Mike Leeder Interview, the walking Encyclopaedia of Asian cinema

Budomate: Please tell about your work on Rush Hour 3?

Mike: While I will be the first to admit that I don’t think the finished film is a classic, I think certain decisions were made that changed its direction, from what everybody originally had planned and what eventually got released. The original idea was much darker, it was Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker’s character teaming up with the Ambassador’s daughter to fight the bad guys, but by the time the movie came out, it was just going through the motions.

It was interesting working with Brett Ratner, it’s very easy to take shots at him, but he’s a very talented dude, he can be a great director, a hell of a photographer, and thanks to him we’ve had projects like Prison Break, Electric Boogaloo etc, that he helped develop and drive to the finishing line.

Brett Ratner in Rush Hour 3What we have to remember is that the Rush Hour movies aren’t Jackie Chan Hong Kong movies, they are made for a much wider audience. I remember when I first saw Rush Hour I was somewhat disappointed but then had to think, yes as a die-hard Jackie fan it’s not is best, but if you’ve never seen a Jackie movie it’s a hell of an intro to the man and his mischief.

With regards to Rush Hour 3, Brett came into the movie with a lot of casting ideas, he originally had Tony Jaa in mind to play the villain, Gong Li, Aishiyara Rai and Sir Ian McKellen to be amongst the rest of the cast. Tony’s management at the time seemed to have zero interest in his involvement, especially to be playing the villain.

It’s funny but a few years earlier they had submitted his materials to Jackie when The Medallion was being made, and I think they felt that they had so much attention at the time for Tony that they didn’t need anyone else’s projects using him. So he turned us down pretty quickly, although I know that Tony & Brett have spoken a few times since about a potential project so who knows what the future holds.

Hiroyuki Sanada Brett Ratner Jackie ChanWe put together a hit list of potential actors and actresses and did castings in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Korea and Japan, a lot of people came in to read but scheduling issues were a huge problem for some actors. We had Fan Siu-wong and Vincent Zhao in the running for the villain, but Brett asked for some more ideas and I mentioned Hiroyuki Sanada and Brett liked the idea, and even knew that he used to be Sonny Chiba’s student.

Brett is quite a fan of Asian and Cult action cinema, as I said I don’t think he gets the best press at time, people tend to look for the negative side of things with him. He can be brash and he has a lot of ideas, and he’ll call you at 3 in the morning when he wants to ask you something, but it was an experience working with him.

There is a lot more to him than meets the eye, and I think he can be a hell of a director, I just think with the Rush Hour franchise, the movies started to become films by committee rather than his or anyone else’s single vision. Brett has a lot of love for martial arts cinema, and I hope one day he’ll be allowed to fully bring his vision for a couple of projects he’s talked about to the screen, as I think he’ll surprise a few people.

Zhang Jing-chu in Rush Hour 3I do think the movie criminally under-served Zhang Jing-chu who plays the Ambassador’s daughter, she is a phenomenal actress and when she signed on, originally the script called for her, Jackie & Chris Tucker to be battling the bad guys as a team, and then by the time shooting had started, she was no longer the gutsy girl but more the victim, which was very disappointing for her as well as us.

She can be seen briefly in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, she originally had a substantial role, her character was the love interest for Simon Pegg’s character but the movie went through an over-haul and re-shoots shortly before its release and she ended up only being very briefly seen in the one scene with Pegg and Alec Baldwin.

I also think that Brad Allan and his action design and choreography for the movie really got the short straw, he had planned some really epic action including a much more spectacular and fight driven finale between Sanada and Jackie, but scheduling issues, saw a lot of the action getting trimmed and a lot of the final action scene not being shot.

Jackie and Sanada in Rush Hour 3I saw the pre-viz, it would have really delivered what the fans wanted, and seen both Jackie and Sanada get to showcase their skills more but sadly it wasn’t to be. I enjoyed working on it with my partner in Screen Ops, Ean Tang but I don’t think that Rush Hour 3 was the film that anyone really set out to make, so much changed from the early ideas through the shoot to the release.

I am interested to see how the Rush Hour TV series pans out, the pilot has action by the great James Lew while a very old friend Jeff Wolfe handled the action for the whole season, and a lot of friends have worked on it both in front and behind the camera, and it’ll be interesting to see if Jon Foo can deliver on his potential, he has a very good skill set but for whatever reason he hasn’t broken out yet, so lets see.