Randy Channell Soei
29th April, 2020
Now living in Japan where he teaches Chanoyu (the tea ceremony) but back in the day, Randy Channell Soei appeared in many Hong Kong movies including the cult martial arts B-movie, DRAGON FORCE. In this exclusive interview, he shares some of his memories of his time in the industry...
Can we first start the interview by telling the readers a little about yourself and your background?
Before I begin please let me say thank you for tracking me down and for this interview, it’s an honour. (How did you even find me…more to the point why would you!?)
I’m Canadian by nationality but have been living in Asia since Jesus was a baby! For over the last 30 years here in Japan. I was born in Victoria and grew up in Edmonton. I had, what I consider, a typical middle-class upbringing…whatever that means! LONG and VERY cold winters so of course winter sports which means LOTS of hockey!!!
Can we discuss your background in the martial arts?
When I was a child (7 or 8?) I did judo for a short time. I think through the YMCA!? Anyway, at the time I wasn’t thinking martial arts or kicking ass it was just fun to hang and “play” with my friends. I do remember one episode quite clearly…I was walking on the outside of the mats when two men were fighting. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. As one man threw the other his foot clocked me good on the cheek knocking me down. Everyone was quite concerned that I’d been knocked out but I got up quickly saying that I was fine. The reason I remember it so clearly is that I wasn’t tough at all and would usually have started crying but for whatever reason, I wanted to be a “staunch dude” there…go figure.
After judo, in school we did wrestling and some friends were doing boxing as well so I joined with them. That morphed into taekwondo and hapkido which I guess could be considered my first introduction to the Martial Arts. I fought in several kickboxing tournaments in the 1970’s, the last one being in ’77 where I placed 3rd in Western Canada as a heavyweight. After that, I left for Hong Kong with a Chinese friend I’d been doing Wing Chun with.
When we arrived In Hong Kong my friend recommended I do a different style of kung-fu due to my body type. (He was politely reminding me I was fat!) I began studying Hung Gar with Chiu Chi Ling. Before I was accepted I had to fight several of his top students. I’ll be honest even though I’d had quite a few fights and was confident in my skills I was still a bit nervous! Turned out I needn’t be…I don’t think any of them had any real fighting experience. As I went through the ranks I could see they watched too many kung-fu movies and believed in their mythical prowess! The last guy went so far as to say that he couldn’t fight me because if he went all out he’d stab his fingers through my side! I told him “PLEASE” I’d love to see that! Didn’t happen…
Anyway, as I wasn’t looking for practical fighting skills at this point so I ended up a live-in disciple staying right at the kwoon with Chiu Sifu’s father Chiu Kau and mother Shiu Ying. I have very fond memories of my time with them. I couldn’t speak any Cantonese then and their English was about the same…it was interesting, to say the least! While studying there I was part of his troupe so to speak and went with the students for events and presentations. There were many but I remember two vividly. One was at the kwoon where a group of Shorinji Kempo practitioners from Japan came to visit. The kwoon was not very big so we were all crammed in around the walls to leave a space in the center for demonstrations. I don’t remember the order but I’ll say the guests went first followed by us. We each showed some forms both unarmed and with weapons. As Chiu Sifu had been teaching me the Kwan blade that is what I did. I also did a double nunchaku demo as well. It finished a little embarrassingly…Hong Kong is very hot and humid and with so many people in such a cramped space I was sweating profusely and as I was swinging one of the nunchaku slipped out of my sweaty hand and popped one of the Japanese guests in the stomach! I felt terrible but at the end of the day no harm, no foul. After the event, we were all treated by the Japanese to a dinner on one of the floating restaurants in Aberdeen, I’m pretty sure it was the Jumbo. VERY NICE!
On another occasion, I was part of a demonstration where I performed “gung ji” at a celebration for Wong Fei Hung that his last wife (Mok Kwai Lan) presided over. That was quite a privilege.
Even more of an honour was witnessing Chiu Kau perform “tit sin kuen” (the Iron Wire form) that was historical! He would’ve been in his 80’s then!!!
I think at that time I was Chiu sifu’s 2nd or 3rd foreign student. Now he has thousands of foreign students ALL over the world. I’m happy to see that he has spread his family’s Hung Gar tradition. He was always a funny and friendly guy.
