It was October last year, during when the city experienced an unusually extensive summer, and beads of sweat would still pixelate every portion of any visible human face that wasn't covered by a surgical mask, or in some cases, industrial respirators that immediately threw you into an awkward dystopian future. I was drained, and in desperate need of an injection of wild creativity to keep my motivation wheels slickly oiled. I had also just finished working on a first collaboration with the guys Crazy From Kong on the debut episode of a series of acid music presented as an animated video mix, called CFK Radio Transmission 01, and it dawned on me to ring up Arne Venema to awaken my otherworldly senses.
A Hong Kong-based film and music producer, Arne Venema is the co-founder of Crazy From Kong, a video and content platform that takes unusual dives into quirky and fascinating stories around Asian subculture.
Both of us perked from the extra-strength brew while sat a quaint cafe, he makes no hesitation to get me animated about a currently contentious figure in entertainment — Jackie Chan (at least contentious today, particularly where I am, in Hong Kong). A few sips in, my eyes are agape with wonderment at how passionate Arne is about discovering a long-lost video game where the family-style-action-comedy-kung-fu master Jackie Chan was being turned into a gory, bloody, ultra violent character... and that he was going to make a documentary about it.
So, meet Mat Blaize, Mike Leeder and Arne Venema — the talented, knowledgeable and insightful team behind this wacky 10-minute short documentary about an almost forgotten moment in the virtual life of one of the world's biggest names on screen.
Your absolute favourite video game?
Arne: I'm a big fan of the Dreamcast Era so games like Jet Set Radio come to mind. For JSR, I love the unique approach and cell shaded graphics which still hold up well. I'm also a big fan of the Resident Evil and Gears of War franchises and Neo Geo games Like Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
Mike: I’m old! I’d have to say Pitfall on the Atari VCS, Manic Miner and Way of the Exploding Fist on the Commodore 64, and more recently the Grand Theft Auto series and Sleeping Dogs, and of course any game where Jackie Chan can kick some major ass!
Mat: Difficult to pin it down to just one, but it would probably have to be 'Super Mario 64', just seeing Mario opening a door in 3D blew my mind as a youngster.
Jackie Chan's best fighting scene?
Arne: Hard to say as there are so many; but I think the playground fight in Police Story 2 is pretty solid. I also like the insane final fight from Police Story 1 as it's very kinetic and I do enjoy the endless parade of broken glass.
Mike: Drunken Master 2, Jackie Chan vs Ken Low, or the finale of Dragons Forever where he takes on Benny the Jet Urquidez!
Mat: The park fight from 'Police story 2'
Who would win in a fight - Jackie Chan or….?
Mike: Terry Silver from Cobra Kai!
Mat: Julie Pierce; cheered on from the side by Angel the Hawk.
Tell us more about your affinity with video games, film and Asian subculture?
Arne: I lived in Japan as a child and my family has a lot of connections to Thailand on my mother’s side, so I actually grew up with a good deal of Asian pop culture. In the early 1980's I was watching Changeman as a toddler (which years later was adapted in the West into shows such as Power Rangers which were less graphic). So, that, along with a healthy diet of Japanese anime. This all happened before I really was exposed to more Western pop culture.
Transformers also was a big deal for me but that property also came from the Japanese toy line Diaclone. It's interesting how many IPs were actually recycled from Japan that later showed up in the West. My first game console was called a Micro Genius which was a Taiwansese Nintendo Famicom clone. Jackie Chan was not a connector per-se because those things happened earlier on in life but I did see a lot of his films and other bits of Hong Kong cinema when I was in Bangkok during my summers. Jackie's movies were an introduction to Hong Kong cinema of sorts.
Mike: It was the movies that were the driving force that led me to Asia. I could blame making the move to Hong Kong 30-plus years ago, on a love for the city's action cinema, the games, some of the music, the food, the pop culture and subculture is all part of it. I think you could kind of say Jackie Chan helped with the mix, as he and his name crossed over between films, games, music, fashion and more.
Mat: Growing up in the U.K through the eras of the ZX spectrum, the Commodore 64 and the Commodore Amiga, video games became ingrained into my life from the start. Even to the point where I wanted to make games for a living, and that's when I realised I had absolutely no idea or interest in programming. Then from about the age of 12, Jackie Chan films entered my life, quickly followed by Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo films. They completely changed my life. These then opened my eyes to an entire world of Hong Kong cinema and culture, which then led to my utter obsession and devout love for 'Cantopop'. Everything came full circle several years later when I directed a music video for Hong Kong singer Ryan Hui (son of legendary Cantopop singer and actor Sam Hui), all based around C64 video games.
