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Interview Gordon Chan, from The Big Heat to A-1
Final Option, SDU, Michael Wong 1/1 - Page 6
Author(s) : Thomas Podvin
David Vivier
Date : 13/1/2005
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Peter Chan Ho Sun
Lee Chi Ngai
Tsui Hark
Michael Wong Man Tak
John Woo
Movies :
A Better Tomorrow
Fight Back To School
Final Option
Heart To Hearts
King Of Beggars
Tom, Dick And Hairy
Companies :
Golden Harvest
< Previous
Page 5 : John Woo & Hard Boiled
Next >
Page 7 : First Option, The New Option

HKCinemagic: Your big action film was Final Option in 1994.
Gordon Chan: Actually, it was the first action film I made. Well, if you call King of Beggars (1992) an action film, that’s fine, but King of Beggars is still a comedy mixed with kung fu, a kung fu comedy.

Final Option was a very difficult script. The original script, the first draft was written so quickly. That script went through two years of development; it was after I shot King of Beggars. I didn’t want to do kung fu movie anymore but an action movie, a SDU movie [Ed.: HK Special Forces, the 'Special Duty Unit']. Because I did so much research on the SDU already after the Fight Back to School series, and we were already visiting the guns company so often and we became such good friends. I was starting taking out all this research. But the company never expected I could do an action film. I still remember asking “Can I do a SDU movie?” “Yes, why not. With Stephen?” I said “No, not that type of SDU movie. I want a real “action action” movie.”

HKCinemagic: In fact, Final option is an action movie but you developed the drama also. A large part of the film was dedicated to the characters development and background.
Gordon Chan: Yes, it was really rare in HK, nobody did it that way. They were used to do entertaining ‘action action’ movies.
HKCinemagic: Do you think it’s this little extra drama that really made it successful?
Gordon Chan: I guess not. The box office takings weren’t really that successful. It was really successful in a sense that it proved to everybody that I could really do something with action. And that’s all. [Ed.: The Final Option grossed in HK HKD11.2 millions in 49 days from 17/03/94 to 04/05/94 and ranked 19th this year out of 141 films]. It showed a different way of shooting gunfights from John Woo’s. After John Woo, everybody was just trying to replicate his work. You look at HK films then, all the [gunfights] were basically a replica from A Better Tomorrow. Or everybody else just used their fists, nothing else. Jackie Chan was always very good at designing scenes where they throw away the weapons and start fighting [with fists] with each others.

So I was just trying to do something very different. I think that was fun. But that film was so difficult for me. In fact, this coffee shop [Ed.: In the Landmark, in Central, Hong Kong] is the place where I convinced Golden Harvest’s Mr. [Raymond] Chow to let me shoot that film on the condition that I wouldn’t get paid if that film flopped. That means if that film hadn’t made any profit I wouldn’t have gotten one dime. And I promised him, and said “let me do it, just let me do it.” That was a year and a half after I shot King of Beggars. Producers were asking me to shoot kung fu movies again and again and I just kept on refusing.