I also studied Wing Chun with Yip Chun and Sam Lau, though to be honest they probably spent more time teaching me mah-jong!!! I was even given a mook jung by Sam that was from Yip Man’s kwoon!!! Just the post, not the arms and leg but still one of Yip Man’s mook jung…I mean really!!! Can you imagine what that would be worth today!? (When I moved to Japan I gave it to a friend to look after…never saw it again!)
How did you get involved in the film industry in Hong Kong?
Chui Sifu introduced me. He was doing the fight choreography for a movie called “The Almighty Extra”. It was shot in ’77 and released in ’79. That was my first movie and the rest they say is history.
At that time in Hong Kong there weren’t that many foreigners trying to do action movies. As a matter of fact, I can only think of four that were there then. John Ladalski, Mimmo Gasbarri, Roy Horan and Bill Lake. Bill wasn’t a martial artist but he got a lot of character roles because he spoke Cantonese. Though I’m sure I met him I don’t think I worked with Roy but by all accounts, he was a good guy. His kung fu was good too! I worked a lot with Mimmo and John though, we were in a lot of movies together. Mimmo was based out of Taiwan and John was ALL over the place. I think out of all the guys that “worked the circuit” so to speak John did the most. Right up until he passed away he was chasing his dream. He was often misunderstood so he had a lot of people problems. I think he’d have been much more popular if he wasn’t so difficult to deal with at times. I can still clearly remember Chung Sun (dir. My Rebellious Son) throwing his hands up and shouting in Mandarin “tamade, ta bu minbai” roughly translated I guess would be…”Shit, this guy just doesn’t understand!”
Mimmo also did quite a bit of work behind the camera as well. He was an assistant director and if I’m not mistaken also a director for a few movies. He did a lot of TV/movie work in Taiwan as well, again on both sides of the camera. You should probably get an interview with him I’m sure he has a lot of interesting stories as well. He was a fan of John Liu and very inspired by him. He was always stretching so he was very flexible and his kicks were very good. But as he was rather small he didn’t get cast in some parts that he probably should’ve been. The Chinese like their foreigners to be much bigger than the stars so when they beat them…well you know the bigger they are the harder they fall!
I was a freelance contract artist (whatever that means!?) with Shaw Bros, Golden Harvest, TVB, RTV (now ATV?) and I did a few jobs with RTHK and of course lots of smaller independent production companies. I think I’ve been in around 50 movies and TV shows.
I also had a small “company” that as well as casting extras for movies and TV shows did English dubbing for the international market. That was interesting work and at times quite complicated in finding the right phrases to go with the lip sync!!! I’m sure you’ve seen many that didn’t!
The first film listed on your filmography online is the Golden Harvest movie, Super Fool! 龍咁威 (1981). What are your memories of this movie? Was this your first time working on a movie?
No, by the time I shot Super Fool! I’d already been in a few. My “filmography” is SORELY lacking. Of course, many of the parts I had were too small for any credits but another reason is that when I was in Hong Kong I took a Chinese name. “Chan Lung” which, when pronounced in Cantonese sounds similar to my last name Channell. So I think a couple of credits are under that name. These days I use Randy Channell Soei, Soei being the name I received from the Grand Tea Master. So I could have listings under any of those three names. Anyway, Super Fool wasn’t the first movie I did but it was the first movie that I ever saw myself on the big screen in. It was a weird feeling and I didn’t like it. To this day I’m still not so keen on watching myself on screen… big or small!
It was a comedy starring Richard Ng. He was playing an extra in a movie that became a star and I was playing the director. There was no action in it for me but I do remember one incident. There is a scene where Richard was to double for the star (or maybe he was already the star!?) where he was to fall into the ocean from a crane in a shipyard. By chance, there was a team of American high divers performing at Ocean Park so they were contacted to do the stunt. At any rate, I heard they were getting HK$10,000 for the stunt which was a lot of money back then so I told the producers I’d do it for half. So they took me up the crane, I guess to scare me off because of the height. It was quite high, (sphincter puckering high!) I don’t remember exactly but over 100ft for sure. It didn’t work I was still keen to do it…”I was young, dumb and full of…” as the saying goes. Anyway to my chagrin their better judgment prevailed and the divers did the stunt. In retrospect that’s probably a good thing. My leap would have looked more realistic as I would’ve been screaming and flailing like a little girl on the way down instead of the smooth backflip of the high diver! And I’m quite sure the impact would have been different! They had scuba divers below the surface in case of any problems…if I had made the “dive” they’d probably still be looking for parts and I wouldn’t be doing your interview!
