Mike Leeder Interview, the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema

Budomate: How big is your collection of movies and what is the latest addition?

Mike: As my long suffering bank account will attest, my collection is big! I’m a fan, I came to Hong Kong as a fan, got into the industry as a fan, and I am very happy to say that I am still a fan! It’s very easy to try and be, ‘oh now I’m a professional, I am no longer a mere, I no longer get geeked out!” Bollocks to that! I can be professional and still be a fan, and yes the fact that I get to work with, to know, and to call many people I’ve long admired as friends and colleagues is a hell of a buzz.

As for just how big my collection is, I am scared to say that I don’t really know how many films I have in my collection, I think if I started counting I’d have a panic attack!

<a href=Mike Leeder's collection” width=”292″ height=”440″ class=”alignleft size-large wp-image-13209″ />I have tons of DVDs, an increasing amount of Blu-Rays, HD-DVD’s, VCD’s, VHS, Betamax, Laserdiscs (That’s a serious addiction in itself!), some 35mm prints of movies, throw in posters, lobby cards, scripts, some props and costumes, i’ve got a lot of stuff in storage, in an ideal world i’d have a huge Highlander’esque wareouse conversion to display it all in!

It’s funny because when I first arrived in HK I really thought it would be easy to buy HK movie memorabilia etc when I first arrived, but there was no collectors market or sell through market when I got here, and a lot of movies that are widely available (sadly too often as bootlegs) in the west, you can’t get for love or money in Hong Kong.

When we were in prep for The Man with the Iron Fists for example, RZA had this list of classic kung fu movies he wanted for reference to show the cast and crew, so I volunteered to make reference copies for him and someone in production was like ‘oh we will just send a PA to the video shops and buy copies of them!”, and I was laughing, “If you can find them, can you buy some copies for me too?”

A few days later they tell me they couldn’t get any of the movies, and I handed over a big stack of DVD’s i’d burnt from my laserdiscs VHS and DVD’s of films like Sammo Hung’s The Victim, Hitman in the Hand of Buddha, Incredible Kung Fu Mission etc. You can’t get them in Hong Kong!

Mike LeederWhen I first arrived, I met many of the old Shaw Brother’s stars and they would ask if you knew their movies and if you had any of them they could get copies of. Until the Celestial re-releases, the majority of the Shaws movies had no form of Hong Kong video release, although so many have been released in the West over the years (but didn’t someone say Shaws didn’t want their movies to be seen by Foreigners?).

Things like the Bruce Lee Clone movies, you might see the occasional Ocean Shores release, or Mei ah released Dragon Force with Bruce Li, but so many of those titles are hard to find in HK, even now!

When Blockbuster Video closed its doors here, they sold off all the Laserdiscs and VHS for a dollar a pop, I picked up so man of them, and a lot of friends asked why I didn’t just go buy the DVD etc, and I explained a lot of these movies will never make the transition to DVD etc, the original companies are long gone and the market for many of these movies is so small these days.

It’s funny because so many movies that are big hits with the fans in the west, are almost completely forgotten in HK.

I was shooting an interview with Lee Hai-sheng (the bald martial arts master from so many classic movies), and in-between takes we got chatting about some of his other films, and I mentioned his performance in Sammo Hungs Enter the Fat Dragon, where all political correctness aside, he plays a Jim Kelly inspired fighter with black face and an Afro wig and some very 70’s fashions.

I start telling him about it and he is looking at me like I’m completely insane, he said he had no memory of this film. Now I happened to have it on my hard-drive, so I pulled out my laptop and showed him the movie. It was amazing to see his reaction, that he literally couldn’t remember shooting it and was watching it for possibly the first time or the first time since its cinema debut.

Sometimes we forget that the role or movie that is so important to us as a viewer, was just a couple of days shooting for these guys 40 years ago! And that it’s like me asking you “What were you doing on the afternoon of 12th May 1993?”. So I always bring clips and reference when we shoot interviews to jog memories. A lot of these guys also have no idea how much of a following these films have internationally.

When we were doing the Suntory commercials, we shot one with Chang Chen from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and another with the lovely Fan Bing-bing. We were shooting in Tokwawan, and two doors down from the restaurant we were shooting at, there was a second hand shop and I wondered in there during the lunch break and came back to the location.

Mike Leeder and Jeff WolfeI had a couple of the Godzilla movies on Laserdisc, and some old VHS and the Japanese director was amazed that I had been able to buy LD’s &VHS and that I had something to play them on. I love the new technology, but I can’t handle the “Oh I have the VHS its the greatest format, oh now I have Laserdisc its the greatest format, oh now I have DVD its the greatest you must throw away your VHS and LD. I can’t watch movies in those older formats in any way now. Oh now I have Blue-ray and I must throw away all my DVDs and so on, and this format is the greatest until the next one comes’ people.”

I am a big fan of the film not the format, and sometimes I’ll buy different versions because of different special features and sometimes just coz a certain cover from another country looks cool.

Sometimes some of my collection goes walkabout, I had ordered from eBay a whole bunch of posters for Bruce Le movies, as I wanted him to sign them for me, and of course I sit own with him over lunch and he’s “Oh, I haven’t seen this one, oh this one is a favourite, oh I like this one!” and I ended up giving him the majority of them for his office, but he’s given me so much in terms of friendship and support that its not an issue, well not a big one!

Especially in HK, nobody seemed to really collect memorabilia, so a lot of people dont have some of their own movies, let alone posters and lobbys, so it can be funny when people realise you have their stuff.

My most recent additions would be new, the HK DVD & Bluray of Pound of Flesh, I picked both up yesterday as it’s two different covers and hey I produced the film and got beaten up in it, so I need that for my collection! I just picked up a bundle of laserdiscs from a friend, including some very rare Japanese special editions of some of the Jackie Chan classics which I will be exploring the next few weeks.