Mike Leeder Interview, the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema

Budomate: What can you tell about Bolo Yeung popularity in the West?

Mike: Bolo Yeung is an enigma, in Hong Kong he’s pretty much unknown by people who aren’t extreme Bruce Lee fans or worked in the industry back when he was active. People don’t seem to realise that when he got cast in Bloodsport, his career had kind of wound down, Bloodsport resparked that career but on an international level as opposed to in Hong Kong.

When that film came out, boom the offers started coming in, and Bloodfight with Yasauki Kurata, Breathing Fire produced by Tan Tao-liang, he started connecting with International film-makers, Jalal Merhi etc, the Shootfighter movies, Double Impact, he got himself out into the International market in a way that so much Hong Kong talent never got.

The Whole World at Our FeetI do think that if he’d been prepared to play the villain more, he would have got more projects and bigger projects, but he decided he wanted to play the hero and at that time, he still had some language issues that I think affected that, you can be the villain and speak a foreign language or not perfect English, bit when you’re the hero you have to be able to communicate with the audience and I think a lot of the films, suffered because of that. He’s this great screen presence, and he can move, he’s a serious Tai Chi guy and was a real life bodyguard in the 70’s etc, and he can make so much work with just a few words, but I do think he made a great villain more often than as a hero.

I do wish we’d been able to do Kumite and The Pitbull with Jean-Claude and him, as the roles they had written for him was perfect, it was Chong Lee inspired but taken in new direction. For both projects, Chong Li was the starting point, but not the way you might expect, a little older a little wiser, a man who’s changed by circumstance. Both projects had so much potential, and really would have given Bolo a chance to show a different side to his character, they were well developed characters not oh lets shoe horn him in and try and rejig it for him, unfortunately both fell into development hell, and I think they would have been very cool projects.

He’s 70 years old this year, and still in remarkable shape. I know he still wants to do more projects, but his recent roles as an actor seem destined to remain in limbo, its nearly ten years since he shot the Blizni Boy movie with Cung Le & there’s The Whole World at Our Feet, both film had some money behind them, strong casts and production values but seem to have never come out, at least ‘not officially’. I know his son David, wants to become the natural successor to his father, and he certainly has the look and the physique but as far as I know he doesn’t really seem to have done anything that showcases what he can do as yet.