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Friday, September 24, 2010

Man Behind the Camera: An Interview With J.L. Carrozza

Photo: J.L. Carrozza; DVD cover design by Robert O'Brien

Jules L. Carrozza is an independent filmmaker who has made his childhood dream of making movies a reality. Having directed several short films over the last few years, one of his biggest and most arduous endeavors is this fascinating documentary that delves into the mind of one of the most controversial, and arguably most misunderstood directors to ever emerge from the world of cinema. I'm talking about Mou Tun Fei, the Man Behind such notorious and savage motion pictures as CRIMINALS 5: TEENAGER'S NIGHTMARE (1977), LOST SOULS (1980), MAN BEHIND THE SUN (1988) and its official sequel, BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE (1995). The following interview covers Mr. Carrozza's trials in independent cinema as well as a detailed overview of director Mou Tun Fei told through the words of Mr. Carrozza and his upcoming and intriguing documentary.

*NOTE: Originally I had thought to trim this interview down, but Mr. Carrozza was so passionate in his responses, I decided to leave it as is. Many of the responses are long, but it's like listening to, or reading about a rabid film fan getting to talk about, and live what they love most--movies and moviemaking. I hope readers enjoy this one!

**Images courtesy of J.L. Carrozza. Additional images from Brian Bankston (V5). Click a pic to see a larger image and to read English text where applicable

Mou Tun Fei and fellow filmmaker, J. L. Carrozza; photo-J.L. Carrozza

Venoms5: You've directed a handful of short films. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Jules L. Carrozza: I’ve been making films since I was a young boy, but LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD was my first production I can say I am proud of. It was shot back in 2006 when I was only 19 for about three or four hundred dollars and got a pretty good reception. I reedited the film and it played at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival recently. I made this and the following DREAM HOUSE in my childhood home of Southern Massachusetts with zero professional resources. (continued)

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD photo & insert: J.L. Carrozza

The film was basically the Grimm’s Fairy tale retold in a more modern, grotesque, twisted sort of way. Red is supposed to be a little girl but is obviously a fully grown woman. The Wolf is a deranged, cannibalistic hermetic pedophile who lives in a shack in the woods and commits unspeakable horrors on a regular basis, but the film’s tone is pretty lighthearted compared to what it depicts. I was having fun making a movie about what fascinated me. Peter Jackson’s early films were a big influence, but I was also obsessed with Shaw Brothers stuff while I was making it. It came out really good, exceeding my expectations. When you don’t pay anybody and use your friends and locals you have to be flexible, it can be very hard to keep things under control which really diluted DREAM HOUSE. I’d probably be a struggling film critic right now if RED hadn’t come out so good. (continued)

DREAM HOUSE photo & insert: J.L. Carrozza

DREAM HOUSE followed to less success and kind of hurt my reputation and drive for a while. That movie, which I am proud of mostly because of what I learned from it, was intended as more of a Mario Bava-style movie but was hurt by my immaturity, you could say. I was unsure if it was a comedic or a straight-on dramatic horror film I wanted to make. A lot of the people who I used in both films were some very strange local folk who were not dissimilar to what they were portraying; like Dave Luce, who told me years later that he shot heroin to get into character as The Wolf and breathed in dust remover to deepen his voice while doing his attempted rape scene in DREAM HOUSE. The most amusing story involves the guy who played Ted, the bar going weirdo who warns the couple about the house’s ghostly status. He only agreed to do his role if I bought him a case of beer. This was before I had even turned 21 yet. He’s still mad he never got it, but for the record he has nothing to complain about as he flat refused me when I offered it to him to settle the matter. And this wasn’t once, but twice.

Still from Mou's BANK BUSTER (1978) aka THE BIG ROBBERIES; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: I notice your films tend to have this dark fairy tale quality about them. Are you fascinated by those subjects?

JLC: That is an astute observation. I suppose it lies in my keen fascination with man’s duality. This is delved into in the finale of BLACK SUNSHINE: CONVERSATIONS WITH T.F. MOU, but my observation is that human beings are capable of grand things but also atrocious things. We paint gorgeous pictures, compose lovely sonatas, keenly observe how our world works through science and make stunning pieces of cinema but also blow each other up, go on killing sprees, rape and circumcise women, run roughshod over the other species on Earth and commit ethnic genocide against those we deem inferior. (continued)