Amongst your screen roles, you appeared in the Shaw Brothers movie, My Rebellious Son, the Casanova Wong movie Blow Up and the Chuck Norris film, Forced Vengeance. What can you remember about those movies?
I remember enough that each one of those films could have their own interview!!! I’ll give you a few stories…
My Rebellious Son (Also released as Raging Tiger)
I did a lot of work with Shaw Brothers Studios over the years but this one was my best contract with them. A comedy with a familiar storyline… Chinese vs foreigner. Alexander Fu Sheng plays the mischievous son who beats the evil gwailo and saves the village. Filming was a blast, it shot totally on the Shaw Brothers lot. Of course, I had met Fu Sheng before but not filmed with him. His brother even went to school in Edmonton where I used to live!
John, Mimmo and I were together in this movie. John was a boxer, Mimmo a fencer and I played a wrestler I guess? Chan Wai Man was playing a Japanese samurai. I worked with him on Handcuff (1979). We got along well and I’d bump into him sometimes in Tsim Sha Tsui. That was always cool. It was open knowledge that he was with the triads. He was VERY high up in 14K and basically ran Tsim Sha Tsui. His reputation always preceded him and it was interesting to see how people gave him his distance. He could not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. He was one of the only actors that actually fought in tournaments! Even beat some Muay Thai fighters I think.
The main fight scene of the movie was where I fought Fu Sheng in a boxing ring they put up in the backlot. It was shot over several days if I remember correctly. It was all outdoors with the sun beating down relentlessly. I think if you watch closely you can sometimes see where I’m sunburnt in one scene but not the next. I had to wear what looked like a one-piece bathing suit from the 20’s, I hated it, kept crawling up my ass when I kicked! I fought hard not to wear it but they were adamant. But in my next scene though they had a different costume for me. Too little too late!
I worked with the fight choreographer before so the fight came together smoothly. A few misses by both myself and Fu Sheng but that’s to be expected. Nothing too debilitating so no real delays. I think on-screen it’s a fairly long fight…around five minutes.
Unfortunately, that was the last time I worked with Fu Sheng. I think it was his last movie (maybe one other) before he died in a car crash.
Blow Up (108 Gold Shield Killers)
I was working on a screenplay with Carter Wong when this movie came up and he asked me to help him out with it. The movie was originally called “The 108 Gold Shield Killers”, I think I even have a flyer with that title somewhere. If I remember correctly two guys that had never done a movie before wanted to do one they could be in. Anyway, they used Carter and he arranged for Ka Sa Fa (Casanova Wong) and Hwang Jang Lee. One of the producers thought he was a kung fu star and the other was a sleazeball that wanted to be in some sex scenes. Nice enough guys but kind of weird. Even their secretary was in it, I had a fight scene with her. She wasn’t bad, I think the scene got cut? As did LOTS in that movie. It was all over the place, VERY convoluted! A lot of movies out of Hong Kong then we’re like that.
Mai Suet and Chan Li Li were also in the film. I’d worked with both of them before they were very popular at the time. Mai Suet got her big break on TV maybe just the year before I arrived in Hong Kong. I worked with her on RTV’s Legendary Fok. I worked with Chan Li Li on Bruce Strikes Back. She was often cast in sexy roles as a girlfriend or temptress… understandable.
John, Mimmo and I were tripled up in this movie too. Good fun. John, Mimmo and I fought Ka Sa Fa in a bar scene and Mimmo and I also fought outdoors against Carter Wong. I think John had a scene with Hwang Jang Lee at the same location.
Forced Vengeance (Jade Jungle)
Working on this movie was probably the highlight of my “illustrious” career! It was such a learning experience for me, SO professional compared to what I’d been used to up to then. Of course, a TOTALLY different budget but EVERYONE involved knew SO much more about what was involved in making movies than any other crew I had worked with.
