interviews: Christophe Gans and Mark Dacascos

The following are interviews that I conducted with director Christophe Gans and actor Mark Dacascos in November of 2001, shortly before Brotherhood of the Wolf was released in the United States. WARNING: These interviews contain spoilers.

Before Christophe Gans became a filmmaker, he was a film critic. In 1983, he started his own publication, Starfix, which focused on the types of genre films and directors he had loved since his youth. Gans made the transition from writing about movies to making them in 1992, when he wrote and directed Hotel of the Drowned, which was an installment in the film H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. In 1995 Gans made his feature film debut, teaming up with actor/martial artist Mark Dacascos for the adaptation of the popular manga, Crying Freeman. Although Cyring Freeman has earned cult status in other countries, it remains barely seen in the United States. I was able to talk to Christophe in November 2001. His second film, Brotherhood of the Wolf, was already a huge success in Europe.

DAVID WALKER: First of all, I’ve got to tell you, I loved Brotherhood of the Wolf. It was probably one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year.

CHRISTOPHE GANS: Okay, and we are almost at the end of the year. So, it’s a good sign.


DW:. When I watched the film, it was very obvious to me that you’re a big fan of a lot of eastern cinema—Hong Kong films.

CG: And also Italian movies.

DW: What were some of the films that influenced you in making Brotherhood of the Wolf?

CG: Sure. First, the biggest star of my childhood was Bruce Lee. The character of Mark (Dacascos) in Crying Freeman, my first movie, and in this one—I tried to talk about my passion for this hero, in particular. Not only to talk about, but to talk with. It’s interesting that through Mark I tried to have a link with that hero. Why he was a different color than me, for example, it was very interesting. I was born in 1960, and all the heroes of my childhood were a different color than me. Of course, it’s very easy to understand; that was the time of the craze around Hong Kong films and especially Bruce Lee films. It was also a time of blaxploitation. Basically it influenced my generation, and it influenced the values of my generation.
It’s true that through Mark, I tried to find an answer to that. That’s very clear. Of course you know that all Bruce Lee’s movies, especially Fist of Fury where Bruce Lee is dying, it’s a very important movie for all the fans of Bruce Lee, because he is a tragic hero inside. It’s a special film. There is also a movie named The New One-Armed Swordsman, and BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is, I think, a remake. Basically, it’s about the fraternity between two knights. One of them is going to die, and the other is going to make revenge, against the guy who killed his friend. He’s fighting, in the end, against a bad guy with a strange, erectile weapon. And, that’s basically what you see in BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF. Of course, it’s a basic foundation of my movie because I put much more references upon it, especially from the Italian cinema that I really like, too.

DW: What were some of the Italian films?

CG: I can talk only about directors. But it’s true that I’m deeply influenced by Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, Sergio Solima, Sergio Corbucci. Basically all the guys who were in the Italian horror film and Italian spaghetti westerns.

DW: It’s funny that you say that, because my three favorite genres are kung-fu films, the spaghetti westerns—Sergio Corbucci is one of my favorite directors…

CG: Yes, Django. Django also influenced the opening of the film, for example. It’s completely clear—that’s Django.

DW: …and blaxploitation. Those are my three favorite genres.

CG: And you’re born in?

DW: I was born in 1968.

CG: Completely understandable.

DW: You see a lot of other movies come out that are obviously influenced by the films of the 60s and the 70s, but haven’t been able to merge those influences as seamlessly as Brotherhood of the Wolf does. That was the thing that was very interesting—that you were able to get, to a certain extent, the Hong Kong feel in a film that is set in 18th century France.

CG: My way to work is extremely regressive. My primitive audience is me at 12. I have been a film critic, so I take a very formal, intellectual, even historical approach to cinema. But when I’m on the set, believe me, I’m only talking to the kid inside me. What interests me is to find again the sensation. When I say “sensation”, it is something literally erotic that I had when I was 12 seeing these movies.

DW: That’s what Sergio Leone did when he made his westerns. There are even scenes in his movies that have an almost child’s eye view.