ALISON IN WONDERLAND poster and HORROR COLONY sketch insert: J.L. Carrozza

I am fascinated and attracted to both sides of this equation. Our continuing love of mythology is tantamount to that. Mythology is but a metaphor for the struggle taking place in each human’s consciousness. I am a big STAR WARS fan and cite Peter Jackson as one of my biggest inspirations but I also understand why the Holocaust and Nanking disasters took place. So my obsession with taking mythological works and bending them to something darker simply comes from my interests and preoccupations I think. My upcoming ALISON IN WONDERLAND will be a deeper, more relevant next step. LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD and ALISON are part of a “twisted mythology” trilogy that will climax with my planned Purtian zombie movie HORROR COLONY. I grew up in Plymouth County, near where the first settlers landed in America and both my shorts were largely shot there, so the whole Pilgrim thing is our biggest real life local mythology and my most ambitious goal. Ironically, Dave Luce himself once spray-painted “Made in Taiwan” onto Plymouth Rock, you know, the first rock they landed on. Sometimes women throw their underwear onto it. I still haven’t finished a full first draft of the script, but MAN BEHIND THE SUN will be paid homage to here and there, there will be a disgusting autopsy scene and the English flag is used to impale someone and splattered with blood at the end just like the Japanese is at the end of MAN BEHIND THE SUN.

Still from Mou's YOUNG HEROES (1983); Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: How did you first become interested in Asian Cinema?

JLC: I was a big Godzilla fan as a child. I still love the tokusatsu genre a lot and count the original GODZILLA as one of my favorite movies; I love Honda’s MATANGO (ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), too. Then I got into other Japanese movies like Masaki Kobayashi and Kurosawa’s work and movies like Kaneto Shindo’s ONIBABA. I moved away from the Godzilla stuff as I broke into my teens. I have also always been big into horror films, especially gory ones as soon as I could handle it and loved stuff like TETSUO and EVIL DEAD TRAP which lead me to MAN BEHIND THE SUN. (continued)

Southern Screen June, 1978

As I got older, I discovered Hong Kong films, too. The first HK film I ever saw was INFRAMAN which I loved as a kid and KILL BILL got me interested in seeing more Shaw Brothers stuff. The ironic thing is I’d probably say I’m a bigger fan of Japanese cinema than Chinese. The Japanese, especially post-war, put more care into their product, their stories and character development is generally deeper and their culture has a particularly strong understanding of man’s duality. After the war ended and the bombs fell, Japanese cinema naturally got very philosophical. I think Chinese cinema, however, may have easily rivaled Nippon cinema had the Cultural Revolution not taken place. Imagine what Shaw Brothers would have been like if Run Run Shaw had all of China to fool around in? (continued)

Mou Behind the scenes June, 1980 Southern Screen

I think T.F. Mou’s films oddly feel more like Japanese films in some ways, despite his very pro-Chinese, and largely anti-Japanese point of view. His movies are deeper like theirs are and like the Nihon pinku eiga and horror films, they have an in-your face quality that HK cinema only inherited in mimicry of the Japanese.

Still from Mou's LOST SOULS (1980); Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Were there any particular directors whose work you were most attracted to?

JLC: A great many, but some of my favorite Japanese filmmakers include Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya and what I’ve seen of Masaki Kobayashi and Kaneto Shindo’s output. I’ve seen just about every Toho SFX production ever made. I especially love Kinji Fukasaku’s movies a lot. He was a fascinating, underappreciated maverick with a truly unique worldview. I plan to make another documentary in the next several years about him and his work. I am also a big Shinya Tsukamoto (TETSUO) fan. His fetishist, gruesome low budget body of work got the filmmaking bug going in me even more.

Anime, until it turned into a vapid computer colored cookie cutter commercial nightmare, was a beautiful artform when done well. Hayao Miyazaki’s films sooth my soul and I am especially obsessed with Hideaki Anno’s work, mainly NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. I empathize highly with Anno’s depression and admire the fetishistic and dualistic qualities of EVANGELION. Satoshi Kon’s passing is truly regrettable. Mamoru Oshii’s THE ANGEL’S EGG is one of my favorite movies, too. (continued)

A meditative Mou from the October, 1977 issue of Southern Screen

For Chinese stuff, my favorite directors are King Hu, Tsui Hark and John Woo before he got on the plane to LA, though I hear his recent Chinese stuff like RED CLIFF is better. I dislike a lot of contemporary Chinese cinema sans Zhang Yimou’s films which are lovely. The Mainland handover has all but ruined Hong Kong’s film industry. Hu’s A TOUCH OF ZEN is my favorite Chinese film ever made, it’s just a shame the DVD doesn’t do it justice. I was obsessed with Shaw Brothers films and still greatly enjoy them for raw entertainment. They are both elevated and diminished by their very conveyor belt, in-house method of filmmaking. In other words, the style to me makes a Shaw Brothers film a unique form of entertainment; they’re like the old Hollywood Golden Age films mixed with the violence and lurid quality of 70s exploitation but their relative sameness also keeps them from being cinema masterpieces, Hu’s COME DRINK WITH ME being a possible exception. I’m not that big of a Chang Cheh fan. My favorite Shaw films include INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN, HUMAN LANTERNS and FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. Ho Meng-hua and Sun Chung are probably my favorite directors who specialized in the Shaw films. Mou despised working there, by the way.