Have you ever actually played the original Kung Fu Master or Fists of Fire games, or any other Jackie Chan’s games?
Arne: I played Spartan X for sure because it was on the Famicom (NES in the West). Back then we would get certain cartridges in Bangkok with say 120 games in one cart and it was a regular on those. I'm sure they were available in Hong Kong too. I unfortunately never had the chance to play the original Kung Fu Master or Fists of Fire games because the arcade machine was quite limited in its distribution and I wasn't in Japan at the time.
Mike: I loved the original Kung Fu Master game but had never realised that it was actually marketed as Spartan-X, an official video game in Japan until a few years ago, and I remember playing that in the arcades back in the UK and on various home systems. When Jackie Chan: Kung Fu Master/Fists of Fire game came out in Hong Kong, I had heard about it from several friends who are in the game including Thorsten, Kim Penn, Sam Wong, Man Ching, and the main director for the game segments was Frankie Chan who is one of my first mentors when I arrived in Hong Kong.
I remember finding the game in a sadly defunct underground arcade on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui (in Hong Kong), and dragging Kim, Man Ching and Frankie to the arcade to have a game or two. And having Thorsten and Kim’s characters in the games very much resemble their real world look at the time, it got quite a reaction when gamers made the connection! I played Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster as several friends including veteran JC Stunt Teamer Andy Cheng and the late Brad Allan who did the action for the recent Shang-Chi movie worked on it. I’m a gamer but not a super prolific one, Arne’s much more of a dedicated gamer than I am!
As film buffs, did you follow Jackie’s early works on screen?
Arne: Mike and I actually do a lot of audio commentaries for Blu-ray companies in Europe and some in the US, for the likes of Eureka Entertainment, 88 Films, TVP, 101 Films etc. A lot of the movies we do commentaries for are older Hong Kong films and of those, a few have featured Jackie Chan such as Operation Condor, Killer Meteors, Snake In the Eagles Shadow etc. So it's safe to say we have done quite the deep dive into his work haha. I first saw Jackie movies as a kid when spending my summers in Bangkok.
Mike: A double bill on Rank VHS of Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master while bunking off school, I mean venturing outside of school for Private Study was my initial introduction, and I was hooked, so after several years of VHS’ing, late night Hong Kong cinema screenings in London and more, I got on a plane and headed to Hong Kong and have been working in film and TV here since I got here in 1990. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about Hong Kong movies and done a lot of special features for DVD and now Blu-ray releases, and Arne and myself have joined forces for a lot of audio commentary adventures discussing all manner of movies for such companies as 88 Films, Eureka Entertainment, 101 Films, TVP: The Vengeance Pack, and Kino-Lorber.
Plus some classic Jackie Chan fight-flicks like Dragons Forever, The Protector, Armour of God, Operation Condor; some of Jackie’s earliest kung fu classics like Snake in the Eagles Shadow, Shaolin Wooden Men, Spiritual Kung Fu, Killer Meteors and the wonderfully named Half A Loaf of Kung Fu!
What compelled you to investigate the game’s disappearance?
Arne: I was shooting in Japan at the Tokyo Game Show for Play-Asia back in the day and someone brought it up there when they heard I was based in Hong Kong. It stuck in my mind then and I knew I had to find a way to play it. Later on I only found out there were actually two separate iterations of the game.
Mike: Arne was the driving force! He’s overseen the evolution of Crazy from Kong into an Asian pop culture kind of channel encompassing everything from CFK Radio which features all new music and specially created video through a series of mini-documentaries covering everything from art, fashion, street culture, film, TV, video games and more. Of course we’ve talked about the game in the past, but then Arne managed to get a copy of both the lighter and darker versions. We started chatting more about it and decided it would be something cool to take a look at and expose to an audience that maybe hadn’t heard of it.
Kaneko isn’t around anymore, but did you try reaching out to anyone from there?
Arne: Unfortunately Kaneko is bankrupt (Fists of Fire being their last game) so reaching out to them wasn't possible.
How did you find the VHS footage from Japan?
