Durango. The Work

Filed in Dragonball (2008), Durango, Mx (2008), Travel, WorkTags:

In January, having just left TVB after 20 years of acting there, I found myself working with Mr Chow Yun Fat 發哥 as his personal dialect coach, flying business class to a small city called Durango located in Mexico where we lived and worked for just over two months working on the Fox production Dragonball. It was quite an experience but not much fun (acceptable, given that this was a working trip rather than a pleasure trip).

Most people, at least here in Hong Kong, have the impression that working for a Hollywood film production company is fun, or at least much more pleasurable than working for a Hong Kong film production company. The perception is that the work is not hectic or rushed, the working hours are shorter (and that hotel standard food will be provided). The perception is wrong.

We worked twelve-hour days, at least four days a week, usually five. If not for the protection provided by Mrs Chow's carefully considered contract, we would have been working fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week as many of the crew and leading actors were. Twelve hours is tough. You have just enough time to get up in the morning, do a little exercise, have breakfast and rush off to the filming location. At work, only the actors and top crew members had chairs so I spent a lot of the twelve hours standing, or sitting on the floor when I needed to rest. Studio smoke relentlessly filled the studio. When you return exhausted to the hotel, you have just enough time to have dinner, check your email and go to bed. Continue this for several days, and then several weeks and the work becomes barely tolerable. During the last few weeks of filming, most of the crew were desperate to return to their homes.

My work involved working with 發哥 to help him get his pronunciation as clear and intelligible as possible. We did most of the ground work in Hong Kong and in Durango before filming began which was fortunate, because during filming, there was little time or energy left to do any extra revision work. During filming, my work required me to listen very carefully with my headphones to everything he said, making sure he didn't drop any words and helping him to improve his pronunciation when necessary.

I am intimately aware of the challenges that 發哥 faces. For twenty years, I have acted in Cantonese at TVB and in local Hong Kong movies. When the dialog is a learned language, especially one learned as an adult, it requires much more effort and concentration to memorise and speak when acting, so much so that the acting usually suffers. It took five to eight years for me to become familiar and comfortable enough with the language to be able to allocate less of my attention to the dialog and more to the acting. It's not an easy task.

發哥 is no slacker. By the time we began filming, his dialog pronunciation was excellent; not perfect but excellent none-the-less. Even so, my work on location was not easy. It required intense concentration to listen to every syllable of his dialog, note the areas that needed improvement, analyse which areas were within his immediate grasp or absolutely needed improvement and use the most efficient method possible to communicate the needed changes to him, all within seconds of completion of each shot. It was challenging and tiring but we did a pretty good job.

發哥's work ethics are admirable. His dedication to his work is truly remarkable.

Within hours of confirmation of his role in the movie, he began examining and developing his character, and he spent considerable time working on his dialog. From confirmation of his role until weeks into filming, he barely slept as he considered all of the options for his character, an experience I shared last year when preparing for "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)". He worked so hard and slept so little that he became ill just a couple of weeks into filming. But even sickness barely slowed him down. He rested for two days and went straight back to work, getting daily antibiotic injections until he was fully recovered, and regular vitamin supplement injections until filming was complete.

發哥 greets and respects everyone on set. He talks about the days he began acting at TVB, how the crew in those early days were few in number, and how as a result he helped out with every aspect of filming from carrying props to setting up lights to cooking supper 宵夜 in the studios late at night. He constantly reminds us that movies would not be possible without the crew, and that it is those people who make the stars look great on screen.

發哥's other great love is photography. He had his camera with him in Mexico but his dedication to the movie precluded him from using the camera for most of our time there. While I came back with almost 3000 photographs, he came back with less than fifty. (Note. Very few of my photographs are related to the movie or its locations and they will not see the light of day until after the release of the movie; wouldn't want to spoil the movie for you ;-)

Equally impressive and important as 發哥 is Mrs Chow, commonly referred to as 發嫂. Mrs Chow works incessantly to make sure that 發哥 gets the best work available, and is protected physically, commercially and legally before, during and after filming. She's a virtual diesel train, working in the office and on set, working the same hours as we do and often more. It is said that in the management offices of Hollywood, Mrs Chow is more famous (perhaps infamous) than 發哥 because she's the one they deal with, and she's fearless and tireless.

Together, Mr and Mrs Chow form a truly formidable duo.

