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Mike Leeder Interview, the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema

Budomate: You worked with JCVD on his latest movie and everyone seen the photo of you chocked by muscles himself. Was it hard to shoot this movie?

Mike: Pound of Flesh was probably one of the hardest shoots I’ve ever done. Making a movie is like going to war, and there were plenty of battles, and blood sweat and tears were shed on this one! The film didn’t get the budget and the post production support it needed, decisions were made in post that were not in the control of either Ernie Barbarash’s or John Salvitti our fight and stunt coordinator. And the green screen that people quite rightfully so have an issue with, that was handled by another company, much to the chagrin of our China SFX team who did the rest of the CGI and SFX work on the film which works really well.

Budomate Magazine

JCVD and <a href=Mike Leeder” width=”300″ class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-13258″ />Is the film the greatest movie ever made? No, it’s not. But we did our best, and it amazes me when people who were nothing to do with the project and know nothing of the back story or why certain decisions were made, or in the most frustrating case another director whose most acclaimed movie was actually directed by someone else, is all over a fan forum passing judgment and saying how differently he would have done things.

I will go on record as saying that the reason that Pound of Flesh was completed, was because of one man, Ernie Barbarash, he steered us through that war, kept us all together, the making of the movie was Apocalypse Now meets Hearts of Darkness meets Tropic of Thunder, but with the budget and resources we had, I would doubt anyone else could have got through and finished the film.

But I will treasure the memories from the shoot, I got to fight Jean-Claude Van Damme (ok when I say fight, I basically got punched in the face for real, a lot!) and work with many of my friends.

Mike Leeder and teamI got make a movie with one of my oldest and closest friends Darren Shahlavi, and that’s something nobody can ever take away from me. I’d met Darren in the UK when we were both youngsters, we shared the same birthday although he was a few years younger, and we’d gone from having posters of Van Damme and Donnie Yen on our walls to actually making movies with them.

There were more than a few times when the two of us would be giggling like school boys about the fact that we’d gone through the wars, through ups and downs but were here doing the kind of movies we’d grown up loving, with him as the main villain and me as the producer and punching bag!

Darren was a huge Van Damme fan, and the two of us probably spent far too long chatting with that accent, and Darren could do the best impersonation of Jean-Claude and more than a few times caught me out on the phone as to if it was JC or him. I loved Darren as a brother, we shared the same birthday although his was a few years after mine, and I think we probably spoke every two weeks or so for 20 odd years, and his passing was a terrible loss to everyone, his family, his friends, his fans and the industry, he could have been and should have been a star.

I really hope that Kickboxer: Vengeance gives him a nice send off, he enjoyed working on the film and I hope its a worthy final outing.

John Salvitti and Mike LeederOur fight choreographer John Salvitti is a very old friend, I met him the first weekend I was in Hong Kong, and it only took us 25 years to work together. John’s been a mainstay of Donnie Yen’s action team for many years, and of course memorably battled Donnie in Line of Duty 4 & Tiger Cage 2, and handled the action for projects like Special ID, Flashpoint and Kung Fu Jungle.

John’s the real deal, he’s a ring proven warrior and as passionate about martial arts and choreography as anyone I’ve ever met. I brought him into the film as Jean-Claude had spoken of changing his fighting style for the film, and while I don’t think John got the opportunity to really showcase the action the way he could have, thanks to John I got battle Jean-Claude in a fight that made its mark (both on my face and with the fans!).

Pound of Flesh teamOur stunt team for the movie was very solid, we had Brahim Achabkhe from Man of Tai Chi and Undisputed 4, he came in to double Jean-Claude at times and to also play the supporting role of Nardo, Mike Moeller from One Million Klicks, Temur Mamisashvili (Skip Trace, The Foreigner), Todd Senofonte (Knock Off, Fists of Legends 2: Iron Bodyguards), Ed Bavelock, Nick Banjo Patterson, Ryan Pyne, Kevin Lee (Dragon Blade), Little Tiger, Little Sifu, Muscles, to the rest of our cast and crew the great Aki Aleong (loved his work since I was a kid), Andrew Ng, Jason Tobin, John Ralston, Charlotte Peters (who I think had a real baptism of fire with this as her first film), Marsha Yuan, Henry Luk and his team at Ace Studios, JJ Dubois, too many to name, but we shared a hell of an adventure on this one.

I’ve known Jean-Claude for more than 25 years, one of the very first interviews I ever conducted with him, and i’ve interviewed him at length on a number of occassions, been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him on and off set, and got to know the man and the myth.

Van Damme and Mike LeederHe’s a man of many different moods, he can be his own worst critic, he’ll admit to his own faults, he can be fiercely loyal as a friend, when my mother passed away several years ago, he was there for me as a friend offering support, and when he’s focused he can bring a passion to a project that is contagious, he has a lot of ideas, and unfortunately I think sometimes his generosity has been taken advantage of by people including some that he held very dear to him, is her perfect? No, nobody is.

I’ve seen the good and bad, the highs and the lows, but he’s someone i’ve always admired and continue to do so, we’ve had our fights and disagreements over the years, everyone does, and there are times when i’ve wanted to punch him in the face and I’m sure there have been times when he’s wanted to do the same to me, and hang on he has!

But I still regard him as a valued friend and mentor, it’s funny but I’ve had conversations with the man about far more than martial arts and movies over the years. I think he gives a good performance in POF, his character is someone who is basically driven by revenge and adrenalin, he’s meant to be a little spaced out, a little removed from things, and it works for the character. Of course i’d love to see him doing a full on martial arts fight flick, he can still punch and kick in fine form, but that wouldn’t have fit the tone of this movie.

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