The web slinging Spiderman! Until SPIDER-MAN came out a few years ago, when you mentioned the name Sam Raimi, most film fans would think of his classic horror hit EVIL DEAD, which spawned two sequels. The irony about this is Raimi has repeatedly said that he is not a fan of horror films and doesn't enjoy watching them. However, one genre he's a stalwart fan of is Hong Kong film, specifically the movies of Hong Kong's top action director and father of "wire-fu," Ching Siu-tung. When Raimi did SPIDER-MAN, a film we all thought could benefit from Hong Kong-stylized action, he chose to keep away from it, since CHARLIE'S ANGELS and MATRIX were already claiming that banner. Instead he opted for an American choreographer and kept things relatively simple. Now that the Hong Kong trend seems to be dying, Raimi has gone back to Hong Kong for SPIDER-MAN 2, not necessarily for that "over-the-top-action" style, but to weed out another Hong Kong talent that is quietly making his way into Hollywood, an action director who just so happens to be one of Ching Siu-tung's prot?g?s from the late 80s, a wire-man that learned from Hong Kong's best in Ching. His name? Dion Lam. If you're a Hong Kong cinema fan, you've seen him and seen his work. But even if you've never seen a Hong Kong film in your life, you've seen his work and probably didn't know it.

Kevin Sorbo as Hercules Raimi was one of the first American directors to tap into the Hong Kong craze before it was cool to do so, from his quick editing style used in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, to his over-the-top fight choreography in the TV shows HERCULES and XENA, of which he tells me, "We actually wanted to do a CONAN series, but the rights weren't available. We watched the old Steve Reeves HERCULES movies and realized that we couldn't use that stilted dialogue and guys in togas kind of stuff. So we invented our own 'Golden Age' of mythology, with green pastures, no togas and made a conscious effort to modernize the dialogue without making it hip. We also didn't want to emphasize Hercules' feats of strength. Muscle bound guys are hard to relate to, so we opted for a more athletic, good looking kind of guy, someone you could talk to. And that was Kevin Sorbo.

Xena "Although it was intended to be campy, the show's charm was our emulation of Hong Kong's style of fight choreography, particularly Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, Ching Siu-tung's SWORDSMAN and Ronny Yu's BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR. But we found we couldn't use all of that, the acrobatics because it didn't fit Herc's character, so then Xena stepped in. She was our incarnation of Bridgitte Lin Ching-hsia. In fact, when we pitched XENA, I made a demo reel of four Hong Kong movies to show the studio the kind of action sequences we wanted to do in the show. Our rules were that Xena could defy gravity, and because she wasn't a goddess, she could use more martial artsy stuff, like running on top of people's heads, acrobatic flips, running up trees, fancy weaponry, stuff you see in Hong Kong flicks."

It was Raimi that gave me my first break in Hollywood six years ago working as his fight choreographer in his ABC TV show SPY GAMES. That same year I was one of only four journalists invited by Warner Brothers to fly to New Zealand to visit the set of THE MATRIX. And because I spoke mandarin and was known for my background in Chinese film, I was "assigned" to hang with Yuen Woo-ping. Joel Silver wanted me to promote the martial arts of MATRIX via the notoriety of Woo-ping. I remember going to the subway set and as Woo-ping and his brother were setting up camera angles, a Hong Kong guy in his early 30s sporting a mustache and beard was repeatedly going through the choreography with Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving. An hour later, the fight was set and the Yuens took over. The choreographer was Lam.

One of Ching Siu-tung's prot?g?s from the late 80s, Dion Lam.Two years later I'm working as a fight-directing apprentice with second unit action director Yuen Bing (action director for ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 3-5 and Tsui Hark's BLADE) on the second season of Sammo Hung's MARTIAL LAW. The show's other action director? Yep, you guessed it, Dion Lam. So although Dion is not at liberty to talk much about SPIDER-MAN 2, which is common with these big-budgeted sequels where everyone working on the film must sign a "gag" order or suffer studio punishment, only kungfumagazine.com is allowed to speak with Lam as he exclusively shares with us his background and for the first time talks about his action directing on the first Hong Kong special effects-laden film, STORMRIDERS. Of course, Lam's involvement in SPIDER-MAN - arguably one of the world's most successful film franchises - makes him a name to keep your eyes on over the next few years.

"I started martial art training when I was 12," the Hong Kong born Lam shares in mandarin Chinese, "first with Guo Shu (national arts), where I learned how to fight. Then I began studying karate, kickboxing, wu shu, the 18 weapons of kung fu, taiji, and Northern Praying Mantis Boxing under my sifu Xu Xiao-ming. Xu taught me everything there was to know about the process of filmmaking, which all started when I was 17 when I worked as a stuntman on THE BUDDHIST FIST with Xu.

Director Sam Raimi (red jacket) directs Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst

"The first time I saw Xu, I was so overwhelmed with his movements, really beautiful, when he did kung-fu. His motions were magical and he was a stickler for correct posing. Which I've learned is very important. You see a lot of that in MATRIX. I became an assistant director with Xu and he taught how to work well with actors and not lose my head, remain calm, which is probably the difference when you learn from a real martial artist that embraces the art as well as the philosophy."

YUEN WOO-PINGAn accomplished martial artist and chi-gong practitioner, Xu is most likely known in America for his far-out fight and action direction in the outrageously peculiar US film WARRIORS OF VIRTUE. To Hong Kong film fans he's known as the "sleeping kung fu" monk villain in the kung fu classic BUDDHIST FIST, which he co-directed with Yuen Woo-ping.

