Matthias Hoene gained a following amongst film fans when he made the 2012 horror comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies. He has gone on work both as a producer and director in both TV and film. His latest film is written by the Transporter duo of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The film, Enter the Warrior’s Gate, is getting a limited theatrical release on May 5 from EuropaCorp and Fundamental Films.
World Film Geek got the chance to talk to Hoene about his experiences in film-making and the film itself.
Thank you so much Matthias for taking the time out of your schedule to talk about Enter the Warrior’s Gate. I got to see the film and really enjoyed it.
Oh thank you. I really appreciate that.
How did you get involved in film–making?
I was born in Singapore. I grew up in Berlin. I’m German. I moved to London to study film-making. I come from a family of scientists so I didn’t know anyone or have anyone closely related to the film industry, so it was kind of a different journey for me to go to a different city and discover at the time, a lot of my college mates were involved in making commercials and music videos.
I started out doing music videos and I remember that when I graduated I sent my showreel and I told them I was a German porn director trying to make it into the music video business. I only said that so they can look at my reel and give me an interview but it got me signed to my first production company. And I got very lucky because my first commercial won a Golden Lion at Cannes and I became a commercials director, even though I only had one commercial and one music video in my showreel.
Doing commercials became my “second film school” and I feel very grateful and I really wanted to get into narrative film. I was inspired as a kid growing up in Berlin and they had the old format of VHS and video rentals and all that. There was a video shop called the Videodrome and I would make a pilgrimage once or twice a week there. I would make the 45-minute drive there and I would rent stop motion films, Japanese anime, the kind with the multi-headed demons; and also Hong Kong action films like Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story and Zhang Yimou’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Shaw Brothers movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
It was actually A Chinese Ghost Story that really inspired me because it was so different from Western film-makingand we’ve never seen that much wirework in a widely distributed motion picture before. There were flying warriors, flying swords, and magic and demons. So when I got the script for Warrior’s Gate, I thought of that film along with the fact that Luc Besson is a legend in his own right.
What led you to direct Enter the Warrior’s Gate and did Luc Besson, who co-wrote the film and is a legend in his own right, help you in any way with filming?
My first film [Cockneys vs. Zombies] was a small horror-comedy and I didn’t want to be a commercials director who was doing a Friday the 13th or a reimagining. I wanted to create my own film. So that was a film I developed myself and got my friends here in London and I never really considered it to be a horror film, but more of an action-adventure film with zombies. And with the Cockneys, who are very loud-mouthed and fun and not scared, it became much of a comedy piece.
It was something that just came organically. And making a horror-comedy can be one of the hardest things to make as a first-time film director. You have to control the tone and drama and ten-second beats of action, comedy, heartfelt drama, scary and it’s much more difficult than making a straight-up horror film or a straight-up drama. So I learned that a lot.
I was actually developing a couple of other films, one that was on the blacklist and another one that is currently at Fox. I had learned that Luc Besson was looking for someone to direct Enter the Warrior’s Gate. He was looking specifically for a European director who would work comfortably with comedy, action, and visual effects. There aren’t many directors who can do both comedy and action and I did visual effects when I was doing commercials so I did a presentation for him.
I pitched my take on the material and what really interested me is that it was co-written by Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the original Karate Kid and The Fifth Element and Taken. I felt this was an 80’s or 90’s throwback movie, a film that reminded me of the films I watched as a kid. A magical escapist film that you really don’t get to see anymore.
I got the call and I was on a train to Paris to meet with Luc and he has a very massive studio and he was very cool and relaxed. And he said, “Matthias, I have one question. Your sense of humor. I’m worried about it. It’s too British.” And I had to laugh because if a German can fool someone with British humor, then I can truly do French humor (laughs).
This is a film that had an international cast from Dave Bautista and Uriah Shelton (center) to Ni Ni (right), Mark Chao (left), and Francis Ng, who is one of my favorite actors from Hong Kong. What was the cast like on the film because it seemed at times, they were clearly having fun.
We had a great time on the set. It was so great to have an eclectic cast coming together and I really appreciate you bringing up Francis Ng and Mark Chao specifically. There are some great actors from Asia that are not very well known in the West but it’s like they don’t really care if they are going to be well known in the West anymore.
The Chinese local market is so big and Hollywood is a desirable prospect for many actors. What was interesting is bringing together all these different acting styles and different energies. When you have someone like Mark Chao, who is not only a great action performer but is also very intelligent, professional, and very composed, it’s like his character. He is also able to let loose and gets to have more fun than what we usually expect from him as well as Ni Ni.
I think the thing is some of the differences between acting in Asia and acting in the West is the culture, and Asian actors tend to be more composed and don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves like American actors do.
Like Uriah, who is acting like a kid who has a lot of talent who does things fearlessly and likes to try out new things. He bounces around and has fun with the role and putting him together with someone like Francis Ng, who’s completely crazy (laughs) and a has a very creative inspiring wacky way. Ni Ni is very emotional and intellectual and very deep in her emotions in the role as with Mark who is very intelligent and thoughtful.
And finally, there’s Dave Bautista, who’s a big guy who physically so imposing and has a very deep voice. I mean, he can make you tremble in your shoes, but he is actually the sweetest guy that you can imagine. And he was a great presence on the set. It’s just so great to have all these different actors on the set and it’s not easy to balance out the tones with the film.
You mentioned Shaw Brothers and what surprised me in the film was the appearance of Kara Hui, who is a legend who recently retired from action films. Here, she has an extended cameo as the “Mountain Spirit”. What was it like working with her?
(Laughs) She was great to work with and I was very keen to get her in the film. She made me work hard to persuade her to the role because she didn’t want to do just a cameo role as a small part. She’s very feisty, very tough, and a very great actress. She was only on set for three days and they were complicated days, but she breezed through them without showing any tiredness. She has that presence and she will look into your eyes and bring that intensity. She is very strong and focused. It was a very great experience with her and she was great in the role.
Finally, do you have any new film projects in the works?
So, I think I might do a car chase film next. It would be about an American who is on a mission of revenge in the Middle East against the Russian drug baron who betrayed him. He will have to drive thousands of miles in the desert and you have the Russian mafia and CIA involved. It’s called Accelerate. So I might do that.
I also am inspired to do a film that has the feel of some of M. Night Shyamalan’s recent films and I’m also thinking of going back to doing a low-budget horror or thriller. So we will see what is next.
Enter the Warrior’s Gate is being released to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on May 5. Thank you again Matthias for talking about the film. I hope everyone gets a chance to check this film out.
I really appreciate that and I want to quickly talk about this controversy of “whitewashing”. There are many journalists who don’t see how hard the Asian actors work on this film. All they see is “what man saves the Chinese princess”, and don’t even bring up someone like Ni Ni and what she brought to the film. However, you’ve done that and I really appreciate that. Maybe this will help bring more awareness in terms of the level of talent these actors from Asia can achieve.
Exactly. Well, once again Matthias, thank you so much and I look forward to hearing your next project when it is ready.
Definitely, we will keep in touch.
A special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Matthias Hoene for making this interview possible. You can follow Matthias on Twitter for more information.