Arne: I am part of an online community which revels in finding information about incomplete and rare video games (there are a lot of them out there and we intend to make videos about more games like this). I mentioned to someone that I wanted to make a short docu about the Kaneko Jackie Chan games and he told me he had a copy of the VHS promo copy which was wild!
From there it was simply a case of arranging to capture it. The same community is where I got the game ROMs from but the issue that caused a lot of hassle was finding the bios and core to run the ROMs. I eventually found those after a good deal of trial and error and then got everything running via RetroArch on a hacked PlayStation Classic.
The software then upscaled the game footage which we captured via HDMI into an Atomos Ninja V and made everything presentable. When friends came over I just captured footage here and there. I think people would actually be surprised if they found out who was playing during some of those sessions haha.
Did COVID-19 cause any difficulties with producing the documentary?
Arne: The pandemic made it quite hard to shoot the docu as we had to reset our approach a few times. This mainly had to do with locations as we were originally planning to shoot. For example we wanted to shoot an intro inside an arcade hall and have faces appear on arcade machines’ screens etc.
It took a while to find a decent arcade hall to shoot in and after we found one, the pandemic unfortunately shut them all down two days before shooting, for an undisclosed period of time. Fortunately, Mat Blaize (CFK's inhouse CGI guru) is pretty amazing with Blender, so we just did everything digitally and I did a narrative voice over instead. The walls of the digital arcade have tons of references to previous videos we have made, aliases the CFK crew uses when making music etc.
We also wanted to try and trek back and shoot in locations from Thunderbolt but again this wasn't possible. Sadly the café where we shot Mike's interview at (This is Yiu Yao) also went under.
Mike: Yes, it did! Arne can go into more detail, but Covid restrictions included limits to the number of people who could meet which always makes shooting hard, and the cool coffee shop This is Yiu Yao, where we filmed my interview ended up having to close its doors due to lack of customer flow thanks to Covid restrictions. Luckily we have a secret weapon named Mat Blaize!
How did you make the graphics for the documentary?
Mat: I use a combination of Adobe After Effects and the free 3D software 'Blender' of which I began to heavily learn during lockdown. Blender has fast become an integral part of my life and CFK's visual looks going forward. Once everything was modelled in 3D, Arne then came up with the idea of filling the wall with graffiti, so he put a call out to the various CFK members and even guests to submit their own ideas and designs to feature.
What influenced the design of the arcade machines?
Mat: I remember we couldn't quite find any good quality images of the actual arcade cabinet at the time. Arne began sending me images of cabinets from that era as well as pictures he had taken himself from arcade halls in Hong Kong. We discussed the cabinet designs and what we thought would work the best. In the end the cabinet in the video is based on a modified version of the 'Sega Astro City' design.
Are there any other stories of video games and movies that were so closely related? Is that still a common occurrence today?
Arne: Video game tie-ins happen all the time but what's more interesting is when things go in directions that are unexpected. Mortal Kombat for instance was originally supposed to feature Jean Claude Van Damme and be more focused on him. District 9 was made because a Halo movie fell through as well. There also is a Steven Segal game for the Super Famicom / Super Nintendo (Steven Seagal Is: The Final Option) that never was released. What makes Kung Fu Master/Fists of Fire interesting is that it's a good example of how films got funded in exchange for certain celebrity and brand endorsements. There is an odd Japanese-made PlayStation game called Pepsiman which never had a Western release, about a Pepsi based super hero of sorts, which also remained in Asia regardless of the brand being based in the West. Sleeping Dogs is also inspired by Hong Kong cinema and had a lot of Hong Kong talent on it. Sadly I don't think we will ever see a sequel from that.
Mike: Just from Hong Kong there’s a bunch, Jackie Chan and Golden Harvest officially licensed several Street Fighter 2 characters to appear in a sequence in his movie City Hunter in the early 90’s, and shortly afterward another producer-slash-director here Wong Jing made Future Cops, a shall we say, unofficial Street Fighter 2 movie complete with Chun Li, Blanka, Dhaslim, E Honda, Guile and more; we were in talks with Japan for an official Tekken movie with Sammo Hung directing, and then he popped up in a shall we say, grey area, adaptation called The Avenging Fist sporting a Power Glove alongside several very recognisable characters.
