There is a first time for anything. Back in October 2000, there was a little challenge going on in Star2’s entertainment desk to take up an assignment which encouraged the writers to get out of their comfort zones.
For this music writer then, a movie assignment was a novel thing. Coincidentally, an invite from Golden Screen Cinemas arrived, asking for a writer and photographer to head to Shanghai to write about a Hong Kong movie called China Strike Force, starring Aaron Kwok, which had Hollywood aspirations.
The name of the movie was already cheesy enough to tempt me – someone who can’t speak any Chinese. It sounded like fun. Plus I hadn’t been to Shanghai before.
The clincher was an interview with China Strike Force’s main star Kwok – he of the Four Heavenly Kings club – and then hotshot HK director Stanley Tong.
The assignment was approved, and it was The Star’s then photo chief, the late Tan Hong Tatt, who partnered up with me on this mission to Shanghai.
What we didn’t think – or worry – about was the on-location interview site. The small detail of heading up the 43rd floor of an industrial construction site in Pudong, Shanghai, was somehow missed.
In Shanghai, we were booked in a Zen meditation retreat; it was probably the nearest digs to the film site. Rustic wasn’t a problem.
The next day, work started bright and early, a 7am arrival at the construction site. Makeshift elevators and buck hoists took us up the 43rd floor of the building. Hard hats were handed to visitors. Despite it being only October, it was a windy, wet and chilly day in Shanghai.
But we were in good spirits. A whole HK movie crew set-up greeted us with Tong waving and welcoming us on board. The schedule? Well, it was a fluid one. We had to wait around as there was actual shooting of the final scenes to be done with Kwok and Japanese actress/model Norika Fujiwara.
For a few hours, we just walked about, wrote notes and watched the filming. Hong Tatt was in his daredevil element, getting some fabulous angles and photographs. Nevermind that he was exploring the edges of the building – and the upper floors – to get better shots.
It was an experience watching Tong handling his actors and the stunts required. A Rolls Royce – with the actors atop – perched precariously from such great heights was quite a sight.
Once lunchtime arrived, there was a window for the interviews.
Kwok realised there were some members of the Malaysian media waiting to meet him, and he was friendly enough to come over and shake our hands. He didn’t really need his minders about. So I set up the interview recorder and Hong Tatt started clicking away.
This was Aaron Kwok, looking a tad exhausted and smeared in fake blood, but more than game to get on with the interview. Surprisingly enough, he pulled out two bottles of birds nest tonic from a nearby food carrier for Hong Tatt and me. Talk about hospitality.
The interview was easy-going, with Kwok very attentive and animated when we talked about fast cars and how bruising the filming of China Strike Force had been for him. He did all the stunts. During the earlier months of shooting, he mentioned he ruptured a breastbone joint in the motorcycle scene and had to take a three-week break. He also crashed an F3 car in a chase scene involving him driving under a truck.
“I was the only one on set with an F3 licence, so I volunteered to drive,” he mentioned proudly.
He beamed further when we asked him how many sports cars he had in his garage in Hong Kong. Kwok, who has participated in the Macau Grand Prix and is an avid Formula Renault racing fan, admitted he barely had time to race because of his busy movie-making schedules.
One thing for certain was he wanted to wrap up China Strike Force in one piece, but he knew Tong was a demanding director.
He even joked that he hoped nothing bad would happen in the next few days of shooting back then.
“I don’t think I want to find out how it feels to fall from the 43rd floor!” he said with a grin.
The gym-toned Kwok, who played a Shanghai policeman in China Strike Force, was also accommodating when it came to autographs and photos. He took his time to chat a bit after the interview ended. I do recall Hong Tatt, who was a speed demon on his Vespa, mentioning to Kwok that he was more than welcome to head to KL to have a Vespa race.
“You’ll have to give me a head start!” said a smiling Kwok as he waved goodbye and went back to work.