MAN BEHIND THE SUN (1988) lobby card; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: What started your fascination with Mou Tun Fei?

JLC: I first heard of MAN BEHIND THE SUN when I was looking up stuff about the infamous GUINEA PIG films. As a teen I liked to read about that shit a lot. I was fascinated with gore films. I finally got the guts (no pun intended) to see MAN BEHIND THE SUN when I was around 18 and was awed by it. It repulsed and fascinated me. It’s a cinematic experience like few others and is very much in line with CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, or Jacopetti and Prosperi’s best work, but its director was a figure shrouded in mystery. I was especially fascinated by Mou when I was making LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. I had MAN BEHIND THE SUN on while I was cutting the original edit of the film and showed Charli Henley (who played Red) the cold injuries test bit at one point. Around that time, the plot was thickening. I knew about Mou’s Shaw films which likewise fascinated me and LOST SOULS showed that he was always a bizarre and explicit filmmaker. It feels like a prototype version of MAN BEHIND THE SUN in many ways. I dug up even more information as I was making DREAM HOUSE. I found out how he allegedly made TRILOGY OF LUST, one of HK’s first hardcore porn flicks, etc. I wasn’t at the time sure what his real intent was as a director. (continued)

Mou Tun Fei directing Wang Chung and Ai Fei from 'Gun', originally meant to be a full length feature, but eventually paired with another short film for use in CRIMINALS 5: TEENAGER'S NIGHTMARE (1977). Image from February, 1977 issue of Southern Screen

Then I spent a miserable year at an overpriced corporate art school and watched my initial ALICE IN WONDERLAND concept whirl down the creative toilet, of which I’m now grateful since it would have been as big of a failure, if not more so, than DREAM HOUSE. I learned around that time thanks to the censored Chinese internet and Google translator that Mou now lived in America so I popped his name into the white pages and found a Tun Fei Mou. I called the number and left a message asking if it was him. Then the saga of making this film sort of began. Mou and I have more than a few things in common, I think. The interesting thing about him that really shocked me is that he’s completely sincere and it’s all about politics and social commentary with him, despite his reputation as an “exploitation director”. He has a strong obsession with the grotesque and his films have a sick sense of humor at times in my view, but he never set out to make exploitation films. He’s like Voltaire to me in many ways.

Behind the scenes still from MAN BEHIND THE SUN; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Which of Mou's WW2 atrocity films did you prefer? MAN BEHIND THE SUN or NANKING MASSACRE?

JLC: I am a bigger fan of MAN BEHIND THE SUN. It’s a brilliant, unfairly maligned film, like a Hieronymus Bosch Last Judgment painting come to vivid life. I love some of the scenes in NANKING MASSACRE, like the scene with the monks staying in meditation even as the Japanese pick them off; the massive body torching scene on the Yangtze and the Christmas finale which is poetic genius, but the movie is not cohesive in many respects and its characters are thin. There are some recurring characters like the Japanese military officials, the young Chinese man, the kids, the young monk, the traitor who works for the Japanese but gets his in the end; they are not well developed and are walking clichés. Something like The Rape of Nanking is a perfect opportunity to do a character study. In the worst of times people behave the most fascinatingly. DON’T CRY NANKING, which Mou’s film was banned because of, is a more satisfying film in some ways with higher production values. BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE is far more historically accurate and shows the true horror of Nanking far more realistically, so it’s tough to choose which is better. It’s like comparing SCHINDLER’S LIST to NIGHT AND FOG. (continued)

A frazzled Mou Tun Fei from the October, 1979 issue of Southern Screen

With MAN BEHIND THE SUN, you really get a feel for Unit 731 and its inhabitants which is not done as well in NANKING MASSACRE. You get to know the Youth Corp kids well, find out what makes Ishii’s sociopathic mind tick and see Dr. Takemura return to his sweet natured kimono-clad pregnant wife after a day of vivisecting kids and putting people in pressure chambers which is a paradox that I see as being very accurate. They honestly by that point had no idea what they were doing. MAN BEHIND THE SUN has a lot of those interesting subtleties beneath its grotesque surface. Also, Mou did not have a big enough budget with NANKING MASSACRE, even though it was almost 10 fold that of MAN BEHIND THE SUN, to do the Rape of Nanking cinematic justice. MAN BEHIND THE SUN comes closer to capturing the feel of what really went on at 731, I think. Also the special effects in MAN BEHIND THE SUN are far more convincing. They used real cadavers and animal parts for everything; both wrong morally and illegal in many countries, but looks 100% real because that is real flesh you’re seeing being torn onscreen. BLACK SUN’s prosthetics just don’t hold up as well.