I didn’t really have an agent to speak of and I was registered with a few different agencies but I don’t know how I received info about the audition. There were two and I remember them vividly. The first was just an “introduce yourself” style audition that was taped and then sent stateside to the casting director. I must have done something right as I got a callback! This time the audition was in a hotel on Hong Kong island overlooking the Victoria harbor. It was a very famous hotel but for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it…anyway. At the hotel, I was surprised that the director, James Fargo, was there. I was just thinking the casting director and a few others, maybe a producer. Anyway, the interview was with Mr. Fargo. It went very well. We seemed to hit it off with him asking me about the work I’d been involved in and why I came there in the first place. I think he was curious to know why a gwailo would come to Hong Kong and try to break into movies! He walked me over to the window and asked if I could see this yacht below in the harbor. There were MANY but I said yes! And he asked if could ‘fall’ from the top of it? Of course I said no problem! We sat back down and continued talking. When it was time for me to leave I didn’t have an answer. So probably against all protocol I just asked. “I need to keep my schedule open so when do you think you can let me know if I got the role or not? He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry I thought you understood, the part is yours”. I was SO psyched! My FIRST Hollywood movie! (Turned out to be my LAST too! No need to go into that.)
I was hired on in the role of Bianchi and to assist with the stunt team. I was supposed to stunt double for an older actor named Robert Emhardt in a scene that was to see him killed. They were going to fly me back to Hollywood to shoot it! That would have been great but for whatever reason, the scene was cut. The working title of the movie was “Jade Jungle”, I think it was on my pay stubs too?
Chuck’s brother Aaron was the stunt coordinator (He was the guy fighting Chuck in front of the neon sign in the opening sequence, he had a bald cap on.) and they had a few stunt guys from America. I want to say Stunts Unlimited which was way cool. Legendary!!! I could be mistaken though because I’m sure Bob Minor is a member of the Stuntman’s Association of Motion Pictures.
There was one fight scene with Bob Minor and the main villain pro wrestler Seiji Sakaguchi. He was the vice president of New Japan Pro-Wrestling association. Bob was to die in the scene but he told us he wasn’t going to go without a fight. Bob was a big guy but Sakaguchi san was even BIGGER!!! So when they started the scene there was a lot of testosterone in the room…At one point in the fight, Sakaguchi san gets Bob in a bear hug and they start thrashing around Bob pushes off a wall and they go crashing right through another wall. The wall wasn’t supposed to break, they were to bounce off it and keep fighting. But like I said they were two BIG guys. Anyway, they kept the cameras rolling and left it in the movie. It made a good impact, everybody loved the way It turned out.
As I was again a “bad guy” on Sakaguchi san’s side we were in a few scenes together. Here didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak any Japanese then but we did get along well. He had an assistant that interpreted things for him. He even offered me the opportunity to go to Japan with him and join his pro-wrestling association. I turned him down…was never a fan of the fake fights. I wanted to be a “real” martial artist. (I did play the part of pro-wrestler in a commercial in Japan though!) Yet there I was doing fake fight scenes for a living! I OFTEN wonder where I’d be today if is taken him up on his offer. Probably a LOT richer than I am. (Which wouldn’t take very much as I’m TOTALLY broke now!)
I should probably talk about Chuck Norris a little bit. This movie was picked up by MGM and they told us it was his first big budget Hollywood production. (I think he had a picture with Columbia before that though!?) He was very open and friendly with everyone and was very conscious of his public image. He wouldn’t even let us take a picture of him if he had a beer in his hand! I was originally to fight him on the yacht in the build up to the final scene where he and Michael Cavanagh fight. This was to be the scene where I was thrown over the side of the yacht. But for whatever reason I was changed out with Malcolm Lomax, who was a friend of Richard Norton’s. (He taught Michael Kavanaugh how to use the bo.) I was a bit disappointed in the change as in my scene I don’t really get to fight Chuck at all, he just kicks in the face. But, to be perfectly honest, it worked out for the best because my unconscious body was to remain in the scene throughout the final fight. SO I got several more days of pay, that made me quite happy! In the scene my hand is on the rung of a ladder and Chuck is supposed to step on it and then kick me. Apparently my reaction wasn’t good enough for the first take. James Fargo wanted to see more panic in my hand if that makes any sense. We tried it a couple more times but it didn’t really work out so well because Chuck wasn’t really stepping on my hand so strongly. He was concerned that he stepped on it with full power he would hurt my hand. I told him not to worry and finally I heard Aaron in the background say, “Just step on the damn thing for real” and he did! That take worked but I still kind of wish I could redo it!
