The Good, the Bad and the Badass: the Star and Creatives of Star Wars: The Bad Batch Talk the New Animated Series

By Jedd Jong

There are nine main Star Wars theatrical films and three more theatrically released spinoff films, including 2008’s animated Clone Wars movie. However, fans know this barely scratches the surface. There is a galaxy of ancillary material that greatly enhances and enriches the Star Wars story, and sometimes, is essential to getting the bigger picture.

One of the key components of Star Wars has been the Clone Wars CGI animated series, which the afore-mentioned animated movie led into, ran from 2008 to 2014, and had an additional final season that aired in 2020. The series is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and expounds on the titular conflict, fleshing out familiar characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, while also introducing key players like Ahsoka Tano, Duchess Satine and of course the various Clones.

Streaming on Disney+, Star Wars: The Bad Batch picks up where The Clone Wars left off, focusing on a peculiar group of Clones who were introduced in the seventh and final season of that show. The leader Hunter, gadget whiz Tech, cyborg tactician Echo (once presumed dead and later rescued from his captors), demolitions specialist Wrecker and sniper Crosshair comprise Clone Force 99, nicknamed “the Bad Batch”. While there are small differences in the personalities and temperaments of the regular Clone Troopers, the Batchers (apart from Echo) have genetic defects that enhance certain traits desirable in a soldier, but also make them more individualistic and unpredictable. They are also more physically distinctive than the regular Clones.

At a virtual press conference moderated by Entertainment Tonight’s Ash Crossan, star Dee Bradley Baker, executive producer/head writer Jennifer Corbett and executive producer/supervising director Brad Rau spoke about the new series. Corbett and Rau both worked on the Star Wars animated series Rebels and Resistance. The series is created and executive produced by Dave Filoni, a stalwart of Star Wars animation who is now heavily involved with live-action series on Disney+ including The Mandalorian.

One of the draws for Star Wars fans is this series’ setting: the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Galactic Republic and the execution of Order 66, in which the Clone Troopers turned on and massacred the Jedi. “The question became: what happens after the war’s over? What happens to all these clones [when] all they know is being soldiers?” Corbett asked. She said the show examines “how [the Bad Batch] react to this new environment and the new way of doing things and the new way of following rules, which…isn’t their favourite thing to do.” The nascent Empire is seen through the eyes of the Bad Batch, but also civilians across the galaxy. “I found it kind of interesting to show planets and places that were happy that the war is over, and they don’t really understand the implications of what an Empire actually means,” Corbett continued.

The members of the Bad Batch may be different from the regular Clones, but until now, they have always operated as part of the Grand Army of the Republic. With the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, they find themselves adrift. “None of them are really equipped to go out into the world,” Rau observed. “How do they eat? They don’t have a mess hall to go to. How do they get their gear fixed? How do they get fuel for their ship? These are all things we get into. It’s really interesting.”

Since 2008, Baker has voiced practically every Clone heard in Star Wars animated series and video games. If you watched even one cartoon series on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network over the last 20-odd years, chances are you’ll have heard Baker’s work. Regarded as a living voice acting legend, his credits include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants, Ben 10, Phineas and Ferb, Young Justice, Adventure Time, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, among many others.

“Clone Force 99 is kind of another step beyond what I’ve been asked to do in the Clone Wars series,” Baker explained. “The tricky part for them is the differentiation between characters – although it has to be decisive and has to be clear, the Bad Batch are actually much further apart from each other which oddly makes it a little bit easier to jump from character to character to character,” Baker said, comparing the experience to “jumping from rock to rock on a stream.” “It’s…a really fascinating process as a voice actor to have these scenes where I’m just talking to myself, just switching from character to character to character as we go through the script, which is typically how we do it. We just go straight through it.”  

“It’s impressive to watch him do it in the room because when we first started, I thought he was going to do a character at a time [but] just watching him act out a scene with himself with all of these Clones, there’s no pause, he just goes right into it,” Corbett said, likely echoing the assumption of most viewers. “I was blown away, each time we do one of these recording sessions, I’m just amazed at Dee’s talent.”

The Bad Batch also introduces a new character, a young girl named Omega whom the Batchers somewhat reluctantly take under their wing. “It’s interesting in terms of the story and the writing to have this personal relationship with a younger character and to see how that changes and how they accommodate that,” Baker said. He compared it to an uncle-niece or father-child dynamic but added this is “not entirely” the case, “because Omega has her own interesting potential of power, maybe.”

The way the Batchers interact as members of a military unit is something that Corbett is familiar with, having served in the United States Navy. She applied this experience as a writer and producer on the long-running series NCIS. Corbett said she responded to the Bad Batch’s arc in the final season of The Clone Wars because she “Got the dynamic between this squad,” adding that she understood how servicepeople “Become like brothers and sisters very when you’re sent on missions together when you’re in close quarters, and the camaraderie and also the banter that comes with living with people so closely in high-stress situations.” A key element of the characters in the show is that they each bring different perspectives to the table. “I think that speaks to the military, no one comes from the same background; everybody has their different reasons for doing what they’re doing, and it is a family dynamic in real life,” Corbett elaborated.

Star Wars fans can look forward to appearances from characters from other shows, including Rebel leader Saw Gerrera, who appeared in Rebels, Rogue One and Jedi: Fallen Order, and Fennec Shand, who appeared in The Mandalorian, with Ming-Na Wen returning to voice the latter. This is in line with how each new Star Wars series, animated and live action alike, further connects the dots between characters and time frames.

Featuring characters who quickly became fan favourites and taking place in an intriguing and tumultuous period in the Star Wars timeline, The Bad Batch promises to make for riveting and rewarding viewing, perhaps setting the stage for much more Star Wars content to come.

The Bad Batch begins streaming on Disney+ on May 4 2021, with new episodes premiering each week.

Wira the Champions: Interview with Wira director Adrian Teh and stars Hairul Azreen and Yayan Ruhian

For F*** Magazine

WIRA THE CHAMPIONS

The stars and director of Wira talk making the Malaysian action movie

By Jedd Jong

From left: Yayan Ruhian, Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen

One of the biggest films to come out of Malaysia in recent years is PASKAL: The Movie, an action film about an elite Malaysian Navy strike team who take on a gang of Somali pirates on the high seas. Director Adrian Teh, who has directed comedies like The Wedding Diary and its sequel and King of Mahjong, is now synonymous with the action film genre. He has followed up Paskal with Wira, which means “Hero” in Malay.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Wira tells the story of Hassan (Hairul Azreen), a young commando who retires early to return to the village where he grew up after learning that his father Munas (Dato Hilal Azman) and his sister Zain (Fify Azmi) are in danger. Zain has followed in her brother’s footsteps to become an MMA fighter, taking on increasingly dangerous fights. The fights are organised by local kingpin Raja (Dain Iskandar Said), who under the guise of being a legitimate businessman and developer, keeps the residents of the village firmly under his thumb as he runs a massive drug and gambling operation. Hassan gets back into the ring and faces off against Raja’s goons, including his mysterious and formidable chief of security Ifrit (Yayan Ruhian).

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul Azreen, who in addition to being an actor is a martial artist and a former stuntman, starred in Paskal and is also known for his performances in Police Evo 2 and Operasi X.

Yayan Ruhian in Wira

Yayan Ruhian, an Indonesian silat instructor, has become an action star after starring in Merantau, The Raid and The Raid 2. Yayan can also be seen in Hollywood films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Beyond Skyline and John Wick: Chapter 3. In addition to playing Ifrit, he serves as the action choreographer on Wira.

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

Director Teh and actors Hairul and Yayan were in Singapore to promote Wira and spoke to F*** at the Grand Park City Hall hotel. Teh spoke to us in English, with Hairul and Yayan speaking in some English and in translated Malay and Indonesian, with Teh and an interpreter assisting. They discussed how Wira marks a milestone for Malaysian action movies, revealed a particularly painful injury Hairul sustained making the movie, the process of designing the action sequences and working with Dain Iskandar Said, himself a renowned director.