Behind the scenes still from MAN BEHIND THE SUN; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Does he still plan to complete his proposed trilogy at some point?

JLC: I don’t know. He has had difficulty getting NO MORE WAR, the third BLACK SUN, of the ground. I don’t think he wants to make it now, but he could change his mind. I hope he makes it. I think a big problem that kept him from getting this film off the ground was a big falling out he had with the Mainland government over BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE. Because they were making their Nanking film (DON’T CRY NANKING), they wanted the NANKING MASSACRE title and insisted that Mou change the title of his film. When he refused and fought them, they banned his film and he only ever got it released in Hong Kong. MAN BEHIND THE SUN was a huge hit, but BLACK SUN flopped because he couldn’t show it in the Mainland so that hurt Mou’s financial bankability a lot, I think. Also, the increasingly commercial climate in Chinese cinema and the Mainland handover and sort of tying of Hong Kong and the PRC’s film industries into one probably has not helped him either. They have completely banned violent horror films.

He has another concept that I’d love to see him do as it’s a nice change of pace for him. It’s more in line with his earliest films in Taiwan which were more sentimental, DiSica-type movies. It’s a concept about a young American man, a Wall Street investor who abandons his white collar life after his girlfriend dies in 9/11. He buys a Harley Davidson and goes to China and rides around the countryside EASY RIDER-style on his motorcycle, connecting with the locals. (continued)

Mou Tun Fei from the November, 1977 issue of Hong Kong Movie News

I personally hope he gets to makes both films. The EASY RIDER in China idea will be very low budget, so it shouldn’t be hard to make for him. And unlike his third BLACK SUN, he should have no trouble with the Mainland censors. However, I do want to see one more violent and ultra political T.F. Mou film, you know, a last hurrah for him at his old age ala BATTLE ROYALE for Kinji Fukasaku.

Poster for BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE (1995); Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Having read Iris Chang's 'The Rape of Nanking', I was shocked at how accurate both of Mou's films were, but equally shocked that the films, despite their barbaric cruelty, barely scratched the surface of the atrocities committed against the Chinese during WW2.

JLC: Yes, that’s the thing, isn’t it? A 731 Youth Corp member or two saw MAN BEHIND THE SUN and said not only is it hauntingly accurate to what they experienced, Mou’s film was considerably sanitized and what they experienced was much worse. There were a lot of experiments Mou couldn’t depict because he considered them unfilmable, or strictly for censorship reasons. The doctors, for example, would often rape the female test subjects. When they got the women pregnant they would vivisect them and experiment on, or preserve the fetuses. The bit in MAN BEHIND THE SUN with the fetus in a jar is an implication to that. It’s quite sick to think about it; those guys, like Dr. Takemura, would rape the women and then go home and make love to their completely ignorant wives. They also did a lot of experiments with venereal disease, which ironically, Godfrey Ho depicted but Mou does not. My guess is the Mainland censors, which are notoriously puritanical, would not allow Mou to depict any of the more sexual experiments they did. They also, of course, cut people open without anesthetic or any form of sedative which MAN BEHIND THE SUN doesn’t depict. I don’t think Mou believes it. I do and the surviving doctors have all confessed to taking part in those operations, my guess is they used shackles or straps to restrain the subjects so they could operate. (continued)

Promo for Mou's first martial arts film, A DEADLY SECRET (1980) July, 1979 Southern Screen. It was in production as THE PRECIOUS JADE at the time.

