An Interview with Actor-Stuntman-Director Bruce Fontaine

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Bruce Fontaine was once a Gweilo actor, that is to say one of those Caucasian performers who were hired in Hong Kong’s action cinema heyday to play – often villainous – supporting parts. A high-level practitioner of Wushu, he appeared in some of the most famous films of that time: Operation CondorOnce Upon A Time In ChinaShe Shoots Straight… But when the well of classic Hong Kong action dried up, his career endured, as he took the knowledge acquired from working with the likes of Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen or the Sammo Hung stunt team, and applied it to a career in Canadian stuntwork, quickly rising through the ranks to become a stunt coordinator, including for American Video Game developer Electronic Arts. And yet his main ambition remained unfulfilled: to direct a feature film. In 2015, he kickstarted the third phase of his film career by completing and premiering Beyond Redemption, an action thriller infused with the soul of Hong Kong action cinema.
From martial artist and Hong Kong film fan to Hong Kong film fighter, from stuntman to director, his is a story of wish-fulfillment through hard work and passion. Now in the preparatory stages for his second feature film, Bruce Fontaine was kind enough to answer my questions.

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LICENCE TO STEAL (1990) short review

LicenseToSteal_DongFangXu_SC36 In Billy Chan’s Licence to Steal, a cat burglar (Joyce Godenzi) is betrayed by her partner (Agnes Aurelio) and sent to prison for three years. Upon her release, she aims to get revenge on the double-crosser, and teams up with a dogged cop (Richard Ng), his young partner (Collin Chou) and his idealistic, slightly unhinged nephew (Yuen Biao). Licence to Steal avoids the numbing effect of overabundant action, as well as the annoyance of crass humor. It is often, as so many films of that time and place, too scattershot in its progression to really engage, but the cast is uniformly appealing, from the always classy and charismatic Joyce Godenzi to Yuen Biao playing a variation on his irresistible Dragons Forever role, not to mention the always funny and reliable Richard Ng. The fights, as choreographed by Corey Yuen, are brisk and delightful, if often frustratingly short : there’s a one-minute, dizzying bout between Yuen and Chou, that should have gone on at least four more minutes. And the same year as their savage, thundering fight in She Shoots Straight, Godenzi and Aurelio get a re-match in a masterful, stealthy fight in a warehouse, where they go at each other while avoiding being seen or heard by patrolling guards. A very pleasant action comedy.  ***

WU DANG (2012) short review

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Vincent Zhao’s unremarkable comeback continues with this barely lukewarm adventure in which he plays a professor/adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould. He is seeking seven mythical treasures, and a vital clue leads him to Mount Wu Dang, where a martial arts tournament is taking place in the famous monastery of the same name. There’s a good cast, with martial arts actors Fan Siu Wong and Dennis To as Wu Dang disciples, Xu Jiao as Zhao’s daughter, the ubiquitous Yang Mi as a rival adventurer, and Shaun ‘son of Ti Lung’ Tam as a gangster. Corey Yuen provides the action, which is sometimes palatable (a balletic martial arts duet with Zhao and Yang taking on Tam’s men is particularly nice) but often forgettable and tame : who wants to see pretty Yang Mi fight kiddy Xu Jiao is one of the lamest film tournaments ever ? There’s no sense of adventure (the bad CGI doesn’t help matters), and the romantic subplots are either massively creepy (40-years-old Fan and 14-years-old Xu aren’t exactly a match made in heaven) or simply cold (Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi have no chemistry whatsoever). A failure, but in an amiable kind of way. **

 

BADGES OF FURY (2013) review

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With Jackie Chan celebrating his filmography’s milestones by adding new installments to his most successful franchises, and Donnie Yen getting busier than ever on a variety of action-heavy projects, it’s puzzling to see the wildly different turn Jet Li’s career has taken. Choosing, admirably, to focus on his charity (The One Foundation) and his Tai Chi promotion (Taiji Zen), he has been content for a few years now to appear as a benevolent supporting actor (though always top billed) in films that woefully underuse him both as an actor and as a martial artist. Badges of Fury unfortunately continues that disappointing trend. The real lead here is Wen Zhang, as a cocky young cop who, paired with veteran Jet Li and under the supervision of superior officer Michelle Chen, investigates on a series of murders in which the victims all die with a smile on their face. They cross paths with a stuttering insurance agent (Wu Jing), a whimiscal mob boss (Leung Kar Yan), a Men In Black type supercop (Huang Xiaoming), and many other cameoing stars, but the murders all trace back to an actress who has dated all of the victims (Liu Yan), and her sister (Cecilia Liu) who has made a habit out of stealing her boyfriends.

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SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (aka LETHAL LADY) (1990) review

Joyce Godenzi, a former Miss Hong Kong of Sino-Australian descent, had a short career as a lead actress, before marrying Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in 1995 and retiring from the film industry. The few films she made as a lead actress were often associated with the successful Girls with Guns sub-genre of action cinema, which in the late eighties and early nineties had people like Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan or Kara Hui as its most famous faces. Her best-known film remains Corey Yuen’s She Shoots Straight, in which she plays a career-oriented policewoman who marries Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the only son in the Huang family. She has to face the resentment of her husband’s four sisters, (all of them cops under her command, which makes things more complicated) who do not approve, among other things, of her unwillingness to have a baby just yet. The elder sister Ling (Carina Lau) is also defiant of Mina’s authority on the force, and enraged that her own mother and brother are siding with Mina in every argument. At the same time, they have to put their differences aside to stop a gang of Viet-namese criminals (headed by the great Yuen Wah) on a crime spree through Hong Kong. Sammo Hung Kam-Bo endearingly crops up from time to time, surely to show his future wife some support (he’s also a producer on this film).

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HERO (1997) review

Corey Yuen has action-directed countless films, but also directed quite a few, generally falling into two categories : chick-action flicks (Yes Madam!, So Close, Dead or Alive…) or Jet Li vehicles (The Enforcer, The Defender, the Fong Sai Yuk films…). Most of these film are enjoyable fluff, but not much else. But ironically, his very best film, one that stands in a league of its own compared to the others, is also his least famous. Released in 1997, Hero gave Takeshi Kaneshiro his first leading role in a big action film, and saved Yuen Biao from his Philippines-set career degeneration. Kaneshiro plays Ma Wing Jing, a young man who comes to Shanghai with his brother Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) to escape the poverty of his village. He finds that life is no less hard in the city, working as coolie and being paid almost nothing. After saving the life of benevolent mobster Tam See in an ambush by his rival Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak), Ma Wing Jing is catapulted to the head of one of Tam’s nightclubs, where he falls in love with Kim (Jessica Hester Hsuan), a singer. But Yang Shuang is scheming with the local corrupt authorities to take full control on the town, and he may be getting help from the conniving Yam (Valerie Chow), Tam See’s former girlfriend.

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