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17 Responses to “Durango. The Work”
  1. Ko Bo Bo says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive details. It must be quite an experience for you participating in the Hollywood filmings. I suppose this is a good start as a new page for you although not on performing role. I think many people would desperate for such an experience seeing how an international movie is being produced. The work sounded tedious and tiring without much fun, but I am really impressed by your sincere working attitude, and also to the solemnity of Fat Gor and Fat Shou towards acting. Salute to you all. Cannot wait to see the movie. How's your drama career? Any upcoming projects?

  2. Jo says:

    Sounds like long working hours, but it also sounds like a wonderful experience. Glad you seem to have enjoyed it =)

    Maybe we'll be hearing Mr Chow with an Aussie accent creeping through?! ;) It'd feel very homely for me!

  3. Tak Wong says:

    i am a fans of fat gor and always believe his working attitude is the best.

  4. Sandy says:

    yay, an update.
    I'll come back to read it.. right after my exam. :p
    hehe.. bye for now

  5. chris says:

    very interesting and well written and crisp formating too. i grew up in hong kong (born sydney but arrived hkg must have been circa 1950) and then went back to holidays and then worked there.
    i like your direct style and lack of fake puffery. interesting thing is i was directed there by clever gmail shoving a link up at the top of the page. cheers - chris

  6. Ryan says:

    Mate, you are making us Aussies proud.
    I would love to work with Mr Fat, i love his movies.
    It is ashame that you left TVB, the recent drama '金石良缘' got you in it, i was very happy to see you.
    What was the last TVB drama you did before leaving?

  7. Richard Lai says:

    Looking forward to the movie big time! It's my next big film after "Iron Man". Would love to see how 發哥's English is now. Take care!

  8. 河國榮 says:

    I'm reviewing my television and movie work from the last 10 years and building a showreel for Hollywood. If I'm to get any international film/tv work, I'll need an agency and the showreel's my only chance of getting one. just 80 television series to go… ;-)

  9. 河國榮 says:

    the final TVB series I worked on was 「法證先鋒 II」 Forensic Heroes II which we filmed between September and December of 2007. my last day of filming was December 28.

    「金石良缘」 was my second-last TVB series, filmed between June and August of 2007, while my part in 「鐵咀銀牙」 was filmed entirely within July of 2007 ;-)

  10. sapphire says:

    In addition to Fat Gor's professional work ethics, I think the way how he treats others is also one of the reasons that make him so glamorous.

    Who are we without the ones who make us who we are???

    Wish you all the best for the remaining journey ahead!

  11. Esther Tsang says:

    Such a co-incident to have found your blog. I think it's quite difficult for an artist to share their heartfelt feeling and experience in their blog, but you DID it!

    Anyway, enjoy reading your blog and good luck for your working in Hollywood!!!

  12. ordman says:

    Honestly speaking, I didn't know you were an Aussie until I discovered this blog. I moved from HK to Sydney in the 90s and as a result, I lost track about your latest news.

    Thanks for the sharing about Durango, and the story about Mr and Mrs Chow.

  13. stacy says:

    i think it's really cool that you are providing us the details of all the behind the scenes stuff! after reading your entry, it makes me respect fat gor even more. work hard! i hope the movie will be a success!

  14. WhiteDuskRed says:

    Great blog and stories from Durango~ Can't wait to see the finished movie! I will be checking out your blog again~ By the way, wasn't Stephen Chow supposed to be in this movie as well? Or was I wrong?

  15. Scott Cheng says:

    learned a lot about you working with Chow Yun Fat. While working in the PR field quite a few years ago, I had the chance to work with Mr and Mrs Chow for a project organised by Hongkong Post. They are a lovely couple. I look forward to any update from you regarding Mr Chow and especially you while working in USA. Good luck.

  16. Scott Cheng says:

    Hi
    first timer .. just happened to bump into your blog .. and enjoyed reading your blog so much ... yes I earlier read news about you working as a dialogue instructor or something for Chow Yun Fat. Great.
    By the way, you will not return to HK anymore? I also happen to live in Tai Po (one of those villages)...

  17. enus says:

    河國榮我看到你訪問要去「何里活」發展,我看到好開心,是成公第一步的開始,你年幾都不細快些潻B,到是你會好開心。 粉響下:我隻狗它是唐狗、它5歲呢!好快呀!不果它每次見到狗都「汪汪」都想打架,我就不過去「我這樣做有沒有錯」呢!不果有一隻狗它好喜歡每次見到到玩,沒有打個架,我怕它一直下去沒有狗朋友,我應該點做好?養多一隻我怕打架?我又好小時間在家,養多一隻我怕冇時間培多一隻?.....