CG: Absolutely. When he saw My Darling Clementine. And you know, that is my work. What was exactly the roots of this emotion when I was 12? Why did I love movies so much when I was 12? Why was it like a trance, a hallucination, to see a movie when I was 12? I’m searching for an answer. When I’m doing a movie, I put into the frame all of the elements, which contain a part of this truth. The costumes, the location, the climatic special effects like rain and mud — all these kind of things. I try to put everything together to find out exactly what was the feeling I had when I saw Django. When I saw Django, and I see Franco Nero walking in the mud, arriving at this bridge and seeing Loredana Nusciak whipped by the guy with this red scarf, turning and saying to Django, “Hey stranger, you must go away.” And Django saying, “The important thing now, guy, is that you’re going to die.” That moment, I will remember all my life what happened in mind. But, that’s a mystery. It’s true that I try to find the equivalent. You know, when I go to the house of some friend, and I see into the bedroom of their son, and I see the poster of Mark Dacascos in Brotherhood of the Wolf on the wall, I know I have won. Because when I was a kid like this kid, I had Bruce Lee and Franco Nero on the walls of my bedroom.

DW: You had a very interesting international crew on the film. You had a great stunt coordinator and editor—Philip Kwok and David Wu—both of whom worked on films like Hard Boiled. Those two names stood out the most, because they worked on some of the greatest action films in the last 10 years.

CG: Yes, David Wu was 17 when he edited The New One-Armed Swordsman. For me, everything must come back to the roots. For example, my second unit director, Bill Gereghty—who is American—worked with Sam Peckinpah. He worked with Sam Peckinpah on Convoy and some others. To work with people who worked with Sam Peckinpah and Chang Cheh, who was the director of One Armed Swordsman, for me that’s like working with people who worked with my fathers, in terms of cinema. In my directing, everything is a sentimental process. I have huge melancholy for this type of cinema, because I know it’s over. That’s what I want to say through Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s the story of an old guy, who’s writing this big adventure of his young years—that old guy is me. Of course, I’m not that old, but that’s exactly the feeling that I have. The feeling is that I lived a big adventure when I was 12, and I didn’t know that was the last adventure of the great genre film. Because it’s over. For me, when I see The Mummy, or The Mummy Returns, I know that the genre is dead.

DW: Why do you think it’s dead?

CG: It’s dead because nobody can take it seriously anymore. Everything I know about human beings, everything I know about why I’m voting for someone, why I’m loving some girl, comes from my passion for the genre. The genre film taught me the basic values of my life. Who can learn some values watching The Mummy?

DW: Part of the problem is the genres we love have been corrupted by mainstream Hollywood.

CG: It’s not only Hollywood. The danger is much bigger. It has been corrupted by irony. And it’s not only in Hollywood, the irony is everywhere. It’s in France. It’s in Italy. I was in Italy to present the film, and the film was a huge success in Italy, because I think they recognized something in the film. I met plenty of critics, and they all liked the film very much, but they were shocked that I was only talking about Solima, Corbucci, Freda, and Bava. And one of the critics said to me, “You, know, you’re better than them”. And I said, “My God, you can’t imagine what you’re saying. Because if in the world, in America or in France, we are talking about Italian cinema, it is because of Bava and Freda, Corbucci and Solima. Don’t forget to be nice to these people, because your culture exists for many, many different people far away in the world because of these guys.” Of course, I like Viscontti and Fellini, they were amazing directors. But Fellini was a big fan of Bava. Exactly like Kurosawa was a big fan of Honda. I hate these people who say, “I like Kurosawa, oh I don’t like Godzilla movies”. Fuck, Kurosawa and Honda were friends in life, and Honda directed some of the second unit for Kurosawa. So please stop, stop to make the difference between great cinemacinema with meaningand cinema that has the humility to just entertain people.

I majored in cinema in school in France—it’s true that I was kind of a freak there. I became a film critic and now I am a director, and I’m doing these kinds of movies. I think that everything is possible. You can like cinema as a cinefile, and like the great cinema; but you have the right to have fun looking at some movies—movies made with sincerity. What is important for me is not the value of the film in front of the history, because we don’t know what will happen to this film. Today we have the feeling that there is a big revival about the genre films, especially with what is called EuroTrash. Actually, it’s more easy to find the complete work of Lucio Fulci than of Orson Welles. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what will be the strange, unexpected twist that the cinema history is going to have. Maybe one day Corbucci is going to be celebrated in the New York Art Museum. We don’t know. So what is important is that these films—Citizen Kane or Django—were made with sincerity by people who love cinema. Like the movie Ed Wood, for example, when at the end you have Ed Wood meeting Orson Welles, and basically Tim Burton saying they are the same guys, and the line between them is extremely thin. That’s the great message. Basically, when you go on the set to start a movie, you hope to be Orson Welles, but you have much more of a chance of being Ed Wood. It’s important to understand that.