F*** MAGAZINE: Adrian, this is your follow-up to Paskal. What made you want to make Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I’ve always wanted to do this kind of action film, which is [realistic] fighting scenes. In Malaysia, before Wira, I think the level of action choreography has been the same. The level has been stagnant for a while – when people want to do action films in Malaysia, it always will be “like that, like that, like that”. I wanted to do Wira because I wanted to have a breakthrough in the level of choreography and fighting scenes in a local action film. I’ve wanted to do that for a while. The success of Paskal proved to my investors that there is a market for action films Malaysia. After Paskal, they are more convinced to give me the budget for Wira.

Bus set

Adrian, there is one shot in this movie I really love – during the fight on the bus, the camera leaves the window, goes outside the bus, then comes back in the back window, all in one move. How did you film this sequence?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the reason why I hoped to have a breakthrough in terms of Malaysian action films. This is one of the shots I achieved in Wira. The whole bus fight scene took a lot time to plan, to prep and to think how it can be achieved. It combines two sets of filming: one is on [location], plus a studio shoot. We spent a lot of time studying how to get the best out of that scene, and how we can combine the studio scene with the [on-location] scene. Not only that shot, there are a few shots in the movie where we really thought of it and really gave a lot of hard work and preparation to it. The most important element to it is the fighting, is the choreography, the details to each fighting scene. I’m kind of happy with the end product.

Bus fight on location

Hairul, which fight scenes did you find the most challenging?

HAIRUL AZREEN: For me, it’s the one shot, one take – I needed to jump from the second level to the ground floor. I tore three [ligaments] in my ankle. We continued the next day. That was very hard for me, but we did it.

Fall from second storey

ADRIAN TEH: To compare the shot you mentioned just now and that shot, that one is actually technically even more challenging for us to shoot.

Ismi Melinda and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Abang Yayan, we have seen how Hollywood is influenced by the action cinema of Asia, be it Hong Kong movies, Thai movies and Indonesian movies. From your experience Hollywood, what do you feel the stuntmen there learned from you, and was there anything you learned from them?

YAYAN RUHIAN: I have made movies in Indonesia, in Hollywood and now in Malaysia. They are practically all the same, but the same feeling that I had filming The Raid and in Hollywood is what I felt filming Wira. I believe this movie will be a milestone for Malaysian film like we’ve never seen before, and this might be the next big action film. This is at an international level, like The Raid and like John Wick. The Raid and Wira show that filmmakers in Southeast Asia can create something as good as Hollywood.

Fify Azmi and Hairul Azreen in Wira

The movie is also about family. How did you come up with the story for Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I started out by wanting to work on an action film like that, then I started looking for a story. Paskal is about a group of Navy personnel who sacrifice their lives and their time with their family to serve their country, that’s the big theme of Paskal. As a creative person, I tried to do something completely [different] with Wira. This time around, it’s about a commando who decides to retire early to go back to his kampung and rescue his family. In Paskal we talked about country and in Wira we talk about family.

Hairul, one of the important elements of the movie is the bond between Hassan and Zain, the audience must believe that they can fight back-to-back as a unit. what was it like working with Fify Azmi, and how did you develop the brother-sister bond between the two of you as actors?

HAIRUL AZREEN: Fify is a newcomer, first time acting. I needed to be comfortable with her on set and in training. The bonding that I tried to develop with Fify had to take place off the set so we could both feel comfortable when we act. We had to train together for three months.

Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen rehearsing a scene in Wira

Adrian and Hairul, what was the transition like from Paskal to Wira?

HAIRUL AZREEN: It’s different: with Paskal, [the focus was on] tactical armed combat. My characters Arman and Hassan are also different. Arman is a straightforward guy. Hassan must save his family, his sister, so I think they are very different.

ADRIAN TEH: It’s more taxing for him to be in Wira than Paskal, physically and in terms of screentime. In Paskal, we had a team, an ensemble. For Wira, it really depends on him. For me, working on Paskal and working on Wira [presented] two different sets of challenges, but I enjoyed working with Hairul again.

Yayan and Ruhian in Wira

Abang Yayan and Hairul, the whole movie is building up the fight between the both of you, which takes place simultaneously with the fight between Fify Azmi and Ismi Melinda. Did you feel the pressure because there would be so much anticipation to see this scene?

YAYAN RUHIAN: No, because we enjoyed doing the fighting. We prepared for a long time.

ADRIAN TEH: I think because of the bootcamp, because of the training, they enjoyed the sequence. It’s not like they are not familiar with [it] and had to force themselves to memorise it; they can do it with their eyes closed. They’re very familiar, very comfortable with the action.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen filming the fight scene in Wira

HAIRUL AZREEN: Acting with Abang Yayan is awesome because I feel like I’ve touched Hollywood. It’s such a thrill. Abang Yayan is a legend, but he is so humble and down-to-earth. For a legend like that to sit next to me and hang out with me is incredible.

It can get so intense on a film set, so it’s important to have a good temperament.

ADRIAN TEH: That’s very important, I agree. Abang Yayan has a very good temperament. He is very firm, but very tolerant of others.

Dain Iskandar Said in Wira

Adrian, Dain Iskandar Said is a director himself. What was it like working with him, and did he offer any advice or did he say to you “you are the director, I am the actor, you tell me what you want in this movie”?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the question I get the most frequently from the media. He is a legend[ary] director in Malaysia, everybody knows his work. You’d be surprised, he’s actually a very good actor. He’s very professional on set, he will never try to overstep his role. He will give me different options in his performance for me to choose [from]. When we wanted to cast him, he did not believe me. He said “come on, you just want me to make a cameo, right?” I said “no, I want you to be the main villain of the movie.” He was like “Are you sure?” and I said “I’m very sure”. He insisted that I ask him three times before he accepted the offer. I had already wanted him, I was dead sure I would cast him in the role, but he asked me to audition him three times. Only then, he said “Okay, now I can act.”

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

What did you learn making Paskal that you brought to Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I think I am more thorough with Wira. I paid more attention to detail with Wira. Technically and the time I had with my actors. In Wira, I had a relatively smaller group of actors than in Paskal, so I get to work with my actors in Wira better. Riding on the back of Paskal, there definitely was pressure, so I spent more time on Wira.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen in Wira

Abang Yayan, there’s something so mesmerising about watching you fight, the way you do silat. I think there is a difference between what looks on camera and what would actually be effective in a real fight, and the way you fight has the best of both worlds: it looks so cinematic, but also looks like it would really hurt somebody. How do you attain that balance in your fighting?

YAYAN RUHIAN: It’s different, because in front of the camera, it’s not just the killing technique, but the beauty technique, that’s the difference. To kill someone, I think it’s very easy. Beauty fighting is very important in front of the camera. In front of the camera, we need to make the fighting look like real fighting.

Adrian, that’s something you were aiming for right, something that felt authentic?

ADRIAN TEH: Yes. That’s the level of choreography and the level of action we are trying to present to the audience.

Adrian Teh and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Adrian, there are many ways that filmmakers plan out and prepare fight scenes, including storyboards, animatics and stunt-viz, filming the stunt performers in the gym performing a version of the fight that is shot and edited to be a template for the actual scene in the movie. How were the fight scenes in Wira designed and planned?

ADRIAN TEH: We had seven fight scenes in Wira, three major ones and four relatively smaller ones. That was the first thing I discussed with Abang Yayan when he first got to KL. I put different elements in every fight scene so audiences wouldn’t get bored. There are five fight scenes for Hassan. I discussed it with Abang Yayan, the different intentions Hassan had in each fight scene.

So there’s a character arc for Hassan in the fight scenes.

Hairul Azreen and Fify Azmi in Wira

ADRIAN TEH: Yes – not just a character arc, but in each fighting scene, I have different points to sell. Abang Yayan is very good at that, he knows how to tell a story in a fighting scene, using the design, choreographed movement to tell you the arc of the fighting: who’s winning, who’s losing, and who turned the tide. He’s very good at that.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul, one of the things I love about your character is that even though he is a fighter and he can beat people up, he is innately decent. I love the part when he is reluctant to punch his friend Boon in the face and Boon is asking him to do it. How do you balance those sides of the character, the decent side and the violent side?