HKCinemagic: You didn’t want to be stuck with a trend.
Gordon Chan: I mean, I don’t believe in ‘trend following’. It’s good to be a trend setter, it’s good to be on the forefront, but then, why stay behind? When everybody is going that way, I don’t think it’s fine anymore. We need to find something new, and I think the audience thinks that too. At that time, all HK comedies had a kung fu element. I was almost the only filmmaker who came up with something different. Also during that time, there was Peter Chan’s and Lee Chi Ngai’s film, Tom, Dick & Hairy (1993), which was a comedy and I was the producer. That was what we were doing; we were trying to escape from a trend and begging everybody to let us do something different.
HKCinemagic: Back to Final Option, you did much research for the SDU?
Gordon Chan: Yes, that took more than two years.
HKCinemagic: You met with real SDU officers?
Gordon Chan: Yes and it was funny. The policeman didn’t dare talk to me directly because I was kind of a famous director. There were afraid they would got… Well, it’s illegal for them to leak information on the SDU. So when we met we ended up like in a triad meeting. We were sitting at different tables.
I couldn’t write anything so I just tried to remember everything. And we got some intel on where they were going next to train and then we would go there and have a peek. It was fun. But after the first film, I start getting a lot of trust and support from the police department.
HKCinemagic: In the end credit of Final Option, you already thanks a lot of Police departments, so you already had some sort of support.
Gordon Chan: That was the army -- the British Army. They were leaving HK then, and they said: “What’s the heck, we are leaving anyway… so let’s do it!” (Laughing).
HKCinemagic: You gave Michael Wong, one of his best roles to date, why did you cast him?
Gordon Chan: Because I did think I needed a Caucasian.
HKCinemagic: Police officers at the time were all Caucasian?
Gordon Chan: Yes, in the SDU unit, they were all Caucasian. There were very few Chinese guys then. Because of the SAS too. SDU came from the SAS [Ed.: The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces regiment within the British Army]. The SDU’s original instructors all came from the SAS.
HKCinemagic: You attach a lot of importance to the realism of the film, and the characters.
Gordon Chan: I was not an action director and everybody was already so surprised when they heard I was going to shoot that film. I needed everything to come across as real, this is real, this is something different. The English language was part of the equation. That was a gamble also. Before that, everybody dubbed Caucasians and English dialogues in their films, nobody spoke English in films. Producers didn’t believe in it, no way you could survive with this. But when I brought the rushes and said: “Hey, I just cannot give that up. I need to make them speak English.” So I just kept the original story and tried. And it was successful… I was lucky.
HKCinemagic: Michael Wong can not only speak English but also Cantonese.
Gordon Chan: Yes, and he made it so friendly towards the HK audience. They saw that this gweilo speaks Cantonese. It was nice.
HKCinemagic: He is also built as a SDU officer, he’s very fit.
Gordon Chan: Yes. I think also part of the success of the film comes from the fact that it was the first synch-sound action film around. Heart to Hearts was the first synch sound film around for a long period. Before that, nobody shot with synch sound. Dubbing was the norm. And then I tried to convince everybody to let me shoot with synch sound. They thought using synch sound for action films was a waste because you were going to dub it anyway. Eventually they let me shoot in synch sound. I insisted on shooting in synch sound even when we were doing gunfights and I used those sounds. It was so different from John Woo’s films. When you watch Final Option, it’s like watching a documentary.
HKCinemagic: Indeed, and the film relates the beginnings of the SDU in HK. Is it the real story?
Gordon Chan: Yes, and it was almost like watching a documentary that [created the] wow [effect], and that was something different. Every now and then, you need to do something different. But it’s a very hard thing to tell the investors. They will always follow the trend. That’s why I’d be proud to say I am the student of Tsui Hark, because I try different ways. Even Tsui Hark was so surprised when he saw the film Heart to Hearts.

HKCinemagic: In Final Option you show a lot of combat tactics and weaponry, etc. Why did you choose to do that? It seems you are keen on showing how weapons work and all.
Gordon Chan: Yes, I mean at that time everybody was filming swords, unreal things. For my film, a bunch of actors were trained for a month and a half with the real SDU. Everyday, they’d pick up their weapons and shoot, to know and understand weapons. For HK people, this is such a rare thing. They were so impressed when they saw actors really loading and unloading guns themselves.
HKCinemagic: Actually in John Woo’s movies, they never reload…
Gordon Chan: They just hold them like “what do I do with it?” My actors were so good that after the training they managed to repair, disassemble weapons, everything. In fact their experience with firearms was much more comprehensive than the one of an ordinary policeman on the streets. So that was part of my process on impressing everybody.

If you remember the scene after the shooting range they come back and unload their weapons, there is still a round in the chamber and they would expel it and the bullet would come flying and they’d grab it in mid air with one hand. Well, that wasn’t standard procedure. That was only for fun in the movie. A couple of years ago I went to Beijing and some people showed me a documentary about the Beijing Airport Special Forces. They also catch the bullet in mid air --every time! (Laughing)

HKCinemagic: Because they watched your movie!
Gordon Chan: And it wasn’t part of the training at all. So I was almost sure it came from my movie. I was so happy. In China, they didn’t have any Special Force training, so all they could have was my film.

So these actors learnt so much and really worked so hard, and they were so proud. In fact the same bunch of actors, even though they are not very famous now, is the major part of HK action films nowadays. All the Special Forces guys in films, if you look carefully you’d find them. There are more of them now, because after Final option, Special Forces films became such a trend in HK. But they are still in the industry and they are still teaching the stuff that they’d learnt from that month and a half training.

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Page 5 : John Woo & Hard Boiled
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Page 7 : First Option, The New Option

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