In 1999, Robin called asking me if I remembered him from an interview I did with him about MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. He wondered if I'd like to get involved in a documentary about the life of the Hong Kong stuntman but with a novel approach. Shou relates, "Instead of doing the conventional 'sit down interview and show their old film clips' approach, I wanted Dr. Craig to write an original short which we'd shoot in Hong Kong, and that would act as our vehicle to show off who these guys are."
The first thing I suggested was to call the film RED TROUSERS, a title that reflects Beijing opera and the Hong Kong stunt industry.
My original idea was to do a martial art stylized version of Dickens' CHRISTMAS CAROL hence the character Evan Ni Zher (romanized from "Ebenezer") but the film evolved into a love story based on the life of Ivan IV, who, after his wife was assassinated, became known as Ivan the Terrible. So Evan became an assassin known as a Forest Devil. In reality, the Forest Devils in ancient China, were assassins that helped the downtrodden fight unjust government officials and ruthless warlords. When the Forest Devils fled to Japan they spread their art among those islanders forming a new clan, the Ninjas.
LOST TIME had become part horror, part science fiction and all action. Not the fake computer images we've been seeing for the past couple of years, but full on, physical, full contact, painful stuff we've come to expect from the Hong Kong films of the late eighties and early nineties.
After a year's worth of endless meetings with Robin, rewrites and gallons of lemonade, coffee and sushi, we were ready to shoot LOST TIME.
On September 13th, 2000, I headed to Hong Kong knowing Robin was playing Evan, Ray Park (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) the lead villain, three of Hong Kong's top action directors; Ridley Tsui, Andy Cheng and Tony Leung, doing our fight scenes and all our featured stuntmen ready. However, we had no female lead.
Landing in Hong Kong, Robin met me at the airport saying, "Oh, Dr. Craig, you're going to play the villain, and I think we have our lead lady." Ray was seeped in publicity over STAR WARS so Robin was way cool in not letting him lose that limelight and didn't hold him to the film. But me?
The next night, we attended a fashion show to meet our lead lady. Unfortunately, the lady didn't meet our expectations so we decided to check the Hong Kong casting tapes. The one lady that caught our eyes was the engaging Beatrice Chia.
Other problems? A production staff that knew diddley about making a film. Jackie Chan was in town shooting RUSH HOUR II, so the most competent crews were working for him. Shooting conditions? Over the 17 day shoot, we averaged 18 hours a day for 15 days, and two, totally exhausting 24 hour day shoots. The temperature was in the nineties, 100% humidity, we shot the first week in an abandoned desalinization plant the size of two football fields and six stories high filled with 5-year old stagnant water and mosquitoes up to our ears.
The bottom line is, this is a film about Hong Kong stuntmen. An American stuntman can get paid up to 50 times what a Hong Kong stuntman gets for doing the same thing and more. They selflessly put their lives on the line for a few dollars and little credit. What goes through their minds, as they're about to cripple themselves or even worse, kill themselves for just a movie? This is what the film investigates.
So what about the title? RED TROUSERS comes from Beijing Opera school. Besides being the pant color worn during training and performing, red trousers symbolically describes the indentured servitude lives of kids who were bound by contract and often times forced to painstakingly live and train at Beijing Opera schools. Top Hong Kong action filmmakers who have made their mark in Hollywood, and who are red trousers, include Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo Ping, Corey Yuen and Sammo Hung.
In the early 1950s, Hong Kong film didn't have stuntmen or fight choreographers and the only people who knew how to do martial art stunts and fights were Beijing opera performers. So opera performers were recruited to do all action and stunts in Chinese film and that's how the Hong Kong stuntman industry started. In today's Hong Kong action film circles, the term red trousers has been adopted to describe those who start out as stuntmen; the lowest rung of the ladder.
RED TROUSERS also traces the history of Beijing opera. So as I was writing and rewriting the script LOST TIME, Shou was zipping around China as the first Western filmmaker allowed into China to talk to the next generation of children keeping the dying art alive, shoot their training, and learning what they expected from their hard work and sacrifice. "I want the West to know," Shou points out, "what it's like in mainland China, where's the art now, where's it going, and who are the future opera actors with today's kids."
So with RED TROUSERS and the short film LOST TIME, it not only marks my debut as a screenwriter but also Robin's debut as a director. During its festival run, it won the Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival, had over 1000 people attend its Hawaiian Film Festival screening and has been number one on the Asian film pirates' hit list for the past year. Not bad for a low budget film financed by Tai Seng, a mom and pop video distribution company based in San Francisco.
Many thanks to Dr. Craig D. Reid for allowing us to use exerpts from his article "CAUGHT WITH OUR 'RED TROUSERS' DOWN" for this page. To read the article in its entirety, go to his web site, www.thefilmfiles.com