DW: In Brotherhood of the Wolf, was the character of Mani…?

CG: It was written for him. Originally, when I received the first script, there was no Mani. I wrote three characters in the script to add to the original script: Mani, Monica Belucci’s character, and the mute girl.

DW: The three most interesting characters.

CG: (laughs) I don’t think they are the most interesting. I think the movie works on two levels—the rational level and the irrational level. Obviously you prefer the irrational level. The movie works like a historical fantasy, but it also works like a dark fairy tale, with invisible forces around characters. It’s true that I had this level that was my moral level, the level where I can about my own values.

DW: Mani is like Kato.

CG: Of course. The beginning of the film is Django with the Green Hornet and Kato. It’s so obvious. Originally, I shot a bigger fight at the beginning where Fronsac was fighting. But I found it was much more interesting to keep him reserved. I think it was much more meaningful that at the very moment where Mani died, Fronsac becomes strong. Because part of the karma of Mani went into this guy, and part went into the gray wolf. I think it was much more meaningful, so I cut the part where Fronsac is fighting against the guy at the beginning. I hope they will put the sequence into the DVD here in the United States, because I made a special collector’s edition in France, and I showed all the sequences cut from the film. One of them is huge fight. The first fight, you saw was just a three-minute version, but the original fight was nine minutes. We spent weeks to shoot it, and I cut it.

DW: Brotherhood is a very traditional hero story. And part of what makes a hero is he must lose something. I pretty much knew from the beginning of the film that Mani would die. But when it happened it was devastating. I knew it was necessary for Fronsac to make the traditional journey of a hero, but it still hurt.

CG: It was necessary. That’s exactly the term. Most people were shocked by the death of Mani. But I say, “It’s why you feel much more deeply what I want to say at the end of the film”. He’s killed exactly like the wolf is killed at the beginning of the film during the hunt. He’s killed because he’s just a poor innocent thing—and it’s important to say that. And because he’s a guy without hate. One of the things that makes Mark Dacascos better than in the other movie he did, is because he never fights with hate. He’s fighting because he’s a hero. That’s important to understand that. He died because in that period he can’t live. I wanted to have a cross between Princess Mononoke and Winnitou. Winnitou is a character—very famous in Germany—that’s American Indian, played by a French actor named Pierre Brice, in the serial film which were basically the foundation for what was later called the European Western. So basically I wanted something like a mix between Princess Mononoke and Winnitou. I both cases what I like is that they are more than heroes, they are like idealistic projections. I think that Mani in the film is the idealistic version of the real Mark Dacascos.

DW: It was after I saw the movie and then talked to Mark about it, that I knew I had to talk to you. BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is a movie I would make.

CG: Of course, because you’re still a kid.

DW: It’s just an exciting film to watch.

CG: I think it is very possible to do great genre films, which does not insult the intelligence and the sensitivity of the people. In any case, it’s extremely important. I don’t know why genre films must have bad dialog. In my movie there is good dialog with meaning. If you want to see some political aspects in the film it’s possible. But if you want to stay on just a pure joy level—a pure entertainment level—that’s what you have. In my country, people think that to make an intelligent movie you must put the message of the film in the foreground. And it is not necessary, because you insert the intelligence. You must let the audience go deeper into the film — maybe see a film two or three times. Me, when I was a kid, I was always looking at a film the first time on a visceral level, and then I was looking at a film again and again—like The Wild Bunch. By the third time, I saw all the melancholia that Peckinpah put into that masterpiece. But the first time I saw an incredible show. That’s what I want with Brotherhood of the Wolf. I don’t want people coming out of my films saying, “Oh, that’s an intelligent guy who made that film.” I just want them to come and say, “My God, it was like a dream.” That’s what I want. I want to give some very visceral pleasure to the people, first, and eventually meet them on a much more meaningful level—if they want.

MARK DACASCOS INTERVIEW

Fans of kung-fu flicks are probably well aware of martial arts champion Mark Dacascos—and if you’re not, you will be. In the United States Dacascos is best known for his starring role as Eric Draven on the short-lived television series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. He also co-starred with Kadeem Hardison in the under-rated DRIVE, which appeared to be a Rush Hour rip off, except it came out a year earlier and it was actually a decent film. In 1995 Dacascos worked with director Christophe Gans for the first time in the cult film Crying Freeman.