Another thing Mou didn’t touch upon was that 731 was just the largest and main part of a massive medical experimentation infrastructure that stretched all across the Chinese seaboard. Ishii was a real life “mad scientist” you could say. There were several units that specialized in certain things like Unit 1644 in Nanking and Unit 1855 in Beijing and they would often breed viruses and make bacterial bombs at the small units and then ship them to 731. Though they are shown having their rural experimental station where they detonate the bacterial bombs, they experimented just as much outside the facilities as inside and would take crop dusters out and infest whole villages with the bubonic plague, something I wish Mou had depicted, though he probably left it out of the script for budgetary reasons. (continued)

Mou's authorization contract allowing him to shoot the controversial MAN BEHIND THE SUN; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

As for Nanking, it was Hell on Earth, a real life 'Last Judgment'. Iris Chang wrote about things that I can’t believe were done to human beings and her suicide was not remotely surprising to me. You can’t live with that sort of stuff in your mind for too long, it drives you mad. Mou actually depicted more of what they did in Nanking in BLACK SUN, but it doesn’t feel as shocking as the stuff in MAN BEHIND THE SUN, which is to the film’s detriment. Bayonet abortions, raping all the women and girls, setting people on fire, the decapitation contests, forcing the celibate monks into sex, it’s mostly all there. I personally, though, am on the fence about whether they planned to systematically slaughter the whole city or just make an example with an especially brutal occupation since the Japanese did things like that all over China and in the Philippines and such, just in less volume. I also think the 300,000 person Chinese death toll is probably exaggerated. The Japanese understate or deny it and the Chinese exaggerate; it’s kind of like RASHOMON. The Westerners in Nanking, an aspect of the story that’s always fascinated me, cited the death toll at around 150,000 and like with the woodcutter, I’m most inclined to believe that since they were the most objective and neutral of the parties.

Still from MAN BEHIND THE SUN; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Have either you, or Mou seen Godfrey Ho's cash-in "sequels"? If so, what are your opinions of them?

JLC: They are covered in BLACK SUNSHINE. Mou has not seen them but he and his wife didn’t seem thrilled with the clips I showed them courtesy of the film at the premiere. I despise them. They are a little more tolerable in Chinese than English. Watching LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL with its atrocious English dub track blaring is like watching a BENNY HILL style comedy skit spoof of MAN BEHIND THE SUN. It’s funny that people refer to MAN BEHIND THE SUN as an exploitation movie. It has its exploitation-like elements, but Mou is completely sincere. Political reasons and awareness were always his main reason for making these films, even LOST SOULS. He got into filmmaking in the first place as a young man because journalism in Taiwan was so strictly controlled by the Kuomintang censors. MAN BEHIND THE SUN is a grotesque, excessive film, but it is not “exploiting” anything. Propaganda is closer to its real intent. Some of his films’ excess is borderline satirical in the same way Voltaire’s CANDIDE is. (continued)

Sketch for a scene from MAN BEHIND THE SUN done by Carrozza while cutting the documentary; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

But Godfrey Ho’s cash-ins: that is what exploitation really is in the true sense of the word. They took Mou’s idea and just blindly milked it as an excuse for sex and violence with cheapo production values and a story that might as well have been written in the scriptwriters’ sleep. They also have probably tarnished Mou’s films’ reputation as well since the movies are often lumped together and people approach Mou’s films expecting the same thing as Ho’s rubbish. Some sources have even credited Godfrey Ho as the director of MAN BEHIND THE SUN! Ho’s films, like the hilariously awful tokusatsu ripoff THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT made right before the faux MAN BEHIND THE SUNs, are only enjoyable in the same way Ed Wood’s movies are. They’re unintentional comedies, especially UNDEFEATABLE.

Mou was much more influential on Hong Kong cinema then people give him credit for. A lot of people saw MAN BEHIND THE SUN in China and were very influenced by it. For example, infamous Bruce Lee impersonator Bruce Le’s film COMFORT WOMEN is almost as much of a straight on rip-off of MAN BEHIND THE SUN as Godfrey Ho’s films, though it’s a better made picture. The female protagonist gets syphilis at the end of the film and is shipped off by the movie’s villain, a sexually voracious Japanese general, to Unit 731. Le even used a lot of the same historical archive footage Mou did and both films end with morose expository crawls. The entire Category III subgenre would not exist without T.F. Mou. It was coined for MAN BEHIND THE SUN because HK’s censors had never seen anything like it and I believe once the Hong Kong producers saw how Mou went and got away with it, they started cranking our their own, albeit much more exploitation-based, extreme films.

A picture of the director himself, Mou Tun Fei; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Which of Mou's films that you've seen do you feel is the strongest and which do you feel doesn't reach its full potential?

JLC: I think MAN BEHIND THE SUN is his masterpiece. It’s got the perfect mix of grotesquery, historical accuracy and food for thought. As I said, the thematic elements and character development is much stronger than people give it credit for. It’s a real subversive masterpiece. Sadly, the alleged animal cruelty has also hurt the film’s reputation. The rats were, of course, torched, but the cat scene was faked and it’s really quite obvious that it’s honey being licked off the cat’s fur by the rats. Many of these zealous pet lovers eat at McDonalds, by the way.

