Monday, March 30, 2009
Behind the scenes of Power Kids with the 'Drunk Bully'
To be a human punching bag, you have to be a real nice guy.
And Richard William Lord is that. Clean-cut, clear-headed and cordial, he belies his appearance as the "Drunk Bully" in the latest Thai action film, Power Kids or 5 Huajai Heroes (or, roughly, "five heroes [for the] heart").
The story of young Muay Thai students who need to retrieve a donor heart from a hospital that's been taken over by machine-gun-toting terrorists, Power Kids is the latest no-holds-barred, high-impact martial-arts extravaganza from producer Prachya Pinkaew's Baa Ram Ewe company and Sahamongkol Film International, the makers of such films as Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong by Thai action hero Tony Jaa.
Lord is one of several foreign actors who appear in Power Kids, but aside from Vietnamese-American leading man Johnny Nguyen, who plays one of the terrorist leaders, Lord is the only one who spends a decent amount of time on camera before he's dispatched.
And what a time it is.
The 6-foot-4-inch Lord, playing an obnoxiously inebriated student at a Muay Thai school, towers over his pre-teen co-stars, but is beaten down by the gang of youngsters and the raw power of Muay Thai. It's the first major action scene in Power Kids.
"Those little kids really tore me up," says the rugged actor, who was literally taking it on the chin as young star Nantawooti "Wut" Boonrapsap came flying at Lord feet first off a mini-trampoline.
"Wut was like surgeon," says the lantern-jawed Lord, noting that the action coordinators would call for Wut to use his feet to strike the very tip of Lord's chin, and he did every time, except for when the trampolines were left in Thailand's blistering sunlight for too long and the springs became soft. That made Wut's aim go off, and he landed a foot on the side of Lord's neck.
"The inside of my mouth was cut up ... my ear canal was ruptured ... I was pissing blood," says Lord, detailing the injuries he received on Power Kids.
"I wasn't a stuntman, I was a human punching bag."
Despite all the hard work and punishment, Lord says he has the highest respect for the cast and crew, especially young co-stars Wut and the female fighter Sasisa "Kat" Jindamanee, who were 12 and 11 years old respectively when the scenes were filmed.
"They work those kids hard," Lord says, talking about round-the-clock shooting schedules. At one point, Kat and another Power Kids child star, Narawan "Grace" Techaratanprasert, were concurrently shooting another action film, Som Tum, with another big-man actor, former WWE star Nathan Jones. Som Tum was released last year.
Lord says he also remains awestruck by the dedication of the stunt performers at the Baa Ram Ewe production company, which has a facility where the stuntmen train daily.
Once the cameras had stopped rolling and the bright lights had dimmed, the fury and power shown by the actors melted away. And out came the ice packs for his swollen face, and sliced, chilled mangoes for refreshment.
"They are such incredibly kind and gentle people," says Lord, who adds that he was particularly moved by Wut's apologizing to him after every take. "It was hard for him to hit me," says Lord, "but the action director kept encouraging him, 'show the power of Muay Thai, show the power of Thai people'. When we were done, Wut was crying, he was so sorry."
Power Kids was a particularly punishing film for all involved, says Lord.
The film had been started by another director in 2005, and interest was generated in Power Kids with sales fliers at the Cannes Film Market in 2006. But the project became dormant after the two principal child actors Wut and Kat were injured while performing stunts, Lord says. Some of those early scenes remain in the film, but by the time the young actors were again ready to work, they had grown visibly older, necessitating reshoots of many action setpieces. Director Krissanapong Rachata, himself a star in his childhood, was brought in to handle the reshoots and complete the film, says Lord.
The scenes with Lord were some of the last for the production, shot in 2007 along the Chao Phya River in Bangkok.
Working on Power Kids was an eye-opener for the journeyman stunt performer, actor, model and voiceover artist.
Trained as a gymnast, Lord's credits include the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular back in his native Florida. "I played the German mechanic who fights with Indy around the airplane," says Lord.
He also worked as a stuntman on the Miami Vice TV series in the 1980s. There, nursing a sore back after a particularly hard day of shooting that required his bad-guy character to smash through a window and fall into a swimming pool, he got some advice from star Don Johnson, who told him, "It's how many times you keep getting up. That's what counts in this business."
Contacts made on the Indiana Jones show led to Lord's coming to Thailand in 1994 to work on a James Bond 007 stunt show at Safari World in Bangkok. And he's been based more or less in Thailand since then, shooting TV commercials and shows, modeling for magazine spreads, catalogs and ad layouts and doing voiceover work. He was even a schoolteacher in Thailand for a time.
And he's also dubbed the voice of another big-man foreigner actor, 7-foot-tall Conan Stevens, who's briefly seen in Power Kids and has been featured in several other Sahamongkol productions, including Somtum and The Bodyguard 2. It was for the action comedy Bodyguard 2 that Lord dubbed over the big tough Stevens' Australian accent for a comedic contrast. "The director [Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao] kept telling me 'more gay, more gay'," says the deep-voiced Lord.
When Lord was cast as "Drunk Bully" in Power Kids, the action coordinators tested him at the Baa Ram Ewe studios, rigging Wut and Kat in slings and swinging them at Lord. "I said, 'yeah, I can do that,' let's go."
But on set, it was different, with the mini-tramps brought in to make the kids airborne. They would come flying into the frame feet, knees and elbows first, and the hits came hard and heavy. The sling rigging couldn't be used, because it would be visible on film, Lord explains.
"I had never been so brutalized," says Lord.
That advice from Don Johnson on the set Miami Vice came back to him, and Lord kept getting back up, he says, earning the respect of his castmates, the crew and the legion of Thai stunt performers.
"I know what questions to ask now, when I go to work in an Asian film," says Lord, who at age 50 probably won't taken another action role like he did Power Kids.
He's a had a good run, though, Lord notes, saying that in Hollywood, where stunt-performer safety is tantamount, a stuntman can work around 25 years. But in rough-and-tumble Thailand, where camera and light rental is the biggest cost in making a film and safety is sacrificed for making every shot count, the stuntmen will have about four to six years before they have to retire.
Still, Lord has great enthusiasm for Power Kids, saying that he had returned to Florida after completing the film, but then came all 19,000-plus miles back to Thailand especially to attend the world premiere in Bangkok in early March.
He says he was disappointed that none of the other foreigner stars -- save for an extra who portrayed a doctor -- turned up to support the film.
"I really hope it does well in the West," says Lord, who says action-film fans who savor the brutal punches, elbow thrusts and flying double-knee bombs of Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak or Baa Ram Ewe's new female star Jeeja Yanin in Chocolate, should love Power Kids.
"It was a great honor to be in Power Kids," says Lord. "But I wouldn't want to do it again."