Russell Wong returns back on to the action screen with Steven Seagal in CONTRACT TO KILL.
Wong was in action movies in the last decade with ROMEO MUST DIE, THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPORER, and cult television series with BLACK SASH, THE MONKEY KING and my favorite VANISHING SON back in the 1990s.
In CONTRACT TO KILL, Wong plays a spy-drone specialist who assists a CIA/DEA enforcer to investigate a group of terrorists in Mexica and in Istanbul.
The film also stars Jemma Dallendar (I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2) and directed by Keoni Waxman (END OF A GUN).
LRM had a phone interview earlier this month with Wong to discuss his role in the film, his training/preparation and the most obvious—Steven Seagal.
CONTRACT TO KILL is in limited release currently in theaters and available on VOD today.
Read the interview transcript below.
LRM: Correct me if I’m wrong? Is this your first English feature action in a while?
Russell Wong: It’s my first action piece in a while. Yeah, definitely a while. [Chuckles]
LRM: Is just a coincidence or it depends on the projects that come your way?
Russell Wong: Well, I wanted to focus more on the acting. Also, I’ve been living in Beijing for a few years. I was getting into the market over there. I did a couple of independent films and a TV series over there. They were in Mandarin.
I got away from the acton [films]. I’m a little older. When this project CONTRACT TO KILL came around, I thought about it since I’ve never worked with Steven Seagal before or even with Lionsgate and Grindstone [Entertainment Group]. I thought it was a good opportunity to work with them. I’ve decided to go ahead and join up with these guys.
LRM: What did you particularly saw in CONTRACT TO KILL that you said, “I want to definitely do this” again?
Russell Wong: The project got delayed for like a month. I was working out with my trainer to get back into shape. I was excited to do it, because Steven Seagal is a name in martial arts. I know he gets a lot of bad press sometimes, but he is a legitimate martial artist. He is a sensei. It excited me to be working with him.
I had plenty of extra time to get in shape. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to get all the fight scenes in the way we wanted to do them. I think with Ron Balicki choreographing—we pretty much got on what we wanted to get under the circumstances. I definitely thought this was a good opportunity.
LRM: Did you do all of your stunts for the fight scenes? Or did you have a stuntman you have to switch off with?
Russell Wong: No, they didn’t have a stuntman for me. [Laughter] I did all of my own stunts and fights.
LRM: Did you find it much more difficult now than it used to be?
Russell Wong: Only as far with kicking. Such as doing a roundhouse kick or a spinning wheel kick. I don’t have the same speed and strength behind it anymore. As far as hands and quickness, I can still move. [Laughter]
LRM: It sounds like you missed all this and glad you’re back.
Russell Wong: I did! I was having fun! [Laughter] I know. I’m not that old yet. [Laughter] I can still move. So why not keep doing it, right?
LRM: That’s definitely true.
Russell Wong: I did have a good time with Ron and Keoni [Waxman]. They are good guys to work with.
LRM: What did you have for training in preparation? What was your typical day to get yourself ready again?
Russell Wong: I do a ten-minute run at the gym. I do two or three sprints for a minute. I do my stretching for about thirty minutes. Then I would get together with a trainer to do some mixes and some kicks. After that, it’s some core stuff for some conditioning.
I would travel to Monrovia, where there is a Wushu friend of mine. He’s from the Beijing Wushu team back in the day. We do some forms and work with staves. Those are on alternate days. That’s basically my routines.
LRM: Let’s talk about your character. Although he is an action spy in the film, he has another ability which is a major part of the plot. The character is being a drone pilot. How was that? It was quite different from anything else before.
Russell Wong: Did you see that movie EYE IN THE SKY?
LRM: I did see that movie EYE IN THE SKY. I even interviewed the director a few months ago.
Russell Wong: That was a very well done film. Or course they had a much bigger budget than we had. [Laughter] That whole element of warfare with drones is very interesting. There is that conscience that comes into play if you think you’re about to injure innocent people.
In our story in CONTRACT TO KILL, it wasn’t quite the case. I think those elements as a drone operator was interesting. It’s part of his character.
LRM: I guess that indeed is a new modern warfare for the twenty-first century now.