BLACK SUN I don’t care for as much though it has its brilliant moments. LOST SOULS is a mess, but a very interesting and entertaining one. It’s a little inconsistent in its style and you can tell Mou shot it without a script. I think the film’s overwrought exploitation elements could be somewhat Shaw Brothers’ fault. Run Run Shaw apparently didn’t mind the films’ excess at all. Some of Kuei Chih-hung’s stuff was nearly as explicit and an exploitation film can easily be sold. It was the political bent of the movie he disliked. Some of the most entertaining films are imperfect messes and LOST SOULS is a damn unique experience. It’s a perfect companion piece to the BLACK SUN films. (continued)

BANK BUSTERS (1978) promo inside back cover to August, 1978 issue of Southern Screen. The film was also under the title THE BIG ROBBERIES

I am a pretty big fan of YOUNG HEROES, his children’s martial arts fairy tale film he made in China before MAN BEHIND THE SUN. It’s beautifully shot and highly entertaining. It was fascinating and ironic that he got the idea to make one of the most explicit and taboo-pushing films ever made while doing a kids’ film. YOUNG HEROES would be much better though, in typical T.F. Mou fashion, he shot a lot of Chang Cheh style bloodshed for the movie and the film was hacked to shreds by the PRC censors. I’d love to see an uncut version of it, its fairy tale-like quality makes it way up my alley. (continued)

Promotion for HAUNTED TALES (1980); Photo: J.L. Carrozza

Mou dislikes most of his Shaw Brothers films but thinks highest of BANK BUSTERS, which as you probably know was tragically never distributed by Celestial and may never be seen again. A real shame as it looks very akin to what Kinji Fukasaku and William Friedkin and Scorsese and the like were making in other countries at the time: a gritty crime epic showing the urban petri-dish of corruption that continuously breeds crime. Mou would disappointingly barely speak of it, but I love his HAUNTED TALES segment, “The Prize Winner”. Its sick sense of humor and twisted, contemptuous worldview reminds me of my own work.

A scene from one of Mou's earliest movies; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: How long has this extraordinary documentary on Mou been in production? Can you give us some details of the troubles you went through in getting it done from its gestation down to its finish?

JLC: Like LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD and DREAM HOUSE, it is made completely guerilla style. No professional resources at all and I never had to leave Massachusetts up to this time. It’s kind of funny because that’s how T.F. Mou made MAN BEHIND THE SUN and kept it so cheap (the film only cost 200 grand to make). He just shot it in Manchuria using completely hands on technique and entirely local resources and staff. When he told me that, it reminded me a lot of how I currently make movies. I think filmmakers nowadays are too spoiled and want all the professional equipment and union crews when all that should matter to them is what shows up on screen and how it looks and also just delivering a completed film. That’s all I’ve ever cared about. (continued)

LOST SOULS promo October, 1980 issue of Southern Screen

After I found what I thought was Mou’s address and phone number back in 2008 and called him I heard right back a few days later. It was the real T.F. Mou alright, who it just so happened was going to in Boston in a few days. He was very friendly when I first met him and I was shocked at his humility and calmness. A lot of people who make movies as violent as his have very intense personalities. Sadly, this didn’t quite pan out because I initially brought my camcorder with me just to transcribe it. I wanted to sell it to a magazine but thought I might want to cut a film out of it, too, but I didn’t put any effort into recording the sound, so it came out looking and sounding pretty bad. This was a big blow for me.

Southern Screen June, 1978; Insert taken from Southern Screen February, 1977

Then, a year later, I returned to the project after dropping out of school and recutting my short films. T.F. agreed to do it again and I told him how I wanted to do something much more detailed, make a real documentary out of it. He was going to be in Boston again in the near future. This time I worked harder to prepare, but while spending little money. I got the camera equipment for free from my nearby public access station and devised a two camera set-up to make for a more dynamic-looking interview. I also borrowed some of T.F. Mou’s private albums of the making of MAN BEHIND THE SUN. Sadly, he didn’t have a lot since he is moving back to China and was in the midst of shipping his possessions there. Also, friend King-wei Chu who met Mou years ago when he showed MAN BEHIND THE SUN at his Toronto Fantasia Film Festival, has a big archive of Shaw Brothers promotional materials since his family owned a Shaw Brothers theater in Quebec’s Chinatown. So he helped me out a lot with stuff that has barely been glimpsed by Western eyes.

