Producer Bill Kong Talks BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE

[Producer Bill Kong is, without a doubt, one of the most important faces in Asian film. His Edko Films has produced a remarkable string of international hits - films that include Hero and House of Flying Daggers and were also the Asian side of the live action adaptation of Blood: The LAst Vampire. Our very sincer thanks go to Diva Velez for sharing the following interview with Kong on his latest work. Find it below the break!]

The Lady Miz Diva: What attracted you to make a live action film of this Japanese anime classic? Were you familiar with the original anime by Mamoru Oshii?

Bill Kong: I think it's the original animation that attracted me. I saw the original 48 minute animation back in the year 2002. The premise of a vampire slayer that lived in Japan in the schoolgirl uniform and the air force base; all this background was so unique. It was so well done. When I saw it, I thought, "Well, I can do the action better." I've done a lot of action movies. It took me almost four years to secure the rights. It took me a long time to secure the rights, it was complicated.

LMD: Were there considerations you had to make with regard to the Japanese authors or Production IG about things you could and couldn't do with the character?

BK: No, they didn't have many things like that in the contract. On the other hand, because we liked the original material so much, we were very faithful to it. So, it wasn't something that was imposed on us at all; it was something that we felt would be a mistake to change because the most attractive thing about the property was the characters, the backgrounds, all these things. So, when the authors saw the final product, they were so pleased.

LMD: Then the authors have seen the film?

BK: Well, the comment that Mamoru Oshii said was, "Well, you must let me do the sequel." {Laughs}

LMD: How was Chris Nahon from France chosen as opposed to either a Chinese or Japanese director?

BK: My co-producer, Abel Nahmias, who's from France, is also very proactive on the film. First of all, Chris is a good friend of Abel, and then secondly, I'm a good friend of Jet Li, and Jet recommended him to me. They worked together on Kiss of the Dragon and they hit it off very well.

LMD: I know you worked together on her film, Daisy, but how did you know that Ji-hyun Jeon {Gianna} was the right choice for Saya?

BK: Saya must have certain qualities: She must be pretty, and the second thing is, she must speak English, and she must be able to do great action choreography. Gianna has the first quality; she's very beautiful, she has a great, great face. She's the most popular actress in Asia. Because I worked with her, I went to her one day and showed her the animation. I said, "Gianna, are you willing to play this? I think you're very right for the role." But I told her, "You must sacrifice. You must really work hard on your English, and you must really work hard on your action choreography." And then after she saw the animation, the next day she called me and we met and she said, "Yeah, I'll do it." So, for the next 12-15 months she trained. She did dialogue coaching and learned English. She was training eight hours a day to do action. She put a great deal into the movie, as much as we did and she really came through.

LMD: There's so much consideration in the U.S. about ratings and trying to get the broadest audience. Why did you choose to make Blood: The Last Vampire rated R and were you concerned about that decision?

BK: Yes, we did discuss a lot about that. We thought that it was more faithful to the original animation if we went a little more toward action, or a little more violent. First of all, I don't think the film is suitable for very young children. Everywhere in the world, we have a restricted rating. I think certain violence was needed, but we toned down the blood; we turned the blood into black - it's not really red blood. But certain things, we did push the envelope a little bit, because we thought if we make it too much either way, it's just not right for the film. It's not faithful.

LMD: There are scenes in the film that remind me of some of your other triumphs like Crouching Tiger or House of Flying Daggers. Is it important to you that a film is very aesthetically beautiful to look at?

BK: When we shoot movies, we try to take advantage of the location where we're shooting. We have a certain budget and we always try to get the best within our budget. So, yes, we spend more time in production, looking for the right occasion, the right landscape. We do spend more time in finding these exotic locations to shoot. In Asia, because we can still afford it while we can, it's still comparable compared to the States. Our crew is not as expensive as an American crew or a British crew, so we try to maximize what we have with our money, so the look of the movie is very important.

LMD: You've produced so many of my favourite films, Lust Caution, Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Crouching Tiger, what they all have in common, like Blood are very strong roles for their female leads. Are you attracted to stories that feature a strong female lead?

BK: Not particularly, no. To be fair, I think that as a producer, I produce many films and some of those films I do not initiate myself. Some of them are the choice of the director. It just so happens that way, but I only try to look for an interesting story. I don't have the control over whether it's for a female main character. I don't specifically look for that.

LMD: Is there a difference in approach or how hands-on you have to be as a producer when working on an action film or a drama?

BK: I'm not a very hands-on producer. In Asia, it's not like the States where you have to be hands-on, or micromanage a set. I think it's difficult. In Asia, we don't do that. Not many producers do that. It's still very much a director's business, so no; I would say we are not very much hands-on as producers.

LMD: Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

BK: I finished shooting a film with director, Tian Zhuangzhuang, which is called Warrior and the Wolf, with Maggie Q. She is great in the movie. Also, she's faced opposite a Japanese actor called Jô Odagiri. I think it's going to be a very exciting movie. There's another one coming after that by Yuen Wo-ping, the action choreographer of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger. This time he's the director as well as the action choreographer and it's called True Legend. And the last one, which we've just started, is the new Zhang Yimou movie; he is the director of Curse of the Golden Flower, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. We started his new film. He took two and a half years off to do the Olympics; this is his first film {since then}.

LMD: What would you like audiences to take away from Blood: The Last Vampire?

BK: I hope people like Saya. And Gianna and the rest of the cast and crew, I hope that people really like them. I hope people do appreciate the action of the movie, because she and everybody else really put a lot behind the film and a lot of hard work has gone into it. I just hope that people feel excited about the film.

~ The Lady Miz Diva Vélez
July 1st, 2009

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