This brings us onto the cult martial arts B-movie, DRAGON FORCE starring Bruce Baron and Bruce Li, amongst others. How did you get involved in this movie?
I was working a lot then so it kind of all blurs together with the passage of time. I don’t recall having to do an audition though I could be mistaken. I think I was approached directly for the job by either Johnny Mak, who was the director’s brother and producer of the movie or a stunt coordinator I had worked with before.
You have a brief fight scene with Bruce Li (Ho Chung-tao) at the end of the movie, what can you remember about filming that scene? What were your thoughts on him?
We had met before. He did a movie called the The Chinese Stuntman and I helped with getting Dan Inosanto involved. I want to say we worked together on another movie too but for the life of me I can’t remember the title of it so maybe I’m wrong. It was a LONG time ago, remember Jesus was still a baby! 😉 He was from Taiwan and he was a very a quiet, humble guy, which a lot of actors weren’t! And he didn’t like being called “Bruce”!!! I liked him and we got along well.
I don’t remember exactly how many days that final melee scene shot but I would say at least a few days if not a week. I do however remember the scene well. Like most Hong Kong productions at the time all of the fight scenes were choreographed on the spot as we went so no real time to rehearse the moves. In the first part I square off against Tong Kam Tong (though Chinese he often played the role of a Japanese) and in one scene he flips me. I landed wrong and REALLY cracked my ankle on that fall! That hurt and kind of screwed up my movement a bit. Anyway a couple more blows and then Ho Chung Tao entered the fray. We face off and exchange a few moves and then he gives me a spinning back kick and I disappear. Now it gets interesting but I’ll tell you about that when I answer your the “stories or anecdotes” question.
What are your memories of the other cast and crew? Who did you get along with? Who didn’t you get along with?
Overall I have very good memories of the cast and crew. I had worked with several of them on other shoots.
Bruce Baron, Mandy Moore, and Jovi Couldrey were models and James Barnett was an English language tutor. Despite the fact they were doing a movie for the first time everyone was kind of ideal for their roles. Bruce didn’t have any martial arts experience (as you can tell in the opening sequence) but he was a good looking guy and well built for the part. Mandy and I hung out a little bit more outside of shooting. I remember visiting her at her sister’s HUGE apartment in Repulse Bay. It was the biggest apartment I have ever seen. The acupuncture scene was kind of tough for her. The guy doing it was an actual doctor and he was using real needles. Except for the head, of course, which was a skullcap, she was really being stuck. It was her first experience with acupuncture and it was a bit painful so we had to take a few more breaks than Michael wanted.
In the script Eva (Jovi) was supposed to be my girlfriend but the relationship never matured in the film. Which was so sad for me! I think we were together again after that for a magazine shoot that focused on a restaurant and an Italian fashion shop. I remember that commercial very well as I was playing Santa at a large family gathering. The sponsors for this restaurant had a huge table of food set out and after the shoot, we were able to indulge. It was great!
So despite the fact that I was a young martial artist with a lot to prove and a healthy ego I wasn’t arrogant. (At least I hope I didn’t come across as arrogant!) Even today I consider myself a pretty easy-going guy and I tend to get along with most people. Of course, I was on the “bad guys” team and we hung around in our scenes more than we did with the “good guys”. But when we were all together everything seemed to go okay. Like I said a lot of the cast were working on a movie for the first time so there was confusion there but overall things went well.
There was one incident though I will tell you about. Of course, I wasn’t the only one with an ego! In the movie, there is a dinner scene where Yang is to be killed by one of us “bad guys”, not me. It was a big Filipino dude that resembled an out of season bodybuilder. I think they hired him because he looked like a cheap version of Bolo! He and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues. I felt he was sucking up to Michael and he probably thought I wasn’t showing the proper respect!? I have no idea why but for whatever reason in the scene we almost came to blows. After a lot of shouting and name-calling with more pushing and shoving all the crew ran in to stop us. It was over without a kick or a punch being thrown! I’m sure there were a few guys on set that would have loved to just let us go at it! It would have been interesting.