The film was a logistical post-production nightmare that I am sometimes surprised I was able to weather. I didn’t plan very well and first my external hard drive I kept my digital files on died. Thanks to that, I had to recompile everything plus I got in a nasty altercation with the people “fixing” it; they turned out to scammers and sicked a collection agency on my ass when I wouldn’t pay because they were such jerks. Then I had to scrap my edit again a few months later because my laptop couldn’t take the memory strain anymore and I got a new, state of the art computer. Then when I was recording the narration track with Deirdre Yee, who redubbed the heroine in DREAM HOUSE, the mic was disconnected and I ended up having to record the narration track on two different mikes, which I later found in post months later that it made the whole thing unusable. In the end, I had her reloop everything on a camcorder mike for a more consistent sound. (continued)

Mou and company from the January, 1978 issue Southern Screen

Then things got rockier when I contacted Celestial for permission for the Shaw Brothers films to just get things more legally clear through King-wei who has connections there. I had no money for film footage. In my naïve mind nobody would give a damn about using their footage since in reality a documentary is the best kind of free advertising. Sadly, companies do not see eye to eye on this and Celestial insisted that I pay a pretty steep amount of money for only half the footage I really wanted. I’m still hoping to conclude that deal. I do intend to pay it all off with professional funding, but it may be as long as few years as I’m kind of exhausted now and want to move on to other things. I may even pay for everything with the profits from future movies.

The problem was that I had been making shorts-- films that were 15, 20 minutes tops, so making one huge film that ended up being 96 minutes long was a bigger step up than I thought. Plus I made the film almost single-handedly. I interviewed Mou and came up with all questions myself; I recorded and directed the narration; I did the sound work; I cut the images and even did much of the document scanning. In the end it took me well over a year and really the project has been creatively churning for over two. Documentaries are a massive amount of work, most of which is sitting in front of a computer. Dramatic films are harder to shoot and pull together but much easier to edit.

Behind the scenes still from MAN BEHIND THE SUN; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Which other cinema personalities would you love to sit down with and discuss their careers?

JLC: Just about everybody, sadly a lot of my Asian cinema idols are dead. I really regret I never got to meet Kinji Fukasaku before he died. But seriously, I’d love to meet and chat with everybody who made films that I enjoy. I am sending screener copies of BLACK SUNSHINE: CONVERSATIONS WITH T.F. MOU to Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth and Martin Scorsese. I may also send Peter Jackson a copy since I often joke that this film is kind of my FORGOTTEN SILVER. (continued)

Mou didn't just direct brutal movies. He also did some lighter fare such as ONE SON TOO MANY (1981) July, 1979 Southern Screen

My next documentary, though don’t expect for about five years as it will be staggered with a handful of low budget dramatic movies I’m doing, will be about Kinji Fukasaku. BLACK SUNSHINE’s interview was done kind of talk show-style since only T.F. was being interviewed. The Fukasaku doc, which will probably be called JINGI NAKI EIGA (MOVIES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY), will be done more traditionally, with many subjects. They will range from the many actors Fukasaku worked with on a regular basis to his son Kenta, to fans like Quentin Tarantino and so forth. I may start compiling interview footage as early as after ALISON IN WONDERLAND is completed, as I want to go to Japan after I finish that movie, but it may not be finished until after my planned historical gore epic HORROR COLONY hits the screens for all I know.

Actual real life photo utilized in BLACK SUN: THE NANKING MASSACRE; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Can you give the readers an idea of what they can expect from this anticipated documentary on one Hong Kong's most controversial filmmakers?

JLC: I am pretty proud of this movie. It’s my best made and most mature work to date I’d say. I don’t know if I like it, or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD better, the latter will always have sentimental value. T.F. Mou is happy with it, the film brought several audience members to tears including Mou’s wife, I think and in what really made my night, T.F. told me that the film was about 99% accurate to what he experienced and even contained a lot of things he had forgotten about! He was amazed that I dug up so much information, especially since the majority of the most detailed info on him in is Chinese and not English. (continued)

Both images from the August, 1977 issue of Southern Screen

BLACK SUNSHINE: CONVERSATIONS WITH T.F. MOU and its focus is a fairly eclectic mix of what interests me, but you know, I tried to all tie it together. I am obsessed with movies like a Quentin Tarantino type and own so many DVDs I’ve had to sock half of them in storage so my apartment wouldn’t be too cramped, but I also am obsessed with real life history, politics, spirituality, more serious things that many cinemaphiles don’t think about. BLACK SUNSHINE is like a detailed movie, or biography documentary on the one hand blended with a history channel element on the other. But there’s also kind of a Godfrey Reggio KOYANAANISQATSI element blended in there too that becomes more evident as the film gets closer to its finale. To some it may not seem cohesive or appear disjointed, but that is simply not the case. Shaw Brothers studios and the film industry, the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking, the Cold War and Cultural Revolution, 9/11 and the folly of the Bush Administration and maverick filmmakers like Mou, or Jacopetti and Prosperi, they’re all part of the same world and connected in a certain way. (continued)

