Mike Leeder Interview, the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema

Budomate: Earlier English media knew a little about Asian movies but now it’s everywhere and people not aware of some really good western action movies, what has changed?

Mike: It is amazing just how much that has changed, when I first came to Hong Kong, the general consensus and ‘inside information’ for most fans was that Yuen Biao, Yuen Kwai, Yuen Woo-ping are all related, that if Sammo was in a movie he must have directed and choreographed it, and while a lot of that has now been cleared up, its frustrating how much disinformation is still taken as gospel truth and spread.

But, its amazing how things have changed now, when I was a lad it was either full screen English dubs or dodgy multi-generation subtitled or often non subtitled prints of certain movies, now you can so easily go into a shop and buy a high quality version of a movie from Hong Kong or Taiwan, or Thailand or Korea with a choice of languages, subtitles, interviews and other stuff, an there are so many websites with interviews and overviews and information that’s so readily available.

<a href=Mike Leeder on sets” width=”293″ height=”440″ class=”alignleft size-large wp-image-13212″ />What’s funny is that when I came to Hong Kong, I really thought that English language material and information on Hong Kong films would be readily available, that there would tons of cool merchandise and stuff. It was something of a shock to find out how lil informed most of HK’s English press was when it came to Hong Kong Cinema and the entire Entertainment Industry here.

That there was no real collectible market here, there weren’t any poster shops like the Cinema Store etc in the UK where you could buy memorabilia. I ended up getting a lot of my stuff shipped out here from England, films that were readily available in the UK and America were just not available in any way here. Even now there’s not the biggest collectible market here for Hong Kong film.

But what really does frustrate me is when people continue to drag out the same misinformation year after year, “Oh Godfrey Ho directed every movie ever made, oh IFD stole the films from Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines etc oh Bruce Le was in prison for murder (no he wasn’t!), stunt guys get killed every day in Hong Kong movies’, even worse when people in the industry come out with stupid comments and bullshit just to make themselves sound in the know.

A recent interview where someone came out with the ridiculous ‘IFD started the fire that destroyed the Garley Building and killed Thomas Tang to cover the fact they had stolen movies’, its bullshit.

What’s even more ridiculous to me, is when people seem to want to believe the lies, the fact that someone using the various pseudonyms Garaijun, Frank Lakatos, Wan Chai Transient etc was making up interviews with Godfrey Ho, claiming Dragon Lee was Russian, that Bruce Baron had died of a steroid overdose, outlandish claims that he was a Hong Kong movie dubber that implied the life of someone doing English dubs was like the Wolf of Wall Street with dubbers sitting in the Peninsula Hotel making so much money that they could light cigars with HK$1000 notes!

And people bought into it. I remember in the early 90s when Asian Trash Cinema put out a book that was all photos taken out of the late lamented Cinemart magazine, many of them with ridiculously fake captions and the wrong names for the actors etc on them, and tons of ‘inside information’ such as Chan Wai-man being a pseudonym for Andy Lau! Certain actors or actresses being given English names, they have never heard of etc.

Mike Leeder filmingThere are still websites that propogate a lot of the bullshit, ones that print interviews without checking any information no matter how ludicrous it may seem, there are ‘self proclaimed’ stars doing endless interviews talking about their extensive careers that don’t exist, or blowing the slightest involvement in a project completely out of proportion.

I don’t have a problem if someone has been an extra on a movie, but being an extra on “Now You See It 2″ and then doing interviews about just how major a role you had? And let me guess when the movie comes out, you will claim you were cut because you outshone the real stars?

And what really pisses me off and disappoints me is people who have worked in Hong Kong or Internationally, who then fashion an entirely new fantasy career that in reality takes a dump on the work they’ve really done, because of the amount of ahem ‘misquotes’ they never bothered to clear up.

There’s a guy doing countless interviews talking about how he is doing the ‘pre-viz’ for THE RAID remake, which is kind of interesting when there is no director, no stunt coordinator etc attached, the stupid thing is, he has some talent, but I guess he figures “I’m prepping to previz The Raid remake” is a lot more hype than “I’m shooting some pre-viz in the hope of getting on The Raid remake’ if and when it moves forward.

