If you watched latest Asian action films or even Hollywood blockbusters the chances Mike Leeder was behind the production process are very high. Big Mike plays in heavyweight devision of Asian movie making and he is a true example of where you passion can bring you to if you really want something.
For me he is a true inspiration, this kind of people are very hard to find and if previously I was interviewing martial artists or stunt coordinators, today I am very happy to talk to the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema.
This is a really long and in-depth interview but it is worth your time as Mike shares a lot of interesting details on films and actors.
Budomate: You were born and raised in UK but moved to HK in your 20s, what made you do that and why there?
Mike: I was born and raised in the UK, in Croydon just outside of London. Always been a big fan of action and martial arts cinema, and really fell in love with Hong Kong movies. I would rent pretty much any martial arts or Hong Kong movie I found, was a member in various video libraries just so I had the widest access to titles, huge Jackie Chan Sammo, Yuen Biao, Chow Yun-Fat fan.
I would head up to London Chinatown to try and buy movies and go to the Chinese cinema screenings at the Metro, at the Scala. I was working in a department store of all places, bored out of my mind and I really wanted a change, I always wanted to break into the Entertainment industry somehow but found the UK industry especially back then seemed to be really cliquey and hard to break into especially if you didn’t know the right people, and I didn’t know anyone!
I needed a break and kept thinking that I always wanted to go to Hong Kong, so why not give it a go. I figured i’d come over for a few months at best and if I get lucky maybe I might get to see a HK movie star, and if I get really lucky maybe I can get to be in a movie as an extra or something.
And in early 1990, I threw caution and common sense to the wind, and jumped on a plane to Hong Kong. I didn’t know anyone here, I was under the assumption “Hong Kong is a British colony, everyone will speak English’ and arrived as unprepared as I possibly could be.
Looking back I am amazed how unprepared I was, and there are times when I think I probably should have spent some time seriously prepping before I came here, but then again if I had, I would have probably got sidetracked and never made it out here. And this is my home, I’ve lived in Hong Kong longer than I ever lived in the UK, and as cliched as it sounds, the minute I landed, despite the heat and the humidity, I felt at home, it felt right and 26 years later I’m still here! There have of course been ups and downs over the years, but it’s my home.
I’ve lived, loved and lost here, I’ll always be a Gwailo but I can live with that!
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Budomate: How did you meet Sammo Hung?
Mike: Prison! (Laughing) I’ve always been a huge fan of Sammo as an actor, a choreographer and a director, Warriors Two, Prodigal Son, Eastern Condors, Shanghai Express, Pedicab Driver, My Lucky Stars & Twinkle Lucky Stars are some of my favourite movies.
I had met Sammo a couple of times very briefly over the years, and then during the shooting of Don’t Give a Damn got to know him better through my then flatmate Robert Samuels who was working for him, and then through interviewing him a few times, and then later through a very good friend Reuben Langdon who worked for and with Sammo on Martial Law, The Medallion and several other projects.
And since then I’ve been lucky enough to work with Sammo on a couple of projects including the crazy Suntory commercials we produced that featured him and Ken Low etc, and when we did the casting for Ip Man 2 etc.
I’m a huge fan of Sammo, he is everything you could possibly want him to be, he’s funny in multiple languages, he’s incredibly big hearted, he is generous to a fault, he pushes you to deliver but he expects the same of himself.
When we were doing Knock Off, my flatmate and one of my closest friends Mike Miller was playing Tickler one of the main villains and takes some major knocks during the finale when he’s fighting Jean-Claude. And Sammo started shouting at him and at first we were all confused because Mike was getting slammed into the containers etc, no double, and he wasn’t trying to break his fall.
He was taking a very hard slam each time and then Sammo explained that Mike was doing all this cool action and reactions, but he was covering his face etc to break his fall and that Sammo wanted the audience to able to see it was really Mike doing all this. He knew it was gonna hurt, but he wanted Mike to be able to show people, “looks thats really me!’.
When we did Ip Man 2, there’s a scene where Darren Shahlavi and Sammo are fighting, and Sammo kept asking Darren to hit him harder and harder so he could do the reaction, and on one take Sammo came forward a little too far and Darren clocked him right on the sweet spot and knocked him out.
Darren was mortified and of course Sammo’s stunt team sweeps in and are all screaming and shouting at Darren for what happened, its an accident of course but theyre all upset, and Sammo wakes up and starts shouting at everyone to calm down, and immediately grabs Darren and hugs him, and tells him its all ok, and explains to the crew, that he had asked Darren to hit him hard and that if it was anyone’s fault it was his own.
Sammo expects a lot from you, and he can be a demanding and hardcore fella to say the least, but he’s taken the knocks himself and continues to do so. If you can do what you say you can do, and deliver on your potential or the potential he see’s on you, he’ll do the same for you. He’s a hell of an actor, choreographer, director, incredible chef and a hell of a funny guy if you get the chance to spend time with him.
In Cantonese he is Dai Gor Dai, the Biggest of the Big Brothers and its a fitting name!
Sammo is also the man who made me re-evaluate and appreciate Bruce Lee and his movies on a very different level. I will admit that I wasn’t a very big fan of Bruce Lee and his work at the time, my first introduction to Bruce’s work had been the ridiculously censored at the time UK versions of the Bruce Lee movies.
Enter the Dragon I’d seen uncut and liked, but the rest of them i’d seen on butchered Rank video releases, they’d cut the nunchucks, certain kicks, so Fist of Fury and Game of Death were disjointed (although I always loved and continue to love the intro and outro of Game of Death, that music and those visuals!) and Way of the Dragon was missing the entire alleyway scene.
I saw the Bruce movies and compared to the stuff I was seeing in Jackie and Sammo movies I wasn’t that impressed.
One day in conversation my lack of appreciation for Bruce Lee movies came up, Sammo is a huge Bruce Lee fan, pretty much everyone of his movies has some Bruce reference and of course in Enter the Fat Dragon, Shanghai Express, Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon etc he’s made very blatant references.
Sammo sat me down and started telling me about how great Bruce Lee was, and his interaction with him at Golden Harvest when he was a cocky young action director and Bruce was the new big name signee and how that didn’t go his way, and then about Enter the Dragon and the way Bruce worked, and fought and choreographed etc.
I could see how much reverance Sammo had for him, and a few days later he sat me down at the old Bojon Films office and made me watch the uncut Bruce Lee movies while he talked me through the choreography, the camera work etc, really made me look at things differently. And I do appreciate Bruce and his legacy a lot more these days.