HAIRUL AZREEN: I watched two movies for reference: Ip Man and John Wick. After [a dramatic incident in the film], I’m John Wick. Before that, I’m Ip Man. It’s that simple.

ADRIAN TEH: He’s both Donnie Yen and Keanu Reeves.

Wira opens in Singapore on 21 November 2019 

Soldiers of Fortune: Triple Frontier cast and producer in Singapore

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE: TRIPLE FRONTIER CAST AND PRODUCER IN SINGAPORE

Stars Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven talk Netflix’s paramilitary action thriller

Jedd Jong

Netflix is bringing a rumble in the jungle into audiences’ living rooms with Triple Frontier, and the film’s stars and producer trekked from the deepest forests of South America to Singapore to promote the film. Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven met fans at Marina Bay Sands and fielded questions from the press the next day.

The film centres on five men, Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund) and Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal). The ex-top tier military operatives, feeling frustrated that they have reaped nothing from their service, reunite for a mission. This time, they’re doing it for themselves. The men embark on a daring heist in the remote tri-border zone along the border of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil (hence the title), planning to rob a drug kingpin and keep the spoils for themselves. Despite the years of combat experience between them, unforeseen circumstances endanger the risky undertaking, leaving the men battling for their lives in unforgiving climes.

Triple Frontier is directed by J.C. Chandor and co-written by Chandor and Mark Boal. Chandor’s credits include All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year, and Boal is a former journalist who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the two latter films, was originally attached to Triple Frontier. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were initially announced as being in talks to join the film, with Channing Tatum, Tom Hardy and Mahershala Ali later attached. The film was originally set up at Paramount, before moving to Netflix. “It was quite a trek of its own getting it made,” Roven quipped.

From the get-go, Triple Frontier was gruelling for those both in front of and behind the camera. The film was shot on location in Oahu, Hawaii, Mammoth Mountain, California, and Bogota, Colombia. “So much of the movie was done very real, not on a soundstage, not with a lot of visual effects,” Roven said. Roven has produced films including the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman and American Hustle. “In addition, the elements were not always very kind to us,” Roven added, citing “historic rain” during the shoot in Hawaii. “We were sloshing around in mud and mudslides, and a lot of times it took us a long time to get to work. Once we were at work, we were in flood conditions and things like that,” he recalled, remarking “The movie is exciting to watch, but it was also exciting to make.”

The actors spoke about the preparation they undertook for the film, which included training with three former Navy SEALs and a former Delta Force operative in California’s Simi Valley. Charlie Hunnam spoke about how the actors were flung into the thick of things, saying “We didn’t know each other, I hadn’t met Ben before, or Pedro or Oscar, and within 30 minutes of meeting each other we were standing doing live fire exercises.”

Hunnam said that using live rounds helped the actors focus on their task and reminded them that it wasn’t a game. “The thing you hear time and time again from these soldiers is that at a moment’s notice, they’re willing to lay down their life for their brother and vice versa,” Hunnam shared.

Hunnam and Hedlund have been friends for 15 years, and because the actors have a passing physical resemblance, it was written into the script that their characters are brothers. Hedlund’s character Ben becomes an MMA fighter after retiring from active duty. Hunnam helped Hedlund prepare for the role by taking Hedlund to a gym called The Academy in Beverly Hills, which is run by Rigan Machado, known as one of the top competitors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu history. Machado’s other
celebrity students include Vin Diesel, Ashton Kutcher and Chuck Norris. “I choked [Hedlund] out a little bit and showed him what it was about,” Hunnam quipped.

Hedlund is no stranger to the military, having played a soldier in six of his last eight films and having relatives who served. “My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines as an MP and never spoke of the war when he came back. My other grandfather was stationed in Germany with Elvis,” Hedlund revealed. “When I was a kid growing up on a farm, my father would walk me down the gravel road marching in cadence, because that’s what he was used to,” Hedlund continued.

He took the responsibility of playing a soldier seriously, saying “You always…give the utmost respect to the men you’re playing and never disrespect the uniform.” Hedlund stressed that the actors were careful in not rendering their ex-military characters as caricatures, saying “Everybody was very legit; we wanted the realism to stand out.”

Affleck said that meeting and working with the film’s military advisors dispelled him of some preconceived notions. “One of the misconceptions I had going into it was that they were going to be these real superhero military guys, they were going to be very aggressive and hierarchical and kind of drill sergeant bullies or something,” Affleck remarked. “Instead, they were the kindest, most open, humble [people] who taught us about…inter-reliance among each other as the most important thing.”

While it can seem that on a movie packed with stars one might want to jostle the other out of the spotlight, teamwork was key in accurately reflecting how a real-life Special Forces unit operates. “The thing they felt was most important to get across was that we would all move as one unit, one team together, rather than being about one person standing out and being the hero,” Affleck said. “I thought it was beautiful, we definitely took that to heart, and we tried to come together and make it work the way they trained us to do it.”

Affleck was conscious of the “vast delta” between his own lived experiences and those of military combat veterans. “It was a profoundly humbling experience to be around these men and understand the true nature of sacrifice and commitment and duty really was,” Affleck shared. While the film is testosterone-fuelled, making the movie was not about men trying to out-posture each other. “There really wasn’t a tremendous emphasis on hierarchy and being ‘alpha’ and being tougher than the other people,” Affleck said, adding that the film’s military advisors “educated me to understand that true strength came in compassion, in empathy and in teamwork, and I found that to be the lesson I took away from this movie.”

The actors’ preparation for the film was not just physical, but psychological as well. Hunnam’s research included reading the books War and Tribe by journalist Sebastian Junger, who was embedded with troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Junger continued to follow the soldiers after they returned from the war, observing how they adapted back to civilian life. Hunnam also watched Junger’s documentary films Restrepo and Korengal, which were made with photojournalist Tim Hetherington.  “He does a really incredible analysis of not only the psychological interplay of soldiers in war, but also the difficulty of coming home and reintegrating into civilian society, and the enormous loss that they generally feel,” Hunnam said of Junger.

Hunnam spoke of a specific example when one of the film’s military advisors stepped in to lend their expertise. “There’s a moment when I sustain an injury and of course in true Hollywood dynamic, was over-acting the moment,” Hunnam admitted. He said the military advisor “came over and gave me a couple of experiences where he himself had sustained massive injuries, and said ‘this is just a reality, you need to hold it together.’ It was amazing to get those kinds of insights in real time and make sure we were handling the situations correctly.”

On the surface, Triple Frontier might look like a typical action movie, but Roven assured the crowd that the film has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. “It is a genre that certainly others have done before, but in this particular situation and this particular script, where you think the movie is going, it doesn’t go there. It takes that genre and, in many ways, turns it on its head,” he declared.

Triple Frontier begins streaming on Netflix on March 13.

1995: A Space Odyssey – Captain Marvel stars and directors in Singapore

By Jedd Jong

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2018 was a banner year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, delivering the one-two punch of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Ant-Man and the Wasp served as a palate cleanser that still teased 2019’s big event – Avengers: Endgame.

The MCU movie that immediately precedes Endgame is Captain Marvel, which introduces one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes to the cinematic canon. The post-credits stinger of Infinity War depicted Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) activating a pager and calling for Captain Marvel’s help before he demateralised alongside Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Brie-Larson-blue-red-costume-1

Captain Marvel will depict the first meeting between Fury and the titular hero. The movie takes place largely in 1995 and centres on Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), a U.S. Air Force pilot who transforms into a super-powered intergalactic peacekeeper. When earth is threatened by the shape-shifting Skrull invaders, Captain Marvel returns to her home planet to fight them and to rediscover the past existence she has long forgotten.