It’s disrespectful to the people in the industry who are working their asses off, the unsung heroes who do put in the effort. Websites do some due diligence, and guys stop lying!

Times change, its the easy thing to take shots at Ric Myers who has shall we say helped contribute a lot of disinformation over the years, his original book for the time it was published, From Bruce Lee to the Ninja’s, that book was an essential read.

Yes there’s a certain amount of misinformation, and some names and info are a little off, but at that time, there was so little information readily available, and it was probably for its time the most informative and widely available books on martial arts cinema from Hong Kong, Japan and America etc. There had been a few other books on HK cinema, but none of them had ever got the distribution that one did.

People seem to forget that some of us grew up in a time, where trying to see these movies often meant jumping through hoops, trying to buy VHS copies from gentlemen in brightly coloured tracksuits who would assure you that this film was directed by an starring Sammo Hung, or was a sequel to that film, and they probably thought it was.

Mike Leeder

I used to go to screenings in Chinatown, and often there’d be no English title on the poster or the poster didn’t really tell you what the movie was about, so you’d try and recognise one of the cast and make your choice judged on that. When A Better Tomorrow came out in the UK in Chinatown, the cinema had the ‘soft’ poster up with Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung, Ti Lung and Emily Chu on it, all smiling and it didn’t look like any kind of action movie, so we gave it a miss, next day some friends are calling me telling me how incredible it is!

When I first got here I started to learn what was real what wasn’t, and times have changed now, there is so much information readily available, it doesn’t take much to do research, prime example the driving force behind the Podcast on Fire, Kenneth Brorsson he does his research when he does interviews, audio commentaries or discussions, he doesn’t claim to know everything but he doesn’t just make stuff up.

I find myself getting increasingly pissed off by people who just make stuff up for their commentaries, where they are making up insider knowledge to makes themselves seem connected to the project, its funny when you listen to commentaries from people who had nothing to do with a project and thye’ve done a certain amount of research which is great, but suddenly and somehow they have access to people’s conversations and thoughts? Or they just randomly contradict their own previous commentaries and statements.

I don’t know everything, I still learn stuff as I go, when we did the Legacy of Rage commentary, its one of my favourite movies and i’ve spoken to various cast and crew, but I learnt so much from Ronny as we did the commentary, and sadly he learnt from me that Regina Kent, the female lead had passed away some years ago. But if I don’t know stuff I don’t make it up.

It’s like when someone reviewed my movie One Million Klicks for a website, and didn’t recognize Master Lee from South Shaolin Master and makes an epic statement from their wealth of inside info stating “Master Lee had previously worked in film, but in the catering department!” Stop making stuff up, there’s enough misinformation out there to begin with, don’t make it worse and don’t just lie in the hope of people thinking you’re so well informed. You just look stupid when the truth comes out.

Mike Leeder

BUT and this is what kills me, there is still so much disinformation that people quite readily spread, and too often people seem to want to believe the bullshit. The website coolasscinema.com did a huge overview of things that a certain expert has repeatedly gotten wrong and continued to come out with. He’s an intelligent guy but for some reason, even on the recent Films of Fury disc, he seems to want to come out with stuff for the wrong reasons.

We all make mistakes, but acknowledge them and people might not have a problem but if you’re selling yourself as an expert you got to be prepared for criticism. And yes there are a lot of urban legends shall we say about martial arts cinema, especially Hong Kong & Taiwanese cinema, and some of them no matter how outlandish are true, but lets try and clear up the facts.

I learnt a lot of stuff by questioning things and going off to try and find out the truth from different sources, and sometimes the truth is far wilder than the lies. SOMETIMES!

I still remember when everyone claimed Hwang Jang-Lee was in Exile in Korea, then I tracked him down with the late great Linn Haynes help for an exclusive interview for Hong Kong Legends (who subsequently lost the damn tapes! D’oh) and he was far from exile, he was living on Jeju island at the time, running his school. But I guess the exile/in hiding story was far more interesting to people!

If you want to know more about Hwang-Jang-Lee you can read his latest interview with Eastern Kicks. They talk to the ultimate kung fu bad guy, best known for facing off against Jackie Chan in his breakthrough films.