Russell Wong: Yeah. Guys are returning from Afghanistan or Syria, they don’t have very good experiences with war. Drones are supposed to help them. War at any level is crazy. That is the world that we live in.
LRM: For the film itself, did you actually had to control drones or had to pretend that you controlled one?
Russell Wong: You just pretend. It takes a while to learn on how to fly a drone properly. The guys who owned the drone were operating it. I just hold the remote as if I’m operating it.
LRM: Did you even had a chance to play with the drone? Did they even gave you a chance?
Russell Wong: No, it’s because it’s a really expensive drone. The drone they had on the set was a $10,000 drone. It’s not a toy. It’s a piece of equipment.
I want to get a drone. My brother flies one and does camera operations once in a while. It’s time to learn properly.
LRM: Well, hopefully you’ll get your chance then.
Russell Wong: Most definitely. You can get some pretty nice photography in 4K with beautiful shots. It will be cool.
LRM: Now being an action star in this movie, you get to fly drones, get to fight, get to shoot—what was the most difficult thing you had to do on this project?
Russell Wong: I don’t know. Nothing really stands out. I’m very familiar with this type of role by doing action films. I think doing the choreography to where we really want it. In the smaller budget films, the real actors are not trained as fighters. That sometimes can be a problem. We need a stunt guy who could do the fight scenes and then put the actor in. That wasn’t always the case. That was the only challenging part that I could think of.
LRM: How was filming in Budapest overall? I know a lot of smaller budget films like to be over there in Eastern Europe.
Russell Wong: It’s Bucharest.
LRM: Is it Bucharest or is it Budapest? I’ll look it up.
Russell Wong: [Laughter] I got confused too when I was over there. My agent/manager told me that I was going to Budapest. When I got to Bucharest, the custom agent was laughing at me. He said, “You’re in Bucharest. Not Budapest.” [Laughter] It was odd and now I forgot your question.
LRM: I was asking on how it was like filming in that region?
Russell Wong: It was over twenty years ago that they changed from communism to what we have today. It reminded me a little bit of being in China. Being communist, there is some kind of architecture there. There was this certain vibe. People were pretty easy going. Europe has this certain vibe to them, which is more laid back than the States. I do like that once in a while.
I had a good time there. The crew was really good. It was a nice gig.
LRM: You mentioned before that you did a bunch of Chinese films and TV stuff. Is there a stark difference between doing entertainment in China and here in the United States?
Russell Wong: Yeah, they don’t have unions in China. That’s a thing that had been going on for a while now. I’ve talked to a lot of people who worked in Hollywood or in Europe and then went off to work in China. There are no unionization for crew, actors and directors. That’s not happening right now over there. That can be really challenging.
I did one film a few years back. The thing about China is that you’ll see a film with all these people—it’s a lot of people in the background which is amazing. It’s a thing to see on film. Those are what a couple of things that stand out.
It’s kind of like the wild, wild west out there sometimes. You just need to be flexible and willing to roll with things. Sometimes you don’t really know on who your producers are or on who you are working with. You have to do your due diligence to make sure you’re not working with someone who told you that they’re the filmmaker. So if it comes time to shoot or time to get paid—there’s nothing there.
Those are a couple of things that stand out.
LRM: Well, let me start wrapping things up. Russell, could you just talk about your future projects?
Russell Wong: I’m developing something for myself. It’s called FATHER’S DAY. It’s kind of a rip-off of TAKEN. We will go to Asia and with a backstory of artificial intelligence. And then I just did an episode of CRIMINAL MINDS: BEYOND BORDERS with Gary Sinise. I will also be doing an independent film in Texas called, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. It’s about a Chinese cook from New York City who arrives in Texas to make this Chinese restaurant to come alive. I’m playing a guy who is not really in touch with his Chinese heritage. The cook will make that connection for him. This relationship will help his character evolve as the story goes on. I’m looking forward to that one.
LRM: Thank you for this conversation. Good luck on your future projects.
Russell Wong: Thank you, Gig.
CONTRACT TO KILL is in limited release currently in theaters and available on VOD today.
Source: Exclusive to LR