Bill Paxton On KUNG FU: It'll Be "A Western With Martial Arts"

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
Last week TWITCH was invited to fly (by private plane no less!) to the set of the upcoming post-apocalyptic cannibal thriller The Colony. We toured the incredible underground facility where the set was located, the decommissioned subterranean former home of NORAD in North Bay, Ontario. This nuclear age relic was the perfect setting for a wide ranging conversation with Bill Paxton - star Aliens and Big Love, director of the under-appreciated Frailty.

Paxton was somewhat mercurial with the television interviews he did between takes, but when he sat down after the scene's completion for our discussion he could not have been more generous with his time. His passion about film is contagious, as evident in the way he talks about his upcoming project, Kung Fu.

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What were you up to before ending up at the bottom of a mountain in Northern Ontario?

I just came off a fifteen week shoot in Romania with Kevin Costner and a big international cast doing The Hatfields & McCoys, coming on in May on the History channel.

While I was doing that I was hired on last summer by Legendary to do Kung Fu, based on the old Warner Brothers television show with David Carradine. I was working the script all Fall with my writer, and we turned that in in late January. [The Colony] came along, and I thought, well, it's going to take the studio a while to get back to me, so this was a job that came along at the right time basically.

Can you talk about the angle you're taking on KUNG FU?


[The studio] had gone down a few different roads with a few writers. What happens a lot when people go back to redo a TV show to do a movie, a lot of times they don't pay a respect to the original thing - asking why was it successful in the first place. The fighting is important, but people remember the Shaolin teachings, that he would take so much and then start wailing. We went back, John McLaughlin [writer of Black Swan, Making Of Psycho] and myself, and we watched the original three seasons.

I didn't realize until recently that there had been a second series with Caradine here in Canada, in the late 70's? [ed. Actually, they were shot in Toronto in the mid 1990s] I have not seen those.

We're pretty much following the story - the "A" story is Caine as a young man, in the American West of the 1870s looking for his birth father. While you're following him there, you fill in with the "B" story, what his background was, how he ended up being orphaned, how he ended up at the monastery, how he was raised to be a Shaolin priest, and then how he had to leave under adverse circumstances.

We have the Cherry Blossom festival when he runs into Master Po and the Emperor's nephew - we've got back to a lot of that stuff, but we've really enriched it in a way in thematic terms, there's a great theme of redemption through this thing.

The original series was shot so cheap and so low budget. They used the old Camelot set on the redressed back lot of Warner Brothers. They'd be shooting a railway camp and there might be 15 extras, and we're going to have 10,000 men on a hill building a trellis. We're going to be bringing a scale and a grandeur that the story should have always had, but because of budget and time they were unable to.

You're going to have 10,000 real people?

No, but I have to shoot the whole picture in China, because part of the financing is going to come out of there. Legendary is starting a new company called "Legendary East", it's made of a consortium of Chinese investment. Kung Fu is a natural title for them, it's a Western with an Eastern hero.

To take that a step further, I think the character of Caine, whoever this actor this is, and we're going to have to do a big search, he has to be Chinese-something... Chinese-Irish, Chinese-Israeli, Chinese-American, Chinese-Canadian... He's probably going to have to be a pretty skilled martial artist.

This is going to be more of a Western, with violence, sort of like what True Grit was, as opposed to a lot of wire work. To me to do a big martial arts film - God, there are so many great ones, and believe me the Chinese do great ones, to me it makes more sense to make it a Western with martial arts.

What's interesting about Caine is because he's a product of both worlds is that even though he's raised in China he comes to the West, by the time he goes back to China in the third act he's picked up a bit of a Western thing. We've found some clever ways for East to meet West, and to resonate with the audience.

The full Paxton interview from the set of The Colony will be published on Friday. Come back tomorrow for Paxton's take on his love for Apollo 18 and hatred of Hugo!

Thanks to everyone on set, the Town and Mayor of North Bay, and the tireless Claire at Alliance for making the trip possible.
Around the Internet:
  • Elijah

    I was actually thinking Mark Dacascos... But yeah, Andy On is probably a better choice.

  • James Marsh

    Andy On. Search is over. Just give him the job already.

  • Daniel

    But it will have an Asian actor playing an Asian character this time?

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