the States. The stunt coordinator was really happy as I was kicked and bounced off walls but had no complaints. After this they offered me another job if I was prepared to stay and I said ‘Yes' as I had nothing to go back to. It was really good fun getting to hit people and do falls!

PR – You have worked with both Western and Eastern action directors, what were the main differences?

In Hong Kong you have an idea and then you execute it. Whereas in the US you have an idea and then you turn it into demos, appraisals and a whole process. This is really frustrating. In Hong Kong you can be spontaneous. The preparation in the US is fantastic but there is so much regulation and control.

PR – How do you rate the quality of action movies coming out of Hong Kong at the moment?

It is sad; it is not the same anymore. The pride in the stuntman is not the same. They are dated and spoiled. To be a stuntman it is all about favours and connections. You no longer have the chance of moving up by doing something amazing, it is all based on relationships. Because of this, the action is not the same quality anymore and there is no longer the pride or integrity. You can immediately tell the difference between someone who is an old stuntman and someone new to the industry. There is not a lot of money in the profession, but these days stuntmen may turn down jumps from three stories if they are only offered $100, but before that they would be grateful for the money and be glad it wasn't from four stories!

PR – What projects are you working on at the moment – is Mortal Combat Destruction happening?

This is true. We have a script but it is not amazing. What we learnt from Mortal Kombat 2 is that we need to give the fans what they want. They want a basic story with the characters and the fights. We need to bring back simple relationships.

PR – What would you say to someone who is interested on being a Hong Kong stuntman?

Make sure you are ready to make sacrifices. It takes so much from you. You need to ask yourself if this is what you want to do? But also, what do you have to offer? Are you a great martial artist or a great faller? You need to hone your craft, make sure you have something special to offer and then go for it!

PR – And finally do you have a message for all readers of Vengeance magazine in the UK?

Don't give up hope, I'll be back with another movie!

**** Make sure you get the next edition of Vengeance magazine (Vo.3 No.1) for further content and pictures from this exclusive interview with Robin Shou **** - click here