Mou Tun Fei and his wife from Southern Screen September, 1978 issue

I will be putting the film out onto self published DVD-R like with my short films. It’s very unlikely to reach or upset the copyright holders and what I am “selling” is the film’s original material, not theirs. By all means, I encourage viewers of my documentary interesting in seeing the films in question to seek them out in a legitimate fashion, you know? The disc will be around fifteen dollars and be a two disc set with a lot of treats, including about a half hour or so of deleted scenes and unused interview footage as well as the 2008 short I initially made. I compiled so much material that if I had edited more self indulgently and left more in I could have easily cut a two, two and a half hour film. If I get a cease and desist letter I’ll probably just make the DVD images available for free download and throw it all up on a torrent tracker. Honestly, I was especially annoyed because the asking price for half the footage I needed is more than I’ll probably make from sales for two or three years! It’s been frustratingly difficult to make my beloved film trade a profitable one. I am also coming out with a new pressing of my short films disc with LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD and DREAM HOUSE, both the shorts and BLACK SUNSHINE will be significantly discounted if ordered together.

The version that will be released is technically just the workprint and will probably not be the final, completed version that will be officially released. I may go to the Hong Kong and Taiwan Film Archives since they have copies of BANK BUSTERS and Mou’s early films I DIDN’T DARE TO TELL YOU and AT THE RUNWAY’S EDGE. He was very heavily influenced by Vittorio DiSica at the beginning and they are the same kind of bittersweet, socially conscious dramas about the lower class. Really, surprisingly there isn’t that much of a difference between that kind of film and something like MAN BEHIND THE SUN, they’re of the same earnest brand of filmmaking and they were both banned because the Kuomintang government did not tolerate any criticism, God forbid you see the people who were left behind. So Mou has been struggling with censorship because of his honesty since the beginning. I’d love to see those two films and get footage of them in the final, officially released cut of the movie.

Premier of the rough cut of the documentary with Mou in attendance; Photo: J.L. Carrozza

V5: Thank you very much, Mr. Carrozza for discussing this project and others on your plate. I, for one, can't wait to see this documentary. Good luck on your continued success!

JLC: Thank you for your time and support of this project.

For more information on Jules L. Carrozza including his independent features as well as this ambitious documentary, you can click here-- J.L.


Will Errickson said...

Whew! Amazing stuff. Thanks. I first heard about Man Behind the Sun in the 1992 book Cut: Horror Writers on Horror Film. I was unable to find a copy until nearly 10 years later. Now 10 years after seeing it, I finally learn something about the director! Wow. Progress.

venoms5 said...

The first time I saw it was a fullscreen subbed print and I was devastated after watching it. The closest comparison for me was CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SALO in terms of its merciless qualities. In my view, the sequel is just as cruel made all the more fascinating in that it contains actual footage from the time. I have an interesting documentary I picked up in Chinatown about 7 years ago called HORROR OF WAR. It was produced by the History Channel I think. It had a lot of horrific stories, footage and interviews with those who survived Nanking, WW2 and even kamakazi pilots that survived. An amazing viewing experience. Some former American and Japanese soldiers seemingly have changed little since then, too. It was pretty powerful stuff.

The only Mou films I can think of that are available in region 1 or region 0 are MAN BEHIND THE SUN, NANKING MASSACRE and LOST SOULS which amazingly has an English dub on there, so I'm told. I only have the HK DVD for it.

Thanks for reading it, Will!

I Like Horror Movies said...

I have yet to see any of Mou's films, but their reputation certainly precedes them! Will have to be sure and follow them up with the documentary. Cant wait to see what JL was able to put together, sounds like it will have a ton of great information V!

venoms5 said...

His movies, his most well known ones anyway, are very extreme.

iain said...

"Many of these zealous pet lovers eat at McDonalds, by the way."

"Pet lovers"? What a twee, deliberately reductive and patronizing term; we prefer to be called animal advocates and activists.

And most of us DON'T eat at McDonald's - and why would *anyone* want to eat there anyway?

And however much we are nauseated or even horrified by rats en masse, "torching them" is an inhumane, vile method of culling them. And certainly does nothing to enhance what is, through and through, a horror exploitation movie disingenuously and pruriently marketed as some sort of historical document.

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