As an aside to that… Originally in that scene, the Filipino dude was to stab Yang in the chest. He had this ridiculous tattoo of an eagle drawn on it, looked more like stencil-on than a tattoo! Anyway, they tried a lot of different techniques to make the stabbing look realistic and couldn’t do it. (Special effects and makeup wasn’t a very developed skill in Hong Kong movies!) Finally, they went out and got a side of pork and the tattoo artist painted the eagle on the pig’s skin and tried stabbing that. That didn’t work out either so in the end they just had the Filipino guy break Yang’s neck.
Speaking of Yang (Tong Tin Hei) he was the hardest dude I have ever met. I don’t mean hard like hard life tough I mean he was physically hard. His muscles were without a joke like rock. When he tensed a muscle you could press him anywhere and it wouldn’t even give a little bit. It was like pushing on steel!!!
Any other stories or anecdotes you could share about the movie?
Yes, there are quite a few…
In the opening credits where they are introducing Bruce Baron, there is one cut with a close up of a hand spinning two steel balls. They were mine, I used to carry them around with me all the time and Michael thought they looked cool so he wanted Bruce to use them. I thought it was my hand in the close-up but when I saw the opening again I could see it was Bruce.
Another interesting incident was my fight scene with Ho Chung Tao. Michael (the director) wanted that scene to be the main fight of the movie with Bruce and I battling to the death…mine of course! Problem was that it wasn’t in the script and I had a clause in my contract that stipulated I wasn’t to die (I have only been killed once in my movie career!) I felt that if this movie went to a part two, I would be the next big boss so to speak. So after lots of arguments, posturing and head-butting without any resolution he just went ahead and cut me out after that spinning kick! So that’s why I just kind of disappear in that fight scene with Bruce never to be seen again. As a “sequel” didn’t happen I probably should have just done the death scene. It would have been a good fight and great fun!
How long did production take?
To be honest I can’t remember exactly. Shooting the scenes I was involved with of course not as long as some others but I do remember suggesting they change the name to “Drag On Farce”. It was always “hurry up and wait” which to be honest is quite common on-location shootings! I remember days when the camera didn’t even roll once for various reasons. Anyway, the new “title” caught on and most of the foreign cast started referring to it as that as well. SO I’m assuming it went a “bit” longer than planned. Maybe six months instead of the original three!?
Did you enjoy working on the movie?
Yes. Overall I had a great time, even including the scuffle I mentioned! Like I said before I had worked with some of the cast and crew before so we got along well. My company provided all of the extras for the opening scene. As with most movies at the time in Hong Kong the sound was wild tracked, so it was dubbed later, BUT it was shot in English which was novel for a Hong Kong action movie. Not that I had that many lines but at least I didn’t have to try and remember them in Cantonese!
Your last movie is listed in most sources is Salt and Pepper in 1983, is this correct?
It might be the last listed in my “filmography” but I don’t think it was the last movie I shot in Hong Kong. Sometimes they get shot quite a bit earlier than they get released. To be really honest I don’t remember much about Salt and Pepper at all aside from the fact that it was a comedy.
The last movie I did was here in Japan. I played one of Al Capone’s henchmen. It was called “Capone Weeps“, I’ve also seen it as “Capone Cries a Lot“. That would have been shot in ’84 or ’85 I guess.
Did you work with any other ‘Bruceploitation’ actors?
As your site is dedicated to Clones of Bruce Lee I should probably mention that I worked with both Bruce Leung and more extensively with Bruce Le.
I can’t remember where I met Bruce Leung, maybe Golden Harvest? I didn’t work with him that much but I know we did a couple of shows. I liked him, he was a nice guy and fun to work with. In one show I played the TV version of the Russian fighter that fought Bruce Lee in “Fists of Fury” with Bruce Leung playing Bruce Lee’s part. I have one interesting story from this show. In one scene I’m on a stage taking on all comers. I’m holding one of his friends over my head when he is to jump on the stage and save him. The shot called for Bruce to give me a double-leg drop-kick to the chest. I asked the director how he wanted me to react to the kick and he just told me not to worry about it, that Bruce’s kick would be enough to make me react naturally. He was very well known for his dynamic kicks. So I said OK let’s go for it. Apparently I was to stumble back, drop the stunt guy and then get ready to face Bruce. BUT that didn’t happen! Bruce jumped up and gave me the dropkick…I didn’t move. I dropped the stunt guy and Bruce bounced off my body and almost fell off the stage! They both missed their safety mats but nobody was hurt so we just did it again, this time with me “assisting” the reaction to Bruce’s kick.