Dacascos reteamed with Gans for Brotherhood of the Wolf, where Mark plays Mani, a role the director created specifically for him to play. Dacascos has been getting great reviews for his performance, and Brotherhood could be the film that catapults him to superstar status. Make sure you check out BadAzz MoFo #7, available in Summer 2002, to see how Mark does in our second annual film awards.

DAVID WALKER: I’ve had a tough time describing Brotherhood of the Wolf to other people. How do you describe the film?

MARK DACASCOS: The interesting thing is that movie is actually based on historical fact. During the reign of Louis XV there was a wolf, or some type of beast that was roaming in the central region of France that injured or killed about 100 people. During that time the king of England was mocking the king of France, and saying, “How can you run the country and your people—you can’t even keep this one beast under control.” So what the king of France did was, and this is what they think, he hunted down a wolf, stuffed it, and said, “This is the beast, and it’s done now, period. Close the book on it.” However, two years after that, the killings continued and then they stopped. Nobody ever caught the beast. They never found the dead corpse of some type of animal—they don’t know what it was. They think it was a wolf, but it could have very well been a lion or a tiger or a leopard, or something like that left off some pirate ship, or something like that. That, in addition with the very bourgeois historical times of France, and the spiritual, metaphysical, down-to-earth element of Mani—my Indian character—mixed with adventure, martial arts, politics and religion, it’s going to be a good one. As far as genres, it is so mixed.

DW: It’s a political thriller mixed with a mystery that appears to be super natural, with martial arts and romance thrown in—and it’s French. It certainly doesn’t feel like most of the French films I’ve seen.

MD: Christophe is a very proud Frenchman. He loves his culture, but as far as I know, has always enjoyed watching Asian films. He loves samurai films and Hong Kong films and films from China—I say Hong Kong and China because they’re two different types. Christophe is major fan of Hong Kong, and loves John Woo and David Wu, and the Hong Kong genre. He kind of blends eastern and western in his films. Phillip Kwok was one of the lead bad guys in Hard Boiled, and he was also our fight choreographer. It was interesting to have a Hong Kong choreographer, with a Chinese kung-fu flare, doing a French period piece, and to make those action sequences work and not be so abrupt and obtrusive. It was interesting because in the movie we have all these cross genres, and behind the scene we have Monica Bellucci, she’s Italian, and we have cinematographer Dan Laustsen, he’s from Scandinavia, I’m from Hawaii. And then we have the French actors, and then you have the Hong Kong stunt crew and Phillip Kwok. It was like the United Nations on the film.

DW: What I find interesting, and in some ways it relates to Brotherhood of the Wolf, is that ten years ago audiences in America barely even know who Jackie Chan or or Jet Li or John Woo were…

MD: Did you know before?

DW: Yeah.

MD: So you like the genre?

DW: I’ve known about those films for years, since I was a kid. But what’s interesting is that now you’re seeing all this eastern influence in American films.

MD: Did you see the movie Shrek? (laughs) You’re into the genre, so you know it’s been around for a long time, and in China and Hong Kong, that’s the way a film is made. Martial arts is the national sport—wushu is the national sport in China. They’re used to doing films like this, but for America it was like a slow creep, and the just BAM, it blew up. Now it’s the way everybody fights now. For example: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, clearly, because you’ve watched Hong Kong films you were kind of used to that. I mean it was a fantastic movie, but you’re used to seeing martial arts in a movie and having that be a huge part of the whole story. But most Americans—if you hadn’t seen it before—it could be mind-blowing.

DW: Why has the influence become so prevalent now?

MD: The natural flow of evolution, I guess. American audiences have seen various style of action through the years, and this is a style that people in the genre audience knew of, but the mainstream didn’t know. The mainstream wanted the next step, and that’s what it was — it was Hong Kong-style action.

DW: Let’s talk about you. You’re part Japanese, Chinese, Filipino…

MD: Spanish and Irish. You’ve done you’re homework. Thank you, I appreciate that.

DW: Not only is there Asian influence in action, but we’re seeing an acceptance of heroes that are not the typical white guy. Are American audiences becoming more tolerant?

