Born in Manila to mainland China parents, Alexi Tan aims to revive interest in the sub-genre of Western films known as spaghetti westerns. These films are characterized by the presence of more action and violence compared to Hollywood westerns. Spaghetti westerns were particularly popular during the ‘60s and ‘70s.The photographer-turned-filmmaker grew up in the capital of the Philippines before he studied in London. He then took up film courses at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts while waiting for the opportunity to make the jump from fashion photography to filmmaking.
Alexi's chance finally came in 2004 when John Woo and Terence Chang were impressed by his short film/music video Double Blade. Since then, the Manila-born director has been collaborating with the two for his directorial debut, Blood Brothers.
This period film was co-produced by Taiwan's CMC Entertainment, Terence Chang's Lion Rock Productions and Hong Kong film director John Woo. It tells the story of three friends who become involved with drugs and gangs in Shanghai during the ‘30s. The Mandarin-language movie stars Liu Ye (Curse of the Golden Flower), Daniel Wu (Everlasting Regret) and Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) was able to talk with Alexi via email, wherein he shared information about Blood Brothers, which was chosen as the closing film of the 64th Venice International Film Festival last September 8.
you always wanted to become a director?
Alexi: I wanted to become a director but I never thought I could. Every time I did a still photo shoot or TV commercial and had the chance to bring in someone who worked on film, be it an actor or someone in the technical field, I would do it so I would feel closer to the film world. Blood Brothers was completely unexpected.
PEP: Who and what are your influences?
Alexi: I am a big cinema fan so to name all my influences would take up to much time so I will mention those for Blood Brothers. I've been inspired by HK [Hong Kong] cinema especially John Woo's early films like A Better Tomorrow, Bullet in the Head and The Killer. I am a huge fan of Sergio Leone. His spaghetti westerns were a heavy influence on this film. Music also plays a big part, for this film it was Ennio Morricone.
[Ed.'s note: Sergio Leone is an Italian filmmaker best known for making European westerns. His most famous works are the films of the so-called "dollars-trilogy": A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).]
PEP: How did Blood Brothers come about?
Alexi: I was trying to figure out my first feature. One day, I visited John Woo at a hospital in LA [Los Angeles, California]. He was recovering from a minor illness. We had a casual chat and he told me about his childhood and some "characters" that he grew up with-and that if he did not make some wise choices he may not be where he is today, that his life would definitely take a different path. I thought to myself, this would make a good concept for a film. John said, it has already been filmed, it's called Bullet in the Head. So I went and viewed the film again. The characters then became the foundation for Blood Brothers. This was the first part.
My late grandmother was Shanghainese and she was the student of the great opera star, Mei Lan Fang. Growing up, I listened to so much stories about old Shanghai that it became a part of me, so I've always wanted to set a film in old Shanghai. I was also looking for a setting that emulated the wild wild West because of my love for spaghetti westerns. So setting the film in Shanghai in the thirties was perfect.
PEP: How long did it take you to finish the shoot?
Alexi: It was spaced out between three months.
PEP: Can you share an anecdote or two while on the movie set?
Alexi: We had a pretty international crew. The DP [director of photography], Michel Taburiaux was from Paris. My costume designer was Tim Yip who won an Oscar for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. My production designer was Alfred Yau who did all the sets for 2046 and In the Mood For Love and anyone familiar with Chinese cinema knows we have the best young actors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who are working for the first time in this film. And I am a first time feature film director. But the fact that everyone came from different cultural and cinematic backgrounds, they had no choice but to look to me to set a standard. That actually ended up working to my advantage!
PEP: Is Blood Brothers going to be shown here in the Philippines?
Alexi: As far as I know, there is no distributor in the Philippines. I just came from Venice Film Festival where Blood Brothers was the closing night film and am now in Toronto where we will have a gala presentation. The Pusan Film Festival screening will follow shortly in October. The film can be seen in these events.