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Stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and Gemma Chan and directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were in Singapore to promote the movie at Marina Bay Sands. On the agenda was a press junket, interviews and a massive fan event in the evening.

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Boden and Fleck are the latest indie directors to move from the world of smaller-scale dramas and comedies onto the largest stage imaginable, the MCU. “When you saw Half Nelson, it was just obvious we would be doing a superhero movie next,” Fleck joked, referring to their breakout film starring Ryan Gosling. The duo is also known for directing Mississippi Grind starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn, and for directing episodes of TV shows including Billions and The Affair.

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Boden has become the first woman to direct an MCU movie – the only other female director to have helmed a Marvel movie so far was Lexi Alexander, who made 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. “This is a movie I really wanted to be part of. This is a character that so many people care so much about,” Boden said, adding “it’s 2019 and I think that everybody here looks forward to the day that it’s not news-worthy that a woman is directing this type of movie.” Boden is in good company, with Patty Jenkins having directed Wonder Woman and directing its sequel, Cathy Yan helming Birds of Prey and Cate Shortland directing the upcoming Black Widow solo movie.

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Fleck recounted the process of pitching the movie to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “When we went in there to talk to Kevin and the team at Marvel, and Brie as well, we were on the same page to make this character as complex and messy and human as possible, funny and tough and also vulnerable at the same time,” Fleck recalled. “They were like ‘yeah, that’s the movie we want to make,’ and here we are.”

Speaking about the production support built into the MCU machine, Boden added “[Marvel] said ‘We know how to make the big explosions, we need people to focus on the stories and the characters.'”

Brie-Larson-helmet-green-costume

The film chronicles Carol Danvers’ transformation into Captain Marvel, and behind the scenes, Oscar winner Brie Larson also underwent a staggering transformation to play the role. She embraced the physical challenge of portraying one of the most powerful superheroes in existence, saying “There’s something about pushing yourself beyond the threshold of what’s comfortable and then going even further than that…it means sometimes that you end up on the floor crying, begging for it to stop.” Larson surmised that those moments of breakthrough in the midst of pushing oneself to the limit embodied the spirit of Carol Danvers.

The arduous training paid off: Larson can dead-lift an impressive 102 kg and pushed a jeep up a hill for 30 seconds. Larson became fond of sending co-star Samuel L. Jackson videos of her workout progress, “just to brag”.

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Larson found the process of learning and executing action sequences rewarding, because there was a level of satisfaction in completing the task. Compared with typical acting which is up to interpretation, Larson found working on fight scenes more clear-cut. “There’s a right and a wrong way to punch an alien and that’s how it goes,” she stated.

Brie-Larson-fighter-jet

Larson also spent time flying in actual fighter jets, going onto Nellis Air Force Base and meeting with U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt, the first female fighter squadron commander in the Air Force’s history.

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Costumes are an integral part of any comic book movie, and the costumes in Captain Marvel are no exception. Carol’s default costume is a red, blue and gold variation of the green Starforce uniform she wears at the beginning of the film. The costumes were designed by Sanja Milkovic Hays, whose credits include Star Trek Beyond and the recent Fast and Furious films. Larson described the costume as a “restrictive rubber suit,” comparing moving around in it to “treading water all day”. She described shooting an action sequence in which Carol hangs off the side of a train, saying “It wasn’t until we got there that it was like ‘oh, I can’t lift my arms.'”

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Larson has a particularly adorable co-star in the film: a cat named Goose, based on the character Chewie from the comics. The name ‘Goose’ is a nod to Top Gun. The cat may be more significant to the plot than it first appears, so much so that it got its own character poster. “We had four cats playing our lead cat Goose,” Boden said. “Reggie is really the face, the star, the heart and the soul of the character.” Reggie shared the role with Archie, Rizzo and Gonzo. Orders came from on high to increase the cat’s screen time: Boden related that “very early on in the development process, Kevin Feige looked at one of our outlines and said ‘we need 100% more of that cat in there.’ And he got it and so did you!”

Here’s the video of me asking about the cat.

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The very slightly less adorable Samuel L. Jackson is no stranger to the MCU. In this movie, he plays a younger version of Nick Fury with the help of de-aging technology, previously used on actors including Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell and Robert Downey Jr. in other MCU movies. This is a Fury before he lost sight in one eye and before he became the director of spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Instead of putting on a prosthetic scar and eyepatch like he normally would, Jackson wore motion capture dots on his face, so his expressions could be transferred to a more youthful visage.

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“Along with having two eyes, I have a lot less instinct than older Nick Fury has,” Jackson reflected. “I learn a lot from [Carol] over the course of the film and it helps a lot.” Jackson glanced at Larson, before exclaiming “She’s my first alien!”

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One of the members of Carol’s Starforce team is Minn-erva, played by Gemma Chan. Chan was recently seen in Crazy Rich Asians and is also known for her role in the sci-fi TV series Humans. Minn-erva is a deadly sniper with a penchant for sarcastic asides and a bit of a mean streak. “She’s pretty badass,” Chan said. “She’s not so nice, she’s got a bit of an edge, and there’s definitely a physical challenge as well.”

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Part of that physical challenge was in trying not to get bested by her own props. “The main thing during Captain Marvel that I had to be concerned about was trying not to hit myself in my face with my own rifle. The one that I practised with was a bit shorter than the one I used in the film, so I had to adjust for that,” Chan said to laughter.

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When asked who she might want to team up with in a future Marvel film, Larson mentioned Ms. Marvel. The current Ms. Marvel in the comics is Kamala Khan, a young Muslim woman hailed as a positive role model. Feige has cryptically said that he “has plans” for her inclusion in the MCU, so Larson might get her wish yet.

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One journalist bravely attempted to broach the topic of Captain Marvel’s role in fighting Thanos in Endgame. “That is a really great question that I absolutely cannot answer, but more power to you for asking and very good try,” Larson said.

Someone had to give it a go.

 

 

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming Singapore red carpet and press conference

For F*** Magazine

THIS IS HOME, TRULY: SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING STARS IN SINGAPORE
F*** meets Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon at the Spider-Man: Homecoming red carpet

By Jedd Jong

Three years after hosting Andrew Garfield and the other stars and filmmakers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a newly-minted web-slinging hero has arrived on our shores. Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned Leeds, graced the red carpet at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore on Wednesday, 7 May. F*** was there as attendees greeted the latest actor to don the red and blue bodysuit.

Singapore is the first stop for the Spider-Man: Homecoming promotional tour; the movie opens in around a month’s time. Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to the Spider-Man character, reached a deal with the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, leasing the character to the latter so Spider-Man could appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows Spider-Man to interact with the other heroes in the larger Marvel universe, something which fans have long been hankering for. The title not only refers to the American high school tradition of the Homecoming dance, but has the meta-fictional implication that Spider-Man is now back where he belongs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Marvel characters.

This incarnation of the character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, aiding Team Iron Man in their fight against Team Cap. Spider-Man: Homecoming depicts how Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s existence is irrevocably changed after his return from the monumental airport showdown in Leipzig. Peter deals with life as an average high-schooler, but yearns to fight crime alongside the Avengers. Peter’s mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) cautions him against biting off more than he can chew, but Peter is determined to prove his worth. Spidey battles Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who uses stolen alien technology salvaged in the wake of the Avengers’ battle against the Chitauri to create cutting-edge weapons and gear. The Vulture and his cohorts Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City, endangering Peter’s loved ones – especially his dear Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

Deejays Justin Ang and Vernon A, known collectively as ‘the Muttons’, were the emcees for the closed-door event, during which select fans and a contingent of cosplayers dressed as various versions of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman from across the Spider-verse got to meet Holland and Batalon. A stuntman dressed in the Spidey costume leaped onstage and posed for the cameras. The actors then took questions from the media at a press conference moderated by actor Adrian Pang.