MD: It’s a new generation. You’re mixed. I’m mixed. And as the world comes closer together, eventually, more and more of the population will be mixed than one ethnicity. Stallone and Schwarzenegger were great in their time, when they were in their twenties and thirties, and appealing to younger audiences. Now, this younger audience needs people to represent who they are right now. And in twenty years we’ll have other people. That’s just the natural order. That goes not only with the actors that are playing the characters, but also with the feel of the movie, the style of action. It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of action is in movies when we’re grandparents. What will they like then?

DW: It amazes me how much things have changed in my life time. Sammo Hung had his own television series a few years back. But back in the 70s, Bruce Lee didn’t get the lead in Kung Fu, because he was too ethnic.

MD: Look at Rush Hour 2. You’ve got an African American man and Chinese man headlining. That’s great.

DW: The Rush Hour movies just proved something that many people have known for a long time: you can have a film without a white leading man and it will do well at the box office. Since you brought up Rush Hour, I’d like to talk about a film that has been compared to it: Drive. I understand there’s a director’s cut of that film that is far superior to what was released.

MD: That’s a sore issue with me, but I’ll put it out there. I absolutely love the director’s cut. The director’s cut won a film festival in Japan. We won an action/fantasy film festival in Toronto. And yet the producer insisted on having his version play on HBO and go out on video release—which I don’t understand.

DW: The action was cool, but the story was kind of choppy.

MD: Thank you. In the back-story you realize that Kadeem Hardison’s character had problems with his marriage, he’s a down-and-out artist, and they fleshed out his character—who he was, why he was there and so forth. My character, in the producer’s version—which was what everybody saw in the United States—basically was a guy out to make a buck off of this implant in his body. You don’t understand that he was formerly an assassin for China, and because he fell in love with this girl who was anti-government, and she was killed off, he then understood that the government he was working for was not what it seemed. It wasn’t about money, it was about fighting for something you believe in and something that you’ve lost. The back-story and a lot of good moments in the film were taken away. And that’s sad, because I always enjoy action sequences more when I care about the people. With those scenes that were taken out, you lose that.

DW: Do you see yourself as an actor who does martial arts, or as a martial artist who acts?

MD: I think of myself as an actor who is capable of doing martial arts. But I feel I’m capable of doing something that doesn’t require martial arts. In any business, when you start out doing one thing, and you do a lot of it, it can sometimes be a hard mold to break. Most of the shows that I’ve done, and the characters that I’ve played have had action or martial arts. The ones that I have done that aren’t martial arts, are character roles that aren’t as widely seen.

DW: Are you hoping to break into more mainstream films, or are you content just carving out a niche for yourself the way people like Don “the Dragon” Wilson or Cynthia Rothrock have done in the more direct-to-video action genre?

MD: I’m similar to you—I prefer Hong Kong action. I respect the guys and ladies that do action for America, but it’s nothing that I have ever been interested in. For example, some of the major martial arts action stars in America, I respect them for getting there, but I’ve always preferred Jackie Chan and Jet Li and Bruce Lee. For me, passion-wise a lot of the story and action in American films don’t drive me.

DW: One of the problems with American films is that the action sequences are edited in such a way that it doesn’t really showcase abilities or choreography.

MD: Major qualm that I have. I did a TV series called The Crow, and James Lu, a great martial artist and a really cool guy, he did the choreography. But by the time it was aired, most of the stuff that we did, you see cut in such odd sequences that it just drove me crazy. And if I’m an actor, and I can do my own martial arts, then please show it, or else just get a stunt guy and chop it to pieces and do as you wish. With Drive, for example, Steve encouraged us to do as much as we possibly could on our own—and we did. Christophe Gans, in Brotherhood of the Wolf, he wanted me to do everything myself. So I did 98.7 percent of my own stuff. There’s a couple of shots where I’m running and stuff, and those aren’t my feet. I’m sorry. But as far as the fighting and everything, that’s me. And I enjoyed it. It’s kind of like the old films of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Hong Kong action movies are what musicals in America were in the 50s, where the actors sang, and they sang, and they danced, and they actually danced. It was actually them. Actors in Hong Kong they can fight, they can dance, they sing and act they’re amazing. Chinese work really hard, and they are multi-talented and they are incredible. When it comes to fighting, and taking action and falls – they want you to hit and they want you fall and just do it. It’s very difficult to do a Hong Kong or Chinese film, but when the action sequences are seen, they look so cool. For me, I prefer them so much more than most American action pieces.

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