MM: The idea of a modern Shaolin story that takes place largely in the criminal underworld isnʼt something I can ever recall seeing, not even in Hong Kong films. Where did you get the idea for the story?
GM: Basically just from my own thoughts on the Martial Arts genre. I think that is the very point. Even though Blood Money is predominately an Action Film, I believe the time is right to change things around. To a degree, we have been seeing the same martial arts themes for 30 years.
I didnʼt want to write the usual story where, “The Kung Fu hero runs into the bad guys and we all know heʼll get them in 90 minutes time”. I feel there is a total void for a real life action hero in films. A martial artist who is a complete street fighter in any environment against any opposition in any country. I guess to a degree a “video game style character on film”. The world is becoming one and cultures are intertwining like never before. East meets West! I want Zheng to be seen for the Action star that he really is. Capable of fighting in many styles, able to use a variety of weapons and use them in real life situations. I guess to a degree, the film is Miami Vice meets Enter the Dragon!
MM: What was it about Zheng Liu that made him perfect for this part? How did you discover him?
GM: A number of years ago I was invited by my Chinese friends in Thailand to travel to the Shaolin Temple in China and the adjoining Shaolin Academy. This was by special invitation only. On arriving, I discovered over 2,000 Students and Instructors. After filming and casting for a number of days, we eventually met Zheng. He was already a Shaolin Master.
To say that he stood out would be an understatement. Standing 6 feet tall with a powerful physique, his display of fighting and weapons was breathtaking. Although a very intelligent and soft person in general, his reputation within Shaolin was that of a fighting machine. A real life Shaolin Master who had it all.
After offering him the opportunity to appear in a film. Zheng though long and hard about the change it would make to his life. He finally decided that although he could share the spirit of Shaolin with many chinese, through film he could share and teach with potentially millions throughout the world.
We re-located him firstly to Thailand to learn Muay Thai and then Australia to learn Street Fighting techniques, other weapons and English. What we didnʼt do was teach him any acting. I believe his natural creativity and charisma should notbe changed. What you see in Blood Money is the real person. A real Shaolin Master!
Traditionally in Kung Fu, the fighter has to be fairly short and of a thin build to have the required leg speed, say 5ft 6ins like Jet Li or Jackie Chan. Zheng is very unique. At 6ft tall, he has not only incredible speed but amazing power. I have seen him fly 12 feet into the air off a couple of paces and launch into an amazing flying kick. His real somersault over an oncoming motorbike in Blood Money says it all!
MM: What was it like working with the great Gordon Liu? You also have Pit Bill in this film. How were you able to get him to take the role?
GM: Working with Gordon was an absolute pleasure. Through a mutual friend, we met over coffee in Hong Kong. I showed him the concept and explained the dream and he signed up immediately. He was a great support to Zheng during filming and his charisma certainly comes out on screen. His understanding of Shaolin and Martial Arts in general is amazing and to see him suck the air out of a flame in Blood Money shows how skilful Gordon really is. We hope to work together again in the sequel.
We also met Pitbull through a mutual friend. He was rehearsing in a warehouse on the outskirts of Miami when we showed him some of the first scenes that we had already shot. He was so impressed by the filmʼs quality, story and Zhengʼs amazing skills, he immediately agreed to join the cast playing himself. What we didnʼt expect is his natural acting talents which are wonderful.
MM: There are a growing number of successful international martial arts films like Ong Bak and The Raid that have raised the bar for these kinds of films with complex choreography and a brutality not seen in current Hong Kong films. What can we expect from the fight scenes in Blood Money? When thinking of fight choreography how did you approach it in regards to both style and story?
GM: The main point of all the action and fighting in Blood Money was that it had to be real. I am very strong on this. With all due respect to other films, I donʼt think there has ever been a main stream action film or martial arts film, that has had the main Star breaking a “real steel bar” over his head, or “real fighting” with “real contact”. In most cases it is fake props and fake fighting, hidden either by over the shoulder camera angles or super fast editing, which hides the fact that they are not making real contact.
In Blood Money we have kept the edits down to a minimum, let the fight flow and shot most of the scenes side on which shows actual contact. When casting for the fight scenes, I was not looking for Actors who could fake fight, but real life street fighters who could take the big hits and kicks. This was extremely risky as Zheng can take anyone out with just one kick, but with precision and control we pulled it off. The fact that 95% of everything Zheng does in the film is first or second take, explains his expertise and professionalism. If you are kicking another actor in the face, you donʼt do it more than once.
MM: Whatʼs your favorite martial arts film and martial artist?
GM: Yes itʼs the same as everyone else. Bruce Lee of course and Enter the Dragon. I also like Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon. Zheng has been described by a number of people as the next Bruce Lee. They are not saying this with any disrespect. There will only ever be one Bruce Lee who is a legend. Just meaning that Bruce Lee was a huge worldwide star and that Zheng has similar charisma on screen and could follow in his footsteps. I believe Zheng should be judged on his own skills, power and acting. At only 28 years old, he really is a new and exciting “all round” Action Star. Fighting, Weapons and of course doing his own Stunts.
MM: Thanks so much for taking a few moments of your time to answer these questions!
GM: Thanks again Michael for helping us get the film promoted. It was only a $2M budget but filmed around the world in Miami, Hong Kong and Sydney ……… and a lot of hard work by all. We will not forget your support.
Very good interview. I’m glad you posted this, Michael, and thanks to Gregory for participating. I’ve already pre-ordered Blood Money on Amazon, but if I can offer a suggestion to Gregory, the trailer for Blood Money almost convinced me not to. This interview reveals a LOT of good reason to see the film, but based on the trailer there was very little authentic looking action, and way too much CGI that was distracting. The explosions, flying weaponry, fires, etc. It makes the film look like a wanna-be MA film that is too in love with SFX than authentic fighting. So I’d tone that down tremendously in future trailers for future films. I’d even suggest toning down on the CGI in future films period. There’s really no need for it. We don’t need these kinds of grand explosions and bloodshed if it’s all going to be animated/fake. Keep it real. Keep it grounded and focus more on the characters. I hope Blood Money does well, but the marketing isn’t doing it any favors.
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