Holland has starred in films like The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea, How I Live Now, Locke and The Lost City of Z – and he’s all of 21-years-young. He got his start in showbiz playing Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. When asked what his impression of Singapore was, Holland enthused that it was as if he had “flown to a better planet,” describing the country as “so modern and beautiful”. Holland and Batalon posted the requisite selfie taken in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel’s famous rooftop Infinity Pool on Instagram. Also seen in the photo was Harrison Osterfield, Holland’s best friend who worked as a production assistant on Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This is Batalon’s second movie credit; his first being the independent horror film North Woods. He described the experience as “surreal”, and that “every day felt like a dream.” Batalon plays Ned Leeds, who in the comics is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. The film alters the character such that he is Peter Parker’s best friend in school, and it was clear that Batalon and Holland shared an easy chemistry. “I hope to never wake up,” Batalon added wistfully. The scene in which Ned dons Peter’s Spider-Man mask was improvised by the two, and it got such a good reaction from the crew that director Jon Watts decided to build a scene around the gag.

Holland has been upfront about how big a Spider-Man fan he’s been since childhood. At the Empire Awards five years ago, when a reporter asked Holland which superhero he’d like to play, Holland answered “I’d like to be the Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, in ten years.” He didn’t know he’d get his turn much sooner.

When Holland heard that Spider-Man would be recast, he begged his agent to pursue the role. Holland weathered a protracted process of auditions and screen tests, eventually working his way to a screen test with Downey Jr. himself. “The further down the line I got, the closer I got to the part, the more I wanted it,” Holland shared earnestly. Funnily enough, Holland found out that he was selected for the coveted role via an announcement on Instagram. “My brother Harry, he’s quite savvy with computers, and he told me ‘dude, they’ve probably been hacked,’” Holland recalled. Shortly after learning the news of his casting, Holland received a call from Marvel Studios president Feige, making it truly official.

When Pang asked if Holland felt any pressure from taking on the mantle of such an iconic character, Holland gamely replied “I love pressure. Pressure is my thing, I find it a really good sort of fuel to motivate myself.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

What can fans get out of the movie that the previous big-screen versions of Spider-Man have yet to offer? “I don’t want fans to have to buy tickets to a movie they’ve already seen,” Holland declared. He asserted that Spider-Man: Homecoming “ground[s] the character in reality”. “We’ve seen the god, we’ve seen the billionaire and we’ve seen the scientist,” Holland reasoned, referring to Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. “Now it’s really time to see what would happen if a kid got superpowers.”

Audiences will get to see what happens for themselves, when Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in theatres in Singapore on 6 July 2017.

Photos by Ore Huiying, Getty Images for Sony Pictures, unless otherwise stated.

Generally Speaking: War Machine press conference/red carpet

For F*** Magazine

GENERALLY SPEAKING

Brad Pitt dons the fatigues for Netflix’s comedy-drama War Machine

[Tokyo Exclusive]

By Jedd Jong

The meteoric rise of online streaming giant Netflix has made several major cinema chains quake in their boots, and for this particular battle, Netflix has come armed with one of the biggest movie stars of the last 20 years: Brad Pitt, who stars in and produces War Machine. F*** was at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Tokyo for a press conference attended by Pitt, writer-director David Michôd and co-producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner.

War Machine is based on the non-fiction book The Operators by the late Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings. Pitt plays General Glen McMahon, a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of real-life general Stanley McChrystal. A decorated soldier credited with the death of an Al Qaeda leader, McChrystal’s military career came to an end when disparaging comments he made about Vice President Joe Biden appeared in a Rolling Stone article.

Glen McMahon is characterised in the film as a blustering buffoon; Pitt visibly enjoying playing the over-the-top role. Pitt said that he and the filmmakers settled on certain traits, including the character’s awkward posture while running, by deciding what “just made [them] laugh the most.” Pitt observed that McMahon “portrays and sees himself as an emblem of greatness when actually he looks quite silly,” and that the “absurdity of the general” embodied the ultimate pointlessness of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.

Pitt was clad in a black jacket over a grey shirt and white trousers, seeming relaxed as he attempted to keep things light by cracking jokes. “I take full credit for the shorts,” Pitt quipped, referring to the shorts that McMahon wears while jogging. He dared all the men present to “start a new trend together” by mimicking the none-too-flattering look. The humorous comment didn’t draw much of a reaction from the Japanese press, and because of the need for questions and answers to be interpreted back and forth from English to Japanese and vice versa, there wasn’t much spontaneity or momentum to the proceedings.

Michôd said it was “terrifying” that the war in Afghanistan has been going on for 16 years. “I couldn’t work out why it has been going on for so long and how it is possible that people- who I would assume are quite smart and capable-are still pretending as though there is some kind of victory waiting for them just around the corner,” Michôd mused. After reading The Operators, it all clicked. “What I saw at the
centre of it was a character, a general who was kind of delusional because he was so removed,” Michôd revealed. In the book, Michôd saw how McChrystal’s ambition “removed him from the experiences of the troops on the ground, and from the civilian world that he was there to serve.” From Michôd’s point of view, the root of the protracted involvement of American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was “plain human delusion”.

“Quite honestly, without a delivery system like Netflix, this movie wouldn’t have been made,” Pitt said, praising Netflix for taking risks on challenging material. He praised Netflix and online delivery systems like it, saying that thanks to these platforms “there’s more content getting made, there’s more risk out there, there’s more films, there’s more stories being told, there’s more filmmakers getting shots.” All involved took a “big leap” for War Machine, which Pitt called a “big, bold move for Netflix, quite frankly.”

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Gardner echoed Pitt’s sentiments on Netflix, saying “I think everyone has similar intentions, but not everyone has the courage.” Gardner said she “could not have dreamed of a better partner” than Netflix, and that Plan B also had a positive experience working with Netflix for Bong Joon-ho’s upcoming film Okja. Gardner called the Netflix personnel “rock stars”, saying “we try and push boundaries in the stories we tell, and when you meet a company like Netflix who says ‘okay, we want to do that too,’ and they say ‘We have the money for it and we’ve got the manpower to support you’, it’s like a gift from on high.”

War Machine is available on Netflix from 26 May 2017

Read the full article in the upcoming issue of F*** Magazine

 

 

A Bit of Fisticuffs: Iron Fist press conference

A BIT OF FISTICUFFS
The stars and showrunner of Marvel and Netflix’s Iron Fist tells F*** about filming the superhero martial arts show
By Jedd Jong

The juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has had quite the solid track record since it kicked off with Iron Man in 2008. Despite the occasional misstep, none of the films or television series that constitute the MCU have been met with a terrible reception.

That is, until Iron Fist.

Iron Fist is the final entry in the string of shows about street-level Marvel characters who will unite in The Defenders. Iron Fist, which centres on a billionaire named Danny Rand (Finn Jones) who is raised in a mystical monastery after surviving a plane crash that kills his parents, has faced a barrage of negative reviews. These have mostly focused on the show’s meandering pace, actor Finn Jones’ less-than-satisfactory grasp of martial arts skills, the show’s failure to embrace the outre nature of its source material, and its problematic handling of race and culture. The character was created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, debuting in Marvel Comics in 1974. At the time, martial arts movies were starting to take off in the United States. It was fuelled in part by exoticism, and critics have called out how Danny spends most of the show explaining Asian philosophy to Asian characters.

On the morning of Friday 31st March, stars Finn Jones, Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey and showrunner/writer Scott Buck participated in a press conference held at the JW Marriott South Beach in Singapore. Deejays Shaun Tupaz and Melody Chen moderated the press conference, which notably did not include a Q&A segment, so journalists were unable to ask questions of their own. One-on-one and roundtable interviews were also not held. A Netflix representative clarified that this format was to fit more talent into the press tour, as it was earlier announced that only Jones would be flying in. Jones was apparently suffering from tonsillitis, hence the cancelling of the previously scheduled one-on-one interviews.

Jones, who played Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones, said that he heard about the auditions for Iron Fist on his final day of filming the fantasy series. He then underwent a “really intense process”, meeting with casting directors and executives in Los Angeles and doing a series of screen tests before clinching the role.