Techno Warriors was a film we shot in the Philippines, that combined characters and more inspired very heavily by Mortal Kombat and Streetfighter, and its sequel Digital Warriors, saw characters from the Techno Warriors game world entering the real world. There were rumours of a Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong at one point, Donnie Yen and his team worked on the Onimusha video game series, Jet Li and Hong Kong director Corey Yuen worked on the video game Rise to Honour, and of course Sleeping Dogs which began life as True Crime: Hong Kong, was very much inspired by Hong Kong films and features a hell of a lot of name voices from Hong Kong talent including Sammo Hung, Eric Tsang, Edison Chen, Celina Jade and more.
In what ways are video games designed for Asian audiences as opposed to the Western market?
Arne: I think Western gamers prefer games that are a lot more straightforward and easier to pick up and play. Japanese games (most major Asian game IPs are Japanese) tend to have a deeper learning curve and more complex mechanics. They also tend to be harder. There are instances of Japanese companies attempting to make games that aim to penetrate Western markets, however it's a bit of a hit or miss affair. It's interesting to note that when it comes to gaming, Japan is more console based while the West is more open to PC gaming.
Would you say the revamped, gory version was inspired by the Mortal Kombat craze happening at the same time?
Arne: Both the games were gory but the second version certainly became darker in terms of tone. I think it would be fair to deduce that both of Kaneko's Jackie Chan games were certainly inspired by Mortal Kombat titles (Mortal Kombat 3 was released the same year). Both games used Digitised Sprites and both games were heavy on the gore and featured fatalities, all things which were key factors in the Mortal Kombat success story at the time.
Mike: I think so! At least for Kaneco! What was funny was that Jackie had just worked with the original Lu Kang from the Mortal Kombat games, Ho Sung-pak on Drunken Master 2 prior to beginning work on his own digitised game. Its funny because Jackie’s image especially back then was very clean cut for the Japanese market, you’d rarely hear Jackie swear in a movie and the violence was often bloodless, and that’s the game Jackie and co made. I really don’t know if they were aware of the bloody fatalities or the super bloodied up second incarnation of the game themselves.
You mentioned knowing actor Thorsten Nickel. How did he feel about unearthing this mad story with you?
Arne: Mike Leeder knew Thorsten from back in the day when Thorsten still lived here and they were part of the Western expat film community. After Mike did the intro Thorsten was really open and amused. We scheduled the interview soon after. He's a nice guy.
Mike: I know Thorsten from the old days when he was in Hong Kong and we both had hair, he had stepped back from the Film industry after only a few films, the last time I’d seen him had been in the Philippines on the set of another video game inspired movie Techno Warriors, but we’d kept in touch!
Reaching out to Jackie Chan whilst making the documentary probably wouldn't have been a good idea. But I bet you thought about it?
Arne: I did but knowing how the industry works and how busy he is, I decided against it.
Mike: I’ve interviewed Jackie a number of times for various media, and worked with him and for him on a couple of projects including Rush Hour 3, CZ 12 and Kung Fu Yoga, and have been trying to get him for an-camera interview for a while to talk about some of his older films.
If you can get Jackie at the right time he gives great interviews, the last time I saw him in Hong Kong, he turned me down for an interview and then we spent several hours driving around several key film locations from Hong Kong as he was in the mood to reminisce but sadly not on camera!
There’s a movie called Enter the Fat Dragon from the 70’s with Sammo Hung, where one HK actor plays shall we say an African-American with a big afro, and watching his reaction to seeing the footage was eye-opening — he was literally like, “that’s me?” And you realise this was a few days' work from 40-odd years ago, and at the time he was making movie after movie... and that it had probably blurred away!
Did the guys at Kaneko really think they could get away with a bloody, gory version of Jackie?
Arne: I think they did what they thought would be best to make the game work within the general fighting games market at the time. What I don't think they really understood was Jackie's brand and his audience. Midway approaching Jean Claude Van Damme (for what would have been a fighting game for instance) made more sense, because Van Damme's movies like BloodSport were far more violent and you know his audience would have been into that. Ultimately I think the target audience wasn't there for the game and I suspect Jackie may have been a little thrown off by what he ultimately got involved with. Note that the gore is all digital so it would have been implemented later on versus on set.
If this game got a release in 2022, how do you think the world would react?
Arne: The game would need a few updates and tweaks here and there but as a curiosity maybe. If marketed correctly as ‘The Lost Ultra Violent Jackie Chan Games' for the right price along with good net-code for online play, etc, it could be interesting. I've had friends play it at parties etc and it always gets a “what in the world” reaction and people tend to have a good laugh with it.