Scale was first and foremost on acclaimed director Dante Lam’s mind when he first approached ‘The Viral Factor’. “I wanted to do action on a much larger canvas that I’ve ever done before,” he said. “And so right from the beginning, I knew that this was not going to be a movie that we would film in Hong Kong and even China.”
Best known for his critical and commercial successes ‘The Beast Stalker’ and ‘The Stool Pigeon’, the veteran action director had at one point even thought of filming the movie in Iraq. “My dream was to do a modern-day war movie, and what better place to film such a movie than in Iraq!” He laughed. “Though of course the moment I raised this, my producers were so quick to tell me to shelf the idea.”
Eventually, Dante settled on the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, a place where no Asian film had ventured to before. Several Hollywood films had been there for location shooting, and when Dante had liaised with the local authorities, he found that they were quite keen to host a Hong Kong filming crew there. Yet despite their cooperation, the shoot itself was not without its difficulties.
For one, just days before the crew were supposed to head to Jordan, Dante received news that some unrest had broken out in the country. Eventually, he decided that they would proceed ahead with the filming despite the inherent dangers. True enough, gunshots and explosions could be heard around the city in the midst of their shooting- which of course made the tension the actors were supposed to feel on the set even more real.
Besides Jordan, the US$17mil production also took to both the streets and the skies of Kuala Lumpur for some intensive action shooting. Obtaining the support of the local city authorities was integral, and Dante was extremely grateful for the cooperation they extended to him- allowing him to close off entire streets right in the heart of the city centre and even film a helicopter chase around the high-rise buildings.
“We’re proud to say that we did not use any CGI to create what you see in the movie,” he added. “Every stunt and every sequence you see in there was really executed on the set.” Yes, it was a balls-out action movie that Dante was trying to accomplish, so much so that about 80 percent of the movie consists of some action sequence or another. But in the midst of the bullets, ammunitions and explosives, there is a touching tale of two long-lost brothers who find themselves on opposite sides of the law.
“I always wanted to film a movie revolving around such a relationship, but it was until we got Jay Chou to act in the movie that I started designing the story and the characters and fitting this concept around it,” said Dante. And to play Jay’s brother, Dante approached one of his most frequent leading men, Nicholas Tse, whom he directed to a Best Actor nomination in ‘The Beast Stalker’ and subsequently an award in ‘The Stool Pigeon’.
It may sound counter-intuitive at first, but Dante in fact spent most of his time with Nicholas coaching him on how to get the character right, rather than the action. “That Nicholas can handle what the action scenes demanded of him I had little doubt, so this time I really wanted him to focus on getting the drama right,” he explained. “As Nicholas said in the ‘making-of’, I literally pushed him until his breaking point.”
Still, Dante said that besides the breakthrough in scale for a Hong Kong/ China action movie, the other breakthroughs rightfully belonged to the actors- Jay for his transformation into an action star, and Nicholas for taking his acting to yet another level. He credited their professionalism on the set for motivating the rest of the cast and crew during the difficult shoot, especially of course their nail-biting filming in Jordan.
“Every film needs to have its own character,” he quipped. “And I think that with the locations we had chosen for ‘The Viral Factor’, we managed to give the movie a very unique feel and voice.”
Text and photos by Gabriel Chong