“What I like about Danny is that he’s full of contradictions,” Jones said. “On the one hand, he’s this fierce, strong, loyal warrior. And on the other hand, he’s this vulnerable wreck of a kid who’s just trying to piece together his life.” Jones added that Danny is kind-hearted, wears his heart on his sleeve and is a Buddhist, but is also involved in the running of a Fortune 500 company. “To play that and find the greyness in it all and not just be one thing or the other, was really fun for me to explore all those elements,” Jones explained. “No matter how much s*** is thrown at him, he will push through and will always see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think that’s a good example of a superhero.”

Danny’s arc is one of self-discovery. Having led a privileged childhood and then having that violently rent from him after the death of his parents, Danny has been through the wringer. Training for 15 years in the inter-dimensional realm of K’un Lun, sometimes accessible via the Himalayan mountains, Danny earns the mantle of the Iron Fist. In addition to being an expert martial artist, Danny can concentrate his chi to manifest superhuman strength and impact in his fist, which glows when this power is activated.

Buck is known for shows like Six Feet Under and Dexter, and will also be the showrunner for the upcoming Marvel TV series The Inhumans, about the cosmic adventures of an alien royal family. Buck explained what sets Iron Fist apart from the other Defenders. “With Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, they are slightly older characters,” Buck said. “They’re already fully-formed, and they’re not necessarily going to change from who they are. They’re very dark characters who have sort of a dark sensibility and outlook on life, as opposed to Danny Rand, who is trying to figure out who he is and what it means to be the Iron Fist. Despite the horrible things that he’s been through, he’s still true to himself in that he has an optimistic outlook on life. He always believes that no matter what, things are always going to work out somehow. Because of that, it gives the show a lighter tone, a happier tone. We also try to reflect that in the look of the show in that we don’t shoot at night as much.”

While happenstance factors into Danny’s back-story, his abilities are something he had to earn. “They all have superpowers because something happened to them. They have no say in the matter,” Buck said of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. “Whereas for Danny Rand, becoming the Iron Fist was something he had to work for, he had to struggle. It took many years for him to become the Iron Fist. We pick up in his life not so long after that. Now that he has the Iron Fist, now that he is the Iron Fist, he’s trying to figure out ‘what does it mean? What did I just spend my life trying to attain? What am I going to do with this?’”

The siblings Ward and Joy Meachum are Danny’s childhood friends, who have thought Danny to be dead for the last 15 years, and are now running Rand Enterprises. Their father Harold (David Wenham) was the business partner of Danny’s late father, Wendell Rand. Joy believes her father has been dead for the last 12-13 years, when he has actually been holed up in a penthouse, manipulating events behind the scenes. Ward is aware of Harold’s secret, which he has had to keep from Joy for all this time.

Iron Fist Tom Pelphrey and Finn Jones

Pelphrey described what he found compelling about the character. “What is that like, helping a sibling through the grieving process of losing a parent when you know that’s not true?” he pondered aloud. “How does that break your heart or twist your soul?” Pelphrey reasoned that while Ward often seems like a selfish jerk, this is because he is caught in “kind of an impossible situation.” In response to Pelphrey’s questions about the character, Buck wrote the actor an email detailing Ward’s circumstances and his motivations. “In every scene, no matter how crazy he was being, or what big lies he was telling, or how sinister he seemed, it was able to come back to an equation wherein I, Tom, could figure out why Ward was doing what he was doing in the interest of his sister and himself, from a good place, not a bad place,” Pelphrey concluded.

Finn Jones, Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey with my custom action figures of Iron Fist and Colleen Wing

Stroup was the liveliest of the three actors during the press conference. “Joy is a joy to play,” she laughed, adding that she came up with the line that morning. “This is the first time I’ve played a character who has a lot of money. That was really fun,” she quipped. She didn’t seem bothered by Tupaz repeatedly hitting on her, playing along with the deejay’s advances. For most of the series, Joy comes off as far more sympathetic towards Danny than Ward is. “I have an older brother in real life and he’s my biggest hero, I absolutely adore him although we live in opposite parts of the world,” Stroup said. In the original comics, Ward was Joy’s uncle instead of her brother. “The writing, I felt, was so compassionate for them,” Stroup said, referring to the Meachum siblings. “It just felt so real, and I was so grateful to have a partner like Tom to allow you to find that scene and make it your own while supporting you.”

“I always had way too much fun filming with David Wenham, who plays our father Harold. David, aside from being wildly talented, is a very, very funny human being,” Pelphrey recalled. Harold might have a psychotic streak and has a contentious relationship with his son, but it seems Wenham and Pelphrey got along superbly. “When we had some scenes where Harold punches Ward, all we did was bust each other’s chops all the time when we were filming,” Pelphrey said. “I was like ‘did they train you to punch like that when you doing 300? Because if they did, it’s kind of weak!’”

Another one of the show’s villains, Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao, is apparently not as scary in real life. “We loved working with Wai on the show. She’s such a sweetheart,” Pelphrey said of the 73-year-old actress, who reprises her role from Daredevil.

Stroup and Pelphrey elaborated on the secretive casting process. Both were given dummy sides, or short sections of dialogue, and were not allowed to read full scripts until after they had been hired. “I set my goals for Netflix. It was pilot season for us in Los Angeles and I was just pushing everything away and wanted to work on a Netflix program to see what that platform was like,” Stroup said. After sending in their audition tapes, both Stroup and Pelphrey were called in to do an audition together. Stroup was taken aback by the scale of the production, including the sets of the Rand Enterprises offices and Harold’s secret penthouse. ““To me, it was breath-taking, the magnitude and how much detail had gone into it,” Stroup said. “It slowly dawned on me just what a huge project it was going to be, especially when (President of Marvel Television) Jeph Loeb said ‘these are the three best words you’ll ever hear: welcome to Marvel’. I was kind of in shock,” Stroup admitted.

Pelphrey was similarly overwhelmed by being inducted into the sprawling MCU. He admitted to being star struck by one of the show’s guest stars. “One of my favourite movies of all time is The Matrix,” Pelphrey said. “When I saw in the script what was going to happen, then I arrived on set the day I got to work with Carrie-Anne Moss…meeting her was like…when I was a younger man, I had a very big crush on Trinity,” he confessed. Moss reprises the part of powerful lawyer Jeri Hogarth, a role she originated on Jessica Jones. “That was a big moment for me. I internally reverted to my 16-year-old self,” Pelphrey laughed.

Tupaz and Chen presented each guest with a pack of Singlish flash cards, so they could learn the colloquial words and phrases that form Singapore’s English-based creole language. Pelphrey proved to be a fast learner, saying of the audition process “I still had no idea what the project was that they were talking about. I thought that they were siao (crazy) for asking me to do something when I didn’t know what it was. But at the same time, I was a little kiasu (scared of losing out), so I thought maybe I should look into it a little more.” The room roared with appreciative laughter.

Finn has just finished filming The Defenders, the team-up series which all the Marvel/Netflix show have been leading up to, and gave us a taste of what to expect. “It’s fun, it’s really great working with the other actors,” Jones said. “Me, Mike (Colter), Krysten (Ritter) and Charlie (Cox) have a really great dynamic on set, both as friends and as the characters.” Anyone who’s seen her show will know that Jessica Jones is not to be trifled with, and Jones confirmed that it pays to be careful around the actual Ritter too. “Krysten Ritter recently kicked a stunt guy in the face and made his nose burst open,” he revealed. He promised that the show will be “very action-packed,” and revealed that it “takes place in a very short amount of time, there’s an intensity to it.”

All 13 episodes of Iron Fist are available on Netflix.