I worked with Bruce Le and his partner on a lot of smaller projects including dubbing movies for the Indonesian market. One movie I did with him was called “Bruce Strikes Back”. It was a multinational production and they shot in France, Italy and of course Hong Kong. (And maybe Macau?) We even shot a lot of the scenes at the same house we used in Blow Up and Dragon Force! The movie had all the usual suspects… Bruce with Bolo, Hwang Jang Lee and Casanova Wong and of course disappearing ninjas. Even my sifu Chiu Chi Ling was in it, he got his head cut off by a ninja! One of the producers wives was in it and her name in the movie was “Chick” Norris! Seriously.
This movie had it all, they were ripping off everybody! The opening music was from “Enter the Dragon”, the main villain was Harold Sakata looking like his role “Odd Job” right out of “Goldfinger” complete with his bowler and the theme from “Goldfinger” whenever he appeared! He has a gold hand/claw much like Han from “Enter the Dragon”. He was a simple guy and VERY strong! I think he passed away just after doing the movie, he was only 62.
The final fight between Bruce and Hwang Jang Lee was from the “The Way of the Dragon” but I think it was actually shot in the Colosseum not on in studio at Golden Harvest!
Because it was an international production I think they got away with a lot more gratuitous nudity than if it was shot entirely in Hong Kong. For whatever reason Bruce thought it would be funny if one of my scenes included me getting dog-piled by a group of semi-naked drugged women. One would think that I’d remember that scene quite well but to be perfectly honest I don’t really recall it. I am pretty sure I didn’t complain at all though!
Speaking of Bolo, I mentioned earlier that I had only ever been killed once onscreen, he was the culprit! It was for a Japanese TV show called G-Men `75. I was playing a CIA agent and I was lured into a trap where Bolo and I fought. He was to get me in a full-nelson and then throw me off a building. Size was a problem! As you know he’s a very muscular guy not too tall but big. I’m a bit taller than he is and also big but my “muscle” mass isn’t quite the same shape as his! So when he spun me around to put me in a full Nelson he couldn’t get his arms around me. So I had to scrunch down and get into a weird position with my arms up so he could get the hold. At any rate it kind of worked out. Next problem was not the size but the weight! He was to pick me up over his head and then throw me off the building. As I mentioned before my muscle “mass” isn’t quite the same I weighed a bit more than your average camper. I think in the end we did a couple of closeups with me balancing on something then they changed to a long shot with him holding the dummy of me over his head then just threw that off.
Even though Bolo was defeated in every show the Japanese audiences loved him! Almost every time they shot the G-Men Hong Kong series they would resurrect him for the episode. He’d play a brother, cousin or some other character that was related to the original Bolo. Didn’t matter how many times they killed him off he’d be back for the next one! In the mind of the Japanese (and probably the rest of the world!) he went hand in hand with Bruce Lee and the Japanese loved (still do) Bruce!
Speaking of that Japanese show reminds me that I lied to you earlier. My last movie in Japan wasn’t the Capone film it was a movie called “Cop Festival New Beginning”. I think we shot in 2003!? It was an indie film with 10 directors doing 10 detective stories and the one I was involved with was kind of a parody of the G-Men series. I played an assassin that kidnapped a girl, lifted her right of the toilet! My clearest memory of that movie is me running around carrying her just as I lifted her of the toilet with her panties still around her ankles.
Can you tell the readers a little about life after you left the film industry behind?
This might be the longest (and most boring!?) bit! There’s been SO much since then! Let me tell you what I’m about now and how I got here. Please bear with me.
Depending on how one defines the word “master” I guess I’m what you would call a “tea master”. I teach the Way of Tea (tea ceremony) in Kyoto. I own ran Hotei, a small cafe/gallery in Kyoto. In 2016 I celebrated my 20th anniversary as a tea master and published a bilingual book on it to mark the occasion. The English rights of the book have been picked by Tuttle Publishing so be sure ALL your readers grab a copy when it comes out! (Bring it to me here in Japan and I’ll sign it for you!)
