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Issue #188 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES December 1st, 2003

An American Actor in Hong Kong

Ever wonder about those Caucasians who turn up in HK movies, invariably cast as wildly emoting villains? Kent Wills is one of them and, in this exclusive interview, he reveals just what it was like working for that patchwork madman, Tomas Tang, on crazy pictures like CROCODILE FURY and ROBO VAMPIRE (reviewed in HKD #108).

Above images have ZOOM links. Click on picture for larger image.

HKD: OK Kent, let's start right at the beginning. Where do you hail from and how did you end up in Hong Kong?

Kent: I originally grew up in Iowa in a small town of about 8,000 called Webster City.I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1984 and decided to take a trip around the world for one year. One of the first places I visited was Hong Kong. After that, I fell in love with Asia and vowed to return in the future. In 1987, I began to do some modeling in the U.S. In 1988, I returned to Asia and started modeling in Hong Kong. I never really liked modeling; my goal was always to become an actor.


HKD: How did you end up working for Filmark? Did you answer some kind of cattle call or were you spotted by a talent scout?

Kent: A modeling agency in Hong Kong found a small part for me in one of the movies. Later, the American actor who was starring in the movie had to leave Hong Kong and they started using me as their main western actor. However, I did recruit several of the western actors for CROCODILE FURY. In that film, I'm billed as Nick Reece.

HKD: Did you have to audition at all? I know that these movies were shot MOS (without sound), so they probably were not concerned about your line readings but did they give you some kind of physical test?

Kent: The actor I replaced was a former college football player who was about 6' 2 and 250. I am also athletic so I think that was one of the considerations when they used me to replace him. You are also right they had no concern about the lines although they did put a lot of emphasis on our emotions. They wanted all of our emotions exaggerated. There was no subtlety: when you expressed emotion, they wanted it totally over the top. They also seemed to take great care about makeup and the scenery. I also think that cinematography is very important to them.

HKD: Did you have any prior acting experience?

Kent: I had taken acting classes in the U.S but up until that time I had no prior acting experience.

HKD: Was this all a lark for you or did you hope that it would lead to more roles?

Kent: I was having the time of my life. There was a small part of me hoping for something more and I had some illusions of grandeur but in reality I never expected it to lead to something greater. It was a great thrill for me when I was finally able to locate the films after several years. It is also exciting to read the reviews and perhaps show this to my grandchildren someday.

HKD: Can you shed any light on the mystery that is Tomas Tang? He was reported to have died in a fire during the mid-90s but the general impression is that Tang is actually one of the many pseudonyms utilized by Godfrey Ho.

Kent: I have read that Godfrey Ho interview conducted in 1999 and it does appear that Tang could in fact be Godfrey Ho. I do know that he always referred to himself as Tomas Tang when he wandered around the set.

HKD: Richard Harrison can be termed the king of these cut-and-paste movies, a title I'm sure he would rather not have. In interviews, Harrison revealed that Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho hired him to appear in a movie that was shot over the course of 3 or 4 weeks. Later on, much to his chagrin, Harrison discovered that he had been edited into about 20 different pictures! Several other Caucasian actors appeared in a number of these movies. Some of the more prominent ones were Mike Abbott, Bruce Baron, Stuart Smith (aka Stuart Steen, Stuart Smita), Jonathan James Isgar (aka Jonathan James), Louis Roth, Jeff Houston, Steve Tartaglia, and Pierre Kirby. Did you know any of these gentlemen?

Kent battles the witch in CROCODILE FURY.

Kent: I have read about Richard Harrison while conducting research about Tomas Tang and his movies but I'm not familiar with the names of the other actors. I think he did employ this same cut and paste strategy with myself. I always felt they were working on several different pictures at once and you had no clue which picture you were working on at any given time. I can't be certain but I would guess that we shot at least 5 to 7 different movies over the course of three or four months. In my first film, I played a smaller role and the star was a former American football player named Tom Kelly. He was probably around 6 foot 3 and heavily muscled. So, if anyone knows of any films with this actor, let me know. Of course, I'm sure that they will not use the name Tom Kelly.We were all dressed in American military fatigues during the first film which seems to be a favorite outfit for Tang. My face also gets distorted during the film literally like hamburger and I eventually die. In another film, I play a James Bond-like character and some of the scenes were shot indoors at their downtown studio instead of Diamond Hill. That was the only film I remember doing where there were quite a few indoor shootings. Like I said earlier, I was always unsure exactly how many movies he was working on at one time. Sometimes you sat around for several hours where they didn't need you and during these times you often had a tendency not to play to close attention to what they were doing. They often seemed to be working out scenes right at the moment as though they hadn't planned anything prior to the shot. This could be wrong but I know for sure that they sometimes did that. They usually didn't do several takes of a scene. I remember if I got it pretty close to right, that would be the only take. Like I said, their biggest thing was getting the emotional part right.