Finn Jones with my custom action figures of Iron Fist and Colleen Wing

 

 

 

 

The Jackie Chan Misadventures: Kung Fu Yoga Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

THE JACKIE CHAN MISADVENTURES
F*** meets Kung Fu Yoga stars Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya and director Stanley Tong in Singapore
By Jedd Jong

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Crashing supercars, almost drowning in Icelandic ice caverns and getting chased by stuntmen pretending to be hyenas is all in a day’s work for Jackie Chan and company. The 62-year-old actor was in town to promote his latest action comedy Kung Fu Yoga. Joining Jackie were leading ladies Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya, as well as director Stanley Tong. The group held a press conference at the Equarius Hotel on Friday afternoon, ahead of a meet-and-greet session at Plaza Singapura and the film’s gala premiere at VivoCity that night.

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Kung Fu Yoga also stars Aarif Rahman, Zhang “Lay” Yixing and Sonu Sood. In the film, Jackie plays archaeologist Jack Chen, who is joined by his associates on a globe-spanning odyssey in search of the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack and his team are pursued by the descendant of an ancient militia leader, who claims the treasure rightfully belongs to him. This quest takes Jack and his allies from Xi’an in China to Tibet, to Dubai and to Rajasthan, India.

A prop from the film, a jewelled sceptre called “The Eye of Shiva”, was on display. The piece boasts a pink crystal with 28 facets and was created especially for the production by Swarovski.

2017 marks 25 years since the release of Police Story 3: Super Cop, which was the first of several collaborations between star Jackie and director Tong. These include Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie’s first foray into mainstream American cinema, and the fantasy adventure The Myth, in which Jackie also plays an archaeologist named Jack and which was also filmed partially in India. “I watched his movies growing up,” Tong stated.

“I think everybody watched my movies growing up,” Jackie remarked.

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“I never thought I would have to opportunity to help him direct a film,” Tong said. On the cross-cultural elements of Kung Fu Yoga, Tong explained that “Kung Fu represents the culture of China and Yoga represents the culture of India.” He added that both disciplines were not merely about a few moves or poses, but a complete philosophy, which he attempted to incorporate into the plot.

Host Danny Yeo asked Jackie about a medical emergency which Jackie experienced recently. Jackie expressed surprise that Yeo found out about this incident, since it had been kept under wraps. “It’s all Stanley’s fault,” Jackie said to laughter. He explained that after he felt some pain in his abdominal area, Stanley told him it was nothing to worry about, and they carried on filming. While shooting The Foreigner in London, Jackie was ordered to stop work by the on-set medic and was hospitalised. It was discovered that his abdominal skin and muscle had atrophied, and Jackie underwent a five-hour-long operation.

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“I tried to get back to work as soon as possible,” Jackie said. Shortly after the procedure, he flew off to Iceland to resume filming on Kung Fu Yoga, where he dived into the frigid ice cavern waters. “I could have paused production and waited a few months to recover, but I knew the whole cast and crew were already on location,” Jackie continued.

Tong tried to delay the shooting of the underwater scenes, but said “you can only tweak the schedule so much, so Jackie persevered.”

Jackie insisted on doing the scene without the help of a stunt double. “I’m still around, thank heavens,” he said to applause.

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The 24-year-old Patani was impressed with Jackie’s work ethic. “I think he’s a superhuman and I especially learned a lot from him when I was shooting,” she enthused. “It doesn’t matter how harsh the conditions are wherever we’re shooting, he’s always there before anyone else. He’s always, always up for it.”

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Patani had to film the underwater sequence alongside Jackie, who bemoaned how all the safety divers would rush to Patani’s aid, ignoring him. “Everyone went to save her, and nobody went to save me!” Jackie described the harrowing situation, being submerged in cold temperatures and unable to grip the scuba mouthpiece because the hose wasn’t long enough.

“He’s Jackie Chan, he’s super-strong, so nobody really thought about that, that he needs help,” laughed Patani.

“Jackie has filmed for hours with a shark, so I knew he could handle it,” Tong quipped, referring to Police Story 4: First Strike.

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Making Kung Fu Yoga was a novel experience for 23-year-old Dastur, who plays the sister of Patani’s character. “My first scene ever was when Stanley threw me into this huge sand pit,” she recalled. “We had Jackie’s stuntmen being hyenas and they chased after us. It was so funny, imagine guys crawling around the floor in these green little jumpsuits!”

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Tong was aware of needing to up to ante to cater to increasingly discerning audiences. “Every film that I’ve made with Jackie has something new in it,” he declared. “There must be an original element, while keeping the action and comedy that have become Jackie’s trademark. Now, the audience is more demanding. If the film has only one setting or a small number of action sequences, audiences will find it boring.”

The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai. The production had help from Dubai’s princes, who lent the crew their luxury supercars. The stunt drivers ended up crashing Ferraris, Lamborghinis and MacLarens. “I was wondering how we were going to repay the princes,” Jackie mused.

“They didn’t want us to repay them, all they wanted was to have a meal with Jackie and get his autograph,” Tong revealed. “We had crashed a yellow car, and the princes had another car of the same make, but only in blue. So, they repainted the blue car yellow overnight so we could replace the crashed car,” Tong said, praising the royal family of Dubai for being as gracious and accommodating to the film crew as they were.

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Due to a mix-up in the schedule, Muqi Miya’s flight was delayed, and she arrived at the press conference late. The model and yoga instructor has been called “the goddess of Yoga”, her steamy pictorials earning her legions of admirers online. “I’m happy to breathe the clean air here in Singapore,” she said, having just gotten off the plane from Beijing. After Yeo called her a “Yoga expert,” Muqi demurred, motioning to Jackie and saying “I have to tell everyone that the real expert is him.”

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Is there anything new under the sun for Jackie? “Over the years, I’ve done pretty much everything,” Jackie stated matter-of-factly. “Every year, I have to wrack my brain for how to provide a new experience for my fans.” Jackie described going from the historical epic Dragon Blade to the contemporary action-comedy Skiptrace, and from that to the WWII-era adventure Railroad Tigers and then to Kung Fu Yoga. Jackie promised that his next film, the thriller The Foreigner, will be a serious affair.

Jackie said that he hopes to emulate the long-lived careers of such Hollywood actors as Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. “As I’ve said before, I want to be viewed as an actor who can perform action. I am not an action star,” Jackie declared empathically. “I’m an actor who knows how to do action. The life expectancy of an ‘action star’ is very short.“

Kung Fu Yoga opens on 27 January 2017.

Photos by Jedd Jong 

 

 

 

WAVERIDERS: The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

For F*** Magazine

WAVERIDERS
The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

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This morning, F*** was at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore to meet the leading lady, producer and artists from Disney’s Moana. The film tells the story of its titular heroine’s epic voyage across the ocean. Accompanied by the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Moana embarks on a quest to restore life to her home of Motonui, threatened by the lava goddess Te Kā.

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In addition to Moana’s voice actress Auli’i Cravalho, producer Osnat Shurer, lighting artist Roger Lee and visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata took the stage to talk to the press about the film.

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Before the press conference began, we were treated to a performance of the song How Far I’ll Go from the film. Janella Salvador from the Philippines, Maudy Ayunda from Indonesia, Ayda Jebat from Malaysia, Myra Maneepat Molloy from Thailand and Minh Nhu from Vietnam performed the film in their respective native languages. Molloy and Minh Nhu are voicing Moana in the Thai and Vietnamese dubs of the film respectively.

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Cravalho did seem like a Disney princess come to life, displaying both bubbly enthusiasm and measured poise throughout the press conference. “We’re practically all family from across the sea,” she said cheerily to the crowd.

Clements, Musker and Shurer auditioned hundreds of Polynesian women for the lead role, and Cravalho was the last one they saw. “I didn’t initially audition for Moana, because [at] first, I had seen so many wonderful auditions on YouTube, and my friends were trying out, and I thought ‘you know what, whoever is chosen is going to be so awesome’,” Cravalho admitted.

The character’s name means ‘ocean’, and Cravalho’s hobbies include paddle-boarding and sailing. “It’s meant to be, I now believe in fate,” Cravalho said. She added that she doesn’t do any land sports, because she’s “a klutz on land”.

