Director Wych Kaosayananda is back in action with "Zero Tolerance"
DIRECTOR WYCH KAOSAYANANDA and his cast were in the same boat as the audience on Tuesday night at the Thailand International Film Destination Festival. It was the world premiere of “Zero Tolerance” and no one had actually seen the movie before.
Made in 2011, the Bangkok-set crime drama has Vietnamese superstar Dustin Nguyen as a former CIA agent on a murderous, vengeance-filled quest to find his daughter’s killer. Co-led by rising Thai actor Sahajak “Pu” Boonthanakit as a Bangkok police detective and former CIA cohort of Nguyen’s, the film was originally called “Angels” and was more of a “slow burn, character-driven” affair than the swifter-paced, nudity-laced action-packed romp that became “Zero Tolerance”.
“We couldn’t sell it,” said Wych during a panel talk after the movie, alongside Nguyen, Sahajak and cast members Bebe Pham and Kane Kosugi.
Wych, popularly known by his nickname “Kaos”, had set out to make an Asian-led film with his longtime friend Nguyen, and they thought they had succeeded when “Angels” screened in Vietnam in 2012. Originally, it had Nguyen and Sahajak tangling with a sleazy bar owner played by British action star Gary Daniels. Rapper Prinya “Way Thaitanium” Intachai appears as a hip-hop partner to Sahajak’s slick plainclothes cop.
But the buyers, unsure of the international appeal of the two Asian leads, wanted something more. So there were reshoots that brought in yet another British action star, Scott Adkins, as a drug-dealing Westerner. Up-and-coming Japanese-American martial-arts actor Kosugi was added in a brief cameo that was just long enough to get his name on the poster. Now, “Zero Tolerance” is set for release in the UK in September.
It wasn’t the first time Wych has had his original vision of a film changed.
After making his debut at the age of 24 with the 1998 Thai action drama “Fah”, Wych headed to Hollywood and secured his place in history as one of the first Thais to direct a feature there. But it was an achievement clouded by devastating failure.
The resulting feature, “Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever”, was taken away from him and re-edited by the studio. It was a dull and incomprehensible mess (and still is). Starring Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu, the spy thriller became infamous as one of the first entries on the Rotten Tomatoes movie-review website to receive the rock-bottom zero-per-cent score.
It was a huge setback for Wych, who has spent the past decade clawing himself back from the brink of infamy.
“What happened with ‘Ballistic’ really pretty much broke me,” Wych told the audience. “I didn’t want to make films for a while. I turned to music videos and commercials. I worked on other people’s films.
“Now I’m over all that. When I started my first professional job, I was 23. Now I’m in my 40s. So, perspective,” he said. “I’ve done three movies that I consider my own – ‘Fah’, ‘Ballistic’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’. And ironically, the world has only seen one my movies that is my version, and that’s ‘Fah’.
“If I’d seen [‘Zero Tolerance’] 10 years ago, it would have upset me. But sitting back there just now, I enjoyed it.”
Viewers who have only seen “Ballistic” might also enjoy “Zero Tolerance”, with its relative coherance and zippiness being an eye-opener – a more-accurate representation of what the passionate and savvy Kaos is capable of accomplishing.
Production in Bangkok was problematic because of the 2011 floods, but an old house alongside Bangkok Noi canal was a prime location and the crew even used movie magic to level the place with a bomb, a rarity in budget-conscious Thai films these days. The house still stands, by the way.
“I think we blew something up in every movie I’ve been involved with. It’s second nature by now,” Wych said.
For Nguyen, “Zero Tolerance” was born out of the friendship he began with Kaos when the two were young Asians struggling to make it in Hollywood. A Vietnam War refugee who grew up in the US, Nguyen got his big break starring alongside Johnny Depp in the 1980s TV series “21 Jump Street”. After gaining acclaim for roles in Oliver Stone’s “Heaven and Earth” (Nguyen’s first experience filming in Thailand) and 2005’s drugs drama “Little Fish” with Cate Blanchett, he returned to Vietnam and alongside other Vietnamese-Americans who grew up in Hollywood, he jump-started the country’s newly emergent and fast-growing commercial film industry.
“Zero Tolerance” also led to Nguyen meeting his wife, Vietnamese actress and model Bebe Pham, who portrays the madame of a high-end sex club and, eventually, one of the many people Nguyen’s character kills in what is ultimately a fruitless quest for revenge.
And when it came to time to direct his first movie, an “Eastern western” called “Once Upon a Time in Vietnam”, Nguyen recruited Kaos as his cinematographer.
“I think that’s the best way – make movies with your friends,” Nguyen said. “Because there’s a lot of difficult people out there, and making a movie is a difficult job, so it’s always better to do it with your friends.”
Sahajak has a leading role in “Zero Tolerance”, turning in an emotional performance that takes its cues from the brooding and intense Nguyen, whom Sahajak says he idolised on “21 Jump Street”. If he looks familiar, it’s because the English-fluent Sahajak is a much in-demand actor for foreign productions, usually donning a policeman’s or prison guard’s uniform for such movies as “Only God Forgives” or “Brokedown Palace”. He’s been featured in seemingly endless array of other entries of the past three editions of the Thailand International Fine Destination Festival, with credits that include “The Lost Medallion”, “The Mark: Redemption”, “The Lady” and “Elephant White”.
Wych, meanwhile, has found that moving forward always helps. This year, he plans to make an action movie in Bangkok called “Maxx” that will star Kosugi. He says it will be a romantic comedy. “Probably the closest thing to a romantic comedy I will ever do.”
Kosugi isn’t so sure. “There’s no comedy,” he retorted with a laugh.
But as with most of Kaos’ films so far, things are likely to change along the way.