HKD: Were you given any dialogue in advance or did you just show up in the morning with no clue as to what would be shot that day?

Kent: We were never given any clue until we showed up on set what we were going to do that day. We also had no clue about how these movies would be made. They wanted to give us as little information as possible about the films we were shooting and I never quite understood why.

HKD: Did you have any clue after production what your movie would be called or even where it would be released?

Kent: Once again they were very protective about releasing any information about the titles of the film or where they would be released and of course we were very inquisitive and curious about this information.

HKD: Do you remember what your salary was? Did you get paid in cash?

Kent: It wasn't a great deal of money, around $150 U.S. a day plus our meals and transportation. Sometimes, they would give us a little bonus if they were happy about how things went that day.

HKD: Where in HK were your scenes shot? The IFD productions made extensive use of a small hillside park with concrete picnic tables. Might this be Diamond Hill?

Kent with co-star between takes on the set of CROCODILE FURY.

Kent: It could be Diamond Hill but Diamond Hill was actually on the outskirts of Hong Kong in a heavily wooded area. They had a set there consisting of several buildings in a very dilapidated condition.

HKD: What were the shooting conditions? Was food and drink provided?

Kent: We did receive food and drink. This usually consisted of rice, noodles or some vegetable served in a styrofoam box. The shooting conditions were also quite primitive. Diamond Hill was located next to a very impoverished area in Hong Kong. Coming down from Diamond Hill every night, you could hear the squeaking noises of the rats that pervaded the entire area. Although this area was quite poor, it would amaze us to see people coming out of their homes immaculately dressed.

HKD: The pyrotechnics on these movies seem primitive in the extreme. Were there any injuries as a result?

Kent: We often feared for our safety. One day, one of the Chinese actors caught on fire but it was quickly put out by a fire extinguisher on the set. He wasn't seriously hurt but nevertheless it gave us quite a scare. Also, your ears would be ringing all night after shooting a scene involving several explosives.

The French video box for CROCODILE FURY.

HKD: CROCODILE FURY was never released in North America? Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share?

Kent: Apparently you can still buy this film at Carrefours in France. I found a copy in a Taiwanese video store while teaching English in Taipei. My favorite story about CROCODILE FURY doesn't involve the actual shooting of the picture but much later after the movie had been released. My friend happened to be staying in Morocco (Casablanca of all places) and he went to see this horrible western movie. The movie happened to be CROCODILE FURY. After a few scenes he stood up in the theater and started yelling "That's Kent! That's Kent!" The conservative Muslim audience turned and looked at him in shock. After the movie was over, he convinced the theater manager to sell him a poster of the movie displaying myself. He sent the poster to me a couple of months later and for the first time I found out the name of one of my movies.

HKD: You only appear in the pre-credits sequence of the mind-boggling ROBO VAMPIRE. Any memories about the making of that one and did you get a glimpse of that insanely horrible robot costume?

Kent: I think we were actually working on CROCODILE FURY and they spliced this scene in later for ROBO VAMPIRE. Unfortunately, I never got to see the horrible robot costume but I would have loved to play that part.

Kent between takes with the actor who kills him in the pre-credits sequence of ROBO VAMPIRE.

HKD: The actor in the blue jean jacket (whom you beat up, just prior to having your throat torn out by the vampire in ROBO VAMPIRE) is Sun Chien, who appeared in some popular Shaw Brothers kung fu pictures. Donald Kong To (aka Chiang Tao), who plays his buddy, is another Shaw supporting player. Did you get to know them or any of the stuntmen?

Kent: He (Sun) was unlike some of the other actors and production people – very kind and generous to me. He often tried to help me with fighting techniques or other things I needed help with. I had a lot of respect for him. He also had a great sense of humor and was quite an acrobat.

HKD: Do you have any credits besides these films?

Kent: I did play a small part in a Taiwanese soap opera and I also worked as DJ and news reporter in Santa Barbara. So, I like to joke with people and tell them I have done radio, TV, movies and modeling. I might not have done these things at the level I wanted to achieve but, at least, I got to do them at some level.

HKD: When did you leave Hong Kong?

Kent: During that period, I was in Hong Kong for about six months. I have been in Hong Kong several times since (the last time being 1997) but I never did another movie again in Hong Kong.

HKD: What are you up to nowadays?

Kent: I went back and got my master's degree in the mid 90's in TESOL and Linguistics and I mainly teach at colleges and universities around the world now. My last job was at Garden City Community College as the ESL Director and the job before that I worked at Payap University, a private university in Thailand. I have taught on four separate continents. I've been working on a novel about Taiwan for several years and it is nearly completed. Whether it ever gets published is another story. I am currently living in Orlando but will be relocating to Prague shortly.

My thanks to Kent for taking the time to provide some answers about this little discussed facet of HK cinema and for providing the pictures included here. If anyone can help to further identify the movies he appeared in, write in to HKD and I will forward your letter to Kent.

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