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Cravalho took the responsibility of representing her Polynesian heritage seriously. “This movie is real,” she proclaimed. “Wayfinding and navigating by the stars, that’s something that my ancestors really did, so the fact that Disney has made a film that is inspired by my culture, gives me a great deal of pride.” Moana is an adventurer, descended from a long line of voyagers who settled down and stopped traversing the ocean a thousand years ago. “Another thing that I love about Moana is that I get to describe her as a heroine,” Cravalho enthused.

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Great pains were taken to ensure that the rich culture of Oceania was not shown in a superficial manner, with Clements and Musker leading multiple research expeditions to the Pacific Islands. Disney assembled a team of advisors who came to be known as the Oceanic Story Trust, comprising anthropologists, archaeologists, educators, linguists, master tattooists, dance choreographers, haka practitioners, navigators and experts on Polynesian culture.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACravalho’s choice of favourite Disney character made perfect sense – it was a heroine who, like Moana, embarked on a life-changing, self-sacrificial adventure: Mulan. “She’s so incredibly amazing and she broke that gender norm, she went out there and did her thang. I remember telling myself at a young age, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I want to honour my family wherever I go,” Cravalho declared.

Shurer was quick to acknowledge the massive team who assembled the film, saying “Disney has hundreds and hundreds of artists in our studio from over 25 countries, and that adds to the richness and diversity of everything we do. When you see the film, you see everyone’s work, so
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Two of those artists, Lee and Sastrawinata, have become hometown heroes. Lee was born and raised in Singapore and moved to the United States four years ago to pursue a career in animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a lighting artist, lighting and compositing shots. Lee’s credits include such blockbusters as Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. “This dream seemed so out of reach, Disney seemed so far away,” Lee reflected. “It definitely needs a lot of perseverance, I focused on what I wanted to do and kept tweaking my path”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASastrawinata joined Disney Animation a year ago, and Moana is her first film at the studio. “I didn’t think that I would work on a movie with directors whose movies I watched as a kid, Aladdin and Little Mermaid, so it’s just
amazing to get to do that,” Sastrawinata said. She gravitated to the film’s lead character, recalling “I heard about Moana, a story with a heroine, and I was like ‘yes, put me in it!’”

“It’s going to make you laugh, it’s going to make you cry and it’s going to make you think,” Shurer promised. “Moana in part is about us stopping to listen to the voice inside ourselves. The world will always tell you who you’re meant to be, and it’s the voice inside us who tells us who we really are,” Shurer explained. “Any age, any gender, to stop to listen and to follow that call is relevant to every one of us.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata were presented with bento boxes designed by Shirley Wong. Made with local ingredients, the food was arranged to resemble characters from Moana. “This is the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen,” Cravalho exclaimed.

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Moana opens on 24 November 2016 in Singapore.

Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata will attend a festive light-up ceremony at the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands tomorrow night, 9th November 2016, at 8 pm.

 Words and pictures by Jedd Jong

STGCC 2016 Preview Day

For F*** Magazine

STGCC 2016 – PREVIEW
F*** gets a taster of the latest edition of the pop culture maelstrom
By Jedd Jong

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Yesterday, F*** was at Terra in Suntec City’s Sky Garden for the press preview of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC). The annual event, organised by ReedPop, is in its ninth year. Reed Exhibitions assistant project director Lin Koh repeatedly referred to this year’s instalment as “crazy”, “massive” and “insane”. She had the numbers to back it up – a total of 43 invited guests, including writers, artists, cosplay celebrities and musicians, will be meeting fans and holding panel discussions at the convention. We were told that it’s up from last year’s figure of 29. 263 companies will be participating, releasing 193 exclusives and new products at STGCC between them. 45 000 attendees are expected over this Saturday and Sunday.

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This year, STGCC will host its first ever computer game tournament, the STGCC eSports Mountain Dew Cup 2016. An exclusive mystery Be@rbrick figurine will be unveiled, and exclusive Hot Toys figures being sold include Disco Iron Man, Resistance Outfit Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Knightmare Batman from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Hot Toys booth is always a highlight of the convention floor, and this year’s display will include a staggering 1/6th scale diorama re-creating the spectacular clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man from Captain America: Civil War.

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We were introduced to a panel of Singaporean artists, comprising manga artist Rachta Lin, sculptor and toy designer Daniel Yu, illustrator Andy Choo and T-shirt designer Xuanming Zhou of Xmashed Gear.

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Yu had some practical advice for those looking to become full-time artists. “As artists, we need to have the mindset of an entrepreneur, because at the end of the day we’re running our own business and cultivating your brand, you’re trying to establish yourself.” Yu’s resin sculptures and collectibles have been exhibited in cities including Tokyo, Beijing, London and New York.

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Choo related an encounter he had with a member of the public when he was drawing caricatures in a local mall. “There was this rich-looking lady, and she asked me ‘so where did you study?’ I said ‘NUS (National University of Singapore). I majored in economics.’ She replied ‘Economics! Your parents must be so sad that you became an artist, what a pity.’ And I was like ‘I think my parents are quite okay with my job right now.’” He added with a grin that he drew her nose a fair bit bigger in the caricature. “I feel that we need a few Joseph Schoolings in our art industry to really help inspire more young artists,” he continued, referencing the Olympic Gold Medal-winning swimmer. Choo conducts workshops, and remarked that many of his students were able to land spots in polytechnic animation courses from which they were rejected a few years earlier.

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Next, we met four international guests: Spanish comic book artist Emma Ríos, Malaysian illustrator Hwei Lim, American comics writer Nick Spencer and British collectibles designer and sculptor Jon-Paul Kaiser.

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Ríos described the current popularity of comic book movies as a “dream come true”, having read a lot of superhero comics in her childhood and named Captain America: The Winter Soldier as her favourite. However, she also added that she is beginning to feel a little fatigued “because there are starting to be so many of them”. Ríos cited Katsuhiro Otomo, famed for writing and illustrating the Akira manga, as main the artist who inspired her to create comic art. Ríos’ credits include the fantasy horror western Pretty Deadly, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Marvel Titles Doctor Strange and The Amazing Spider-Man. Ríos and Lim met at an art workshop and became best friends – the duo are collaborating on the fantasy series Mirror, published by Image Comics.

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Spencer listed Brian Michael Bendis, Keith Giffen, Peter David and Chris Claremont as inspirations. Spencer was the subject of much ire and raised plenty of eyebrows when he penned the controversial issue Steve Rogers Captain America #1, revealing the good Captain as a Hydra spy. The mystery behind the shocking twist has since been explained, but some fans didn’t wait before sending death threats Spencer’s way. Spencer explained that unpopular story arcs are part of any comic character’s ebb and flow over the decades, making reference to the Winter Soldier story arc by Ed Brubaker that was once reviled for bringing Captain America’s loyal sidekick Bucky Barnes back from the dead and making him into a villain, remarking “People had to live with Bucky being a bad guy for a year!”

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Ríos, Lim, Spencer and Kaiser were presented with a tasting platter of Singaporean food. While Lim was familiar with the cuisine since she’s from neighbouring Malaysia, it was a novel experience for the rest of the panel. They sampled salted egg yolk croissants, mooncakes, egg tarts, bubur cha cha (a coconut milk sweet soup) and Hainanese Chicken Rice. It went over well – Kaiser visibly enjoyed the mooncakes, while Ríos exclaimed “I could live here!”

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The artists performed demonstrations for the press: Lin drew a journalist clad in a Pikachu hoodie, Ríos and Lim painted stunning ink and watercolour pieces side-by-side, while Kaiser customised a blank Munny doll with micron pens.

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Other guests who will be attending the convention include Star Wars: Poe Dameron artist Phil Noto; Lumberjanes creator Brooke Allen; Injustice and All New Wolverine writer Tom Taylor; Macross mangaka Haruhiko Mikimoto, and digital artist Sakimichan, who has a massive online following.

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STGCC 2016 is being held from Saturday 10th September to Sunday 11th September at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore. One-day passes are priced at $19, with two-day passes at $28. Please visit www.singaporetgcc.com for more information.