Lam continues, "So he's my biggest influence when it comes to fight choreography and learning about filmmaking as a whole. But my second mentor is Ching Siu-tung. I've done over 100 films, but I did 20 with Ching and he taught me all about wire work. Many people agree, even over here in Hong Kong, that Ching's wirework is the best, he's good at shooting the action, camera placement, editing, and his wirework is really noted for a feeling of gravity and not the airy stuff we see so much of today. My first job with him was to have me double of Chow Yun-fat in A BETTER TOMORROW. I've also doubled for Jet Li, and dare I say (he giggles) for Maggie Cheung. But working with Ching on films like SWORDSMAN, A CHINESE GHOST STORY and HEROIC TRIO, was the best wire training one could expect. He loves to hold the camera when he shoots, and he moves around a lot and can do a lot in a short period of time. And these things are useful for when I was working on SPIDER-MAN 2, the MATRIX films, and as you saw, when we were on MARTIAL LAW."

Spiderman vs. Dr. Octopus

However, MATRIX and SPIDER-MAN 2 are not the first time that Lam has worked with special visual effects. Lam was the action director for Hong Kong's first successful special visual effects film STORMRIDERS. He recalls, "Well, as I'm sure you can guess, with SPIDER-MAN 2 and the MATRIX film, we've got time and budget. But of course STORMRIDERS' fights weren't as detailed as MATRIX, and strangely the key differences was the way things were lit.

Stormriders"But also remember, it was my first time doing a comic book character and it was the first time that Hong Kong film was attempting to use this sort of visual effects, stuff similar to Hollywood. The difficulty in doing this sort of film is come up with something from nothing. In the past I have a broadsword, you have a straight sword and we fight and can see how it will look, but on STORMRIDERS we're just trying to make like it's real but don't know how it will turn out. It's not like Hollywood where people have experience with FX. The trick of course on SPIDER-MAN 2 was doing the fight choreography between Spider-Man and the villain, who sometimes had real arms and sometimes it was fake arms - I'm sure you can describe that better than me."

Amazing Spiderman #3 Dion is referring to "Doc Ock," the featured villain in SPIDER-MAN 2 who first appeared in "The Amazing Spider-Man #3," first published in 1963. According to comic lore, each of Ock's limbs can move at speeds of up to 90 fps and can strike with the force of a jackhammer. The tentacles can lift vehicles, pulverize bricks, claw through concrete and hover above his victims by rising into the air.

On the SONY lot in Culver City, Dion choreographed the fights between Spidey and Doc Ock, where Doc Ock's tentacles were either a special effect or the many scenes when actor Alfred Molina would have to move and act wearing four elaborate tentacles that were operated by puppeteers. When in full costume, each of Molina's fully articulated tentacles weighed 100 pounds and could expand up to 13 feet in length.

When SPIDER-MAN hit the theaters in early summer of 2002, nobody expected it would do as good as it did. It garnered $820 million at the box office alone, including the single biggest opening weekend ever. When a marketing deal to put the "Spider-Man" logo on baseball fields recently blew up into a controversy, SONY quickly backed down to prevent it from becoming a sticky distraction. So one thing that fans might appreciate with the $200 million budgeted SPIDER-MAN 2, the most expensive movie in recent history, they have not gone MATRIX on us. A good helping of print ads and selectively placed television spots and promotional partnerships have replaced the blanket coverage we saw with the two MATRIX sequels. The sequels became so hot and highly anticipated that when MATRIX: RELOADED failed, studio hype and widespread media coverage couldn't save the franchise and couldn't save the failure of MATRIX REVOLUTIONS.

Dr Octopus

For those that came in late, mild-mannered Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) walked away from his longtime love Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) to take the road of responsibility as Spider-Man. Peter must face new challenges as he struggles to cope with his curse/gift while balancing his dual identities as the elusive Spider-man and life as a college student. The relationships he holds most dear are now in danger of unraveling as he must harness all of his superhero talent when pitted against a new powerful nemesis, Doctor Octopus aka "Doc Ock."

Spiderman saves Mary JaneLam explains that working on STORMRIDERS didn't necessarily prepare him for the fights on MATRIX and SPIDER-MAN 2, pointing out, "The special effects are so different. Plus, we're talking with an old style film like STORMRIDERS, the audience has knowledge of this sort of action and understand what we're trying to do; but in the West, most of the audience doesn't always get it. It's an unreal world, but to Chinese that stuff is right out of old kung fu novels, so it's accepted and expected. But here we come up with things that the audience has no expectation - just that it better be good. Plus, on American film, we can shoot things until it feels good, but in Hong Kong, we shoot it, move on, and hope it's good enough."

Spiderman catches the L train As with many martial artists, Dion chooses to close by sharing a little bit of life's philosophy and his filmmaking hopes for the future. "What everyone loves about today's film techniques is that they can make any actor look like an accomplished kung fu master," Lam laments. "But I can't wait until we can blend these breathtaking tricks with a true martial artist. In a couple years we're going to go back to the beginning, to Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. Someone's going to come along who's able to do all the martial arts himself, so it's real. We'll be back to 1973, but with wires, computer-generated imagery and big budgets. Now that will be wild."

Peter Parker is Spiderman

A final posit: "When it comes to life, simply be happy and remember that happiness isn't in what you own and how much money you earn, but in your spirit and with the people you're with."

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