Peripheral to that because of the uniqueness of my situation here being a non-Japanese doing tea at the level I’m at I get a fair amount of media exposure, both print, and TV. I also teach at Doshisha University and give lectures all over Japan.
So now to the journey…I left Hong Kong in the early 80’s for Japan. I wasn’t satisfied with my Kung Fu on a spiritual (I loathe the word but can’t think of a substitute! Maybe ‘inner’ works!?) level and I was looking for a more obvious “Tao” path or way. So I began studying Japanese budo…kendo, kyudo, iaido, naginata and nito-ryu.
While in Hong Kong I learned about a phrase that would become an ideal for me to try and live my life by. If I’m completely honest I think I first saw it in a movie with Fu Sheng. He carried a fan that when open had one Chinese character on the front and one on the back. They were the characters for “martial” & “cultural”. (Chinese 武 & 文) The phrase in Japanese is “bunburyodo”. A rough translation could be “both the cultural and martial ways”. It means one should be versed in both…I guess somewhat like the American military concept of an officer and a gentleman. You don’t just want to be a thug and beat someone…you need to beat them artistically!
At any rate, I wanted to shape my life around those values and as I was only studying martial arts I felt an imbalance in my yin and yang so to speak. So to achieve a balance I started to study calligraphy and the koto (Japanese harp?). It soon became obvious that I had no talent for either! By chance (and luckily for me!) the woman that lived next door was a teacher of the tea ceremony. (She’ll be 100 years old this year!) Though budo and chado (tea ceremony) seem like polar opposites I found MANY similarities in the two. That and of course historically they are linked with the samurai it was only natural to me that I would begin to study it. At first, it was more of a passive hobby as I was deeply involved with the various budo I was studying. Then when I felt I had achieved a certain level of skill in budo I wanted to increase the level of my tea. So in ’93 I moved to Kyoto to enroll in a three-year program at a technical college that taught the Urasenke tradition of tea. I graduated in ’96 and began teaching. Initially, the plan was to do ten years devoted to the martial arts then ten years devoted to the way of tea followed by ten years in unison. That was soon shattered! Now I’m doing tea every day and budo has become a distant hobby. But in my heart, I’m a budoka first and chajin second.
After arriving I didn’t actively pursue film work here but I did do a couple of movies, TV shows, and commercials. I did visit with Jackie Chan when he was filming 7 Lucky Stars in Tokyo. I found out about the movie from Richard Ng who was also in it with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. I think I spent a couple of days together with them at the studio.
I ended up doing more commercials, both print and TV. (I was the zombie for the Capcom Sony PlayStation!)
While still living in Japan, I went to Thailand to audition for Air America (starring Mel Gibson & Robert Downey Jr.). I actually got the part but had to turn it down, that was TOO bad! Aside from bragging rights, it would have been a good job. It was being shot in Thailand and my contract was just over 30 days but it was spread out over three months and as I was just setting up in Japan it was impossible to get away. It was a small role but again assisting the stunt team. Vic Armstrong was the stunt coordinator! Maybe I should’ve just gone for it!?
I still get calls periodically for commercials here but I do more work as myself. I often appear in different media, presenting, hosting or being featured on TV shows and in magazines. I have done quite a bit of work with NHK here domestically as well as for their international market on NHK World. Some of your readers may know of it.
In closing let me thank you again this has been a VERY interesting trip down memory lane for me! In doing research I was able to find several of the shows and movies I did on YouTube. Against my better judgment, I was even able to watch the very first movie I ever did…I had NEVER seen it before. I hope your readers enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
In these tumultuous times as the world seems to be plummeting into a panic fueled abyss I’d like to invite your readers to ponder the Four Principles of Tea. They are Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquillity. Valid ideals when they were written around 500 years ago they are still valid today (maybe even more so!) and will be in another 500 years. I hope everyone can experience the first three to achieve the fourth. Stay safe.
Huge thank you to Randy Channell Soei for his time to do this interview.
PHOTOS & TEXT: © Lee Holmes/The Clones of Bruce Lee, Randy Channell Soei 2020