Dwight Little is a director whose name may not be known, but his mark on film is undeniable — from modern horror classics like “Halloween 4” and “Phantom of the Opera” to “Marked For Death and “Murder at 1600”, he has done some of the most memorable films of the past twenty years.
Now, his latest film — “Tekken” — is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and brings Dwight into the world of science fiction and martial arts. I called Dwight at his office on the morning of July 15, 2011 and he was kind enough to chat about “Tekken” and his past work…
GS: I think that getting to be the director who revives Michael Myers is a big deal — how did that project come your way?
DL: Wow, that was a number of years ago. At that point I had made a couple of smaller, lower budget movies. I was introduced to Moustapha Akkad, and he was looking for someone who had a take on “Halloween 4” and could do it very quickly, because at that point there was a writer’s strike pending. Moustapha had his own distribution company, Galaxy International, and he had his own finances. I talked to my writing partner, Alan McElroy — who also wrote “Tekken” — and we pitched Moustapha a treatment, which he liked. So we worked it out that way.
[Gavin notes: All horror fans should know Moustapha Akkad, who was a Syrian American film producer and director, best known for his key involvement in the first eight Halloween movies, as an executive producer (the only producer to participate in all of these films). Akkad and his 34-year-old daughter, Rima Akkad Monla, were killed in the November 9, 2005 Amman bombings in Amman, Jordan. They were both in the lobby at the Grand Hyatt when a suicide bomber sent by Al-Qaeda detonated his device; his daughter died instantly, and Akkad died of his injuries two days later in a hospital.]
GS: Do you happen to recall casting Danielle Harris?
DL: Oh sure. We had a lot of people read for us and we weren’t completely satisfied. So we set up a casting call in New York. We had a bunch of people read for us, and Danielle came in, and we knew she was the one we wanted.
GS: She’s really gone on to make a name for herself.
DL: Oh, yeah, she stays busy. We almost had her in “Tekken” but it didn’t work out at the last minute. She also appeared in “Marked For Death”, my film with Steven Seagal, where she had a small part.
GS: Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories about Jill Schoelen or “Phantom of the Opera”?
DL: Yeah. Ask her about the one time the set caught fire. (laughs) She surely remembers that. It was kind of scary.
GS: Let’s talk “Tekken”… how is shooting martial arts fighting different from other types of scenes or films?
DL: Every martial arts fight, for me, has to be treated as its own story. It has to be a scripted story. The fighters meet, they assess each other’s skills, they engage in combat. Somebody seems to be winning, then there’s a reversal. Throw in a surprise, or a twist, and then an ending. Once the story is worked out, then you have to work out the logistics. So you have to work with the stunt coordinator to find out exactly where the fighters will be doing everything. If any doubles are needed — for high falls or something — I need to know where those roles are going to be taken over by stunt people.
The difference with “Tekken” was that Jon Foo was a serious martial artist, and many of the other actors were, as well. Many of them were actual fighters, so there was very, very little doubling of the actors. If you take a movie like “Tekken” and start doubling people, it loses some of the realism and I think people can feel it. All those fighters were the real deal — Gary Daniels is a world-class martial artist. He played a fantastic Bryan Fury. And Jon Foo, the lead, was great, too.
GS: Am I reading too much into this, or does the film have a strong anti-corporate message?
DL: (laughs) The whole movie is set up to create a kind of political point of view. Alan and I saw in the “Tekken” universe a very unique family dynamic, and the use of corporate elements in the story. So it’s not an accident. We have Microsoft, and BP, and Sony, and companies like that, that have more influence than some countries do. So we came up with this scenario where corporations would work out their disputes in this gladiator-style exhibition.
GS: At the end of the film, Jin does not kill kill his father.
DL: That’s right.
GS: How does that solve the problems of the film, if his father is still running Tekken?
DL: If you wait until the very, very end after the very last credits, there is a shot of Kazuya Mishima in jail and he’s pacing back and forth. He’s obviously been captured and held. We also see Heihachi Mishima talking the guards down. So wait all the way to the end and there are two little teaser moments that might help offer clues.
GS: Which, of course, implies a sequel.
DL: Well, that’s the case in any film.
GS: (laughs) That’s true. But this film deserves a sequel. Taking a simple video game and turning it into a complex movie — I was impressed.
DL: Thank you. I appreciate that.
GS: I have to ask… Was the character Raven modeled off of Wesley Snipes, or is that a coincidence?
DL: That is a total coincidence. That wardrobe, the hairstyle and the glasses are directly lifted from game. The “Blade” people may have seen Tekken, I don’t know. But that’s definitely a reference to the game and not Wesley. (laughs) I mean, Wesley would have been fantastic. I wish we could have had him. I worked with Wesley for “Murder at 1600”, but he’s had some legal difficulties… he would have been great.
GS: What would you say to those who write “Tekken” off as just a fight movie?
DL: Well, the fighting is part of the plot, but it’s really a device to push the story arc. And I think it’s bigger than that, because it’s really this whole other world — we have the world of Tekken, but also the Anvil. And there’s the age-old theme of a son avenging his mother’s death.
GS: Jin is a strange protagonist, though. He’s a good guy, avenging his mother’s death, but he has his own moral flaws. I mean, he seems to completely forget he has a girlfriend once he meets Christie.
DL: Yeah, Jin gets caught up in the world of Tekken. He makes this allegiance with Kelly Overton… they get pretty flirty, but it never comes to anything. The idea was that he realizes who he is, what he needs to do and then go back to where he’s from. He ultimately leaves Christie and he goes back to the Anvil. He’s a small-time guy in a big city, but he ends up going back. I think your point is a fair criticism, and all I would say is that I think it’s realistic — that is something that would happen in real life. I think his eyes got big when he saw everything around him.
GS: Thanks so much for your time, Dwight… I can’t think of any more questions right now.
DL: Well, thank you for your interest, Gavin.