Interview with director Robin Shou
Reviewed by Alex Shaida, 20th July 2005 (Filmnight.com)
What do red trousers, Chinese
opera and Hong Kong stuntmen have in common?
I asked Robin Shou why his film was called ‘Red Trousers.’ “It’s the name an apprentice is given when they study in opera school. This is where Hong Kong stuntmen initially gain their experience as youngsters, and they are given red trousers once they have successfully gone through this process. Stuntmen are taught the groundwork for movement and physical expression at an early age. One of my favourite experiences in making this movie was to see how the kids get emotional in wanting to achieve their future goals. Their commitment to their dreams really amazes me and they know at a very young age that they want to be professional stuntmen.”
In his film ‘Red Trousers,’ director Robin Shou, also a stuntman in his own right and known around the world as the star of action films including “Mortal Kombat,” demonstrates the unflinching commitment and risk taking involved in the work of professional stuntmen in martial arts movies from Hong Kong. ‘Red Trousers’ is being released in the UK on 22 August, 2005. “Too many action films these days are stylised and the action simply isn’t real,” Shou commented.
So why did he decide to make ‘Red Trousers?’ Shou said that “this was my way of educating western audiences on the serious work of the professional stuntmen who are working in Hong Kong cinema. I wanted to show the outside world how these people are professional film-makers and I wanted to demonstrate this not only to film audiences but also to the international film-making community. Most of the Hong Kong stuntmen unfortunately don’t feel like they’re professional film-makers, and they’re not treated as such in this business, which I find very disappointing. I was originally inspired to make this film when I had the opportunity to star in ‘Mortal Kombat’ back in the 1990s, but it has taken me quite some time to get the film finally off the ground.”
“It was really hard to get this movie made,” added Shou. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I found myself pitching the idea to financial people and I didn’t know how I was going to really make it work when it came to putting the film together. And when I did get to the editing part or the process, it was painful for me. How was I going to cut this film as a documentary with all the material that I had collected and make it interesting to a wide group of viewers? I was so inexperienced as a film-maker, and I had never made a movie before as a director. It took me one and a half years to complete the film, and I learned a great deal from it. I am pleased with the outcome.”
Shou explained that this film was designed to open your eyes to the lives of Hong Kong action stuntmen. “These are just ordinary guys. They are not some crazy kamikaze people taking big risks with their lives, they are professionals who value safety and seek to earn respect in their chosen profession. It you get behind the story in this film, it’s much more personable than you could ever have imagined. You really feel for them and their dedication to their craft.”
When it was released theatrically, ‘Red Trousers’ immediately found a diverse audience globally. Shou stated that ‘the film is not just designed to appeal to the tastes of action film buffs of martial arts movies; it’s much broader in its scope, as it’s principally a human interest story. I have people watching it with a great deal of interest who have never seen an action film before. Most people have no idea for instance that professional stuntmen in Hong Kong go to opera school, nor do they appreciate the pride with which they carry themselves.”
As a well respected action star across a number of films, I asked Shou whether it had done his career any good in making a movie about the stuntmen working in Hong Kong cinema. “I have received a lot of really positive feedback from making this film. The truth is that I wanted to take more control of my career, which is why I moved into directing, and now I’m glad that I did. For some time, I haven’t liked the roles of Asian persons that I was being offered and, at present, I’m writing up my next project myself as a film-maker. I have found that I enjoy the responsibility of being the director, but now I also recognise how hard it is in other areas of the film-making process, areas that previously I had known nothing about. I simply want to make more movies and have a great time making them. In the future, I think I will enjoy working in Asia more than in America, as I get to do the things that I want over there. I prefer not to be controlled by the studio system that prevails in Hollywood. In Hong Kong, when you want to do something, you don’t need to analyse every part of it before you even begin to make anything, you just go out there and you do it. Luckily, I am currently planning to shoot my next film in Thailand, and a US company has agreed to produce and fund it for me.”
Shou will be directing his next film out in the Far East, and we look forward to seeing great stunts being performed under the guidance of a director who really understands and values his team of professional stuntmen.