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'Highbinders' Is First Big Budget Asian Shoot In Ireland
27 Aug 2001 :
Amidst business as usual with American crews flocking in and out of Ireland for lucrative shoots, an Eastern wind has blown in, with a crew shooting a first-time big budget Asian production, making use of Irish film finance and co-production support. With a budget of $35 million and produced by Alfred Cheung and Tim Kwok of Emperor Media Group (EMG), Jackie Chan’s ‘Highbinders’ is Hong Kong's most expensive action movie ever made. The action-comedy has been shooting in and around Dublin since the end of July, and production in Ireland will continue until the end of this month and shooting resumes at the end of the year in Asia, as Chan will be busy working on Tuxedo (directed by Kevin Donovan, to be released in March 2002) in between.

IFTN met with the producers and stars in the Four Season Hotel in Dublin recently to report on the first week's shooting when Martial Arts East meets the Irish in the West.

Chan’s strategy in using Western European countries as a background for his films has proved beneficial before. In ‘Who am I’ (1998) Chan performs some of his stunts in the Netherlands, juggling with Dutch cliches from clogs and bikes to water crossing bridges). But he has never travelled to Ireland before and native crew and stars welcome the insight into his highly physical, improvising style in filmmaking.

Alongside Jackie Chan, ‘Highbinders’ stars British actor and comedian Lee Evans (Mousehunt, There’s Something About Mary), female lead Claire Forlani (Antitrust, Meet Joe Black) and Johnathan Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Living daylights). Co-screenwriter Bey Logan, also spokesman for the Emperor Media Group, reveals some of the story of Highbinders: "The film is the story of Hong Kong cop Eddie (Chan) and a bumbling Dublin detective (Evans) who join forces with a female sleuth -'martial arts on high heels'-(Forlani) to track down an international slavery syndicate". Action and drama promise to be equally important, resonating the style of previous Hong Kong action-comedies made by long time director-friends and colleagues Gordon Chan and veteran stunt director Sammo Hung.

When asked if the film's producers chose Ireland for 'money or story', Bey Logan admits an important reason was the great benefit for production costs, but also found something magical about Ireland that works for the development and background of the story (one of the scenes takes place in Dublin castle). So ultimately the producers and writers found shooting in Ireland the right decision on both grounds. He illustrates this by describing how the rushes of a shoot with Jackie Chan on a motorcycle with co-star Claire Forlani in the Wicklow countryside made a strong impression on him- "all the green surrounding them looks fantastic - you can't get that anywhere else".

This shoot marks the first time that a Hong Kong crew and an Irish team working together. The strong local support consists of crew members and supporting character actors. Important action scenes, involving a high crane shot and a microlift airlift have already been shot successfully, confirming a good start of their co-operation.

Jackie Chan, cool in an Asian style suit, found out about the popularity of Ireland as a film location via word-of-mouth in other places: "I've never known Ireland, only the UK. But it seems everybody talks about Ireland. I was in Los Angeles for promotion and met people that had worked on 'Reign of Fire' who all talked about Ireland with enthusiasm. This word of mouth is very good. At the moment there is also a Hong Kong crew here in Ireland making a documentary on the beauty of Ireland - again due to the good word spread about it." He pauses and laughingly concludes his thoughts with the punchline: "Hong Kong is beautiful too!"

When Chan and co-executive producers were preparing the movie in Hong Kong, many of their discussions were spent on the formation of the crew. Chan explains how at first he did not have the confidence in taking on Irish crewmembers, "I only trusts people I know and have worked with". But the estimated costs in bringing these people over to Ireland proved very high, and were a strong motivation in the final decision to bring in Irish crew members. But after the first week of filming all Chan's initial worries vanished when he found the Irish crew members co-operating perfectly with their Hong Kong colleagues. Jackie tells that for this reason he set up a dinner especially for the Irish crew: "I wanted to pay tribute to them. The Irish crew is very professional. In the entire world there are two crews I have paid tribute to: the Moroccan (due to the difficulty in filming in a hot vast desert) and now the Irish"

Having answered the obligated questions with diplomacy (Do I like Guinness?-…..mmmh…yeah I kind of like it, Ireland and the weather?-"I like Ireland , there are four seasons in a day here") he illustrates that the first obstacle in productions where people speak different languages is the communication factor: "sometimes no-one knows if we are going to count in Irish, Korean or Chinese", but that it doesn't interfere with the working relationship. "At least I can understand the Irish better than Chris Tucker!"

Work on ‘Highbinders’ seems to have created and cemented the first bonds between Hong Kong Eastern-, and local film industry. Chan's less than subtle hints on revisiting Ireland ("I think I'll be back") may result in the Hong Kong crew's return to shoot Shanghai Knights. Baring in mind Jackie Chan’s ability to jump off Rotterdam bridges like they were small springboards to a soft mattress, we’ll have to expect fairly active and unconventional Irish scenes of the master of Hong Kong Martial Arts comedy as he ‘visits’ the (top of) Dublin Castle and (breaking more than the speed limit in) the Wicklow mountains. Reminiscent of James Bond films, playing with different nation’s settings and cultural traits, for at least a few scenes Jackie Chan will have his own take on Ireland - Eastern style. Although Ireland will purely serve as a backdrop for the film, at least we can expect some good word of mouth in Asia, some financial input and last but not least a spectacular use of Ireland’s popular film locations as if they were put there for Chan’s playful purpose.



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