If you are a fan of Asian films then you may have heard of the super awesome website easternKicks.com. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting Andy Heskins, aka Mr Kicks as we like to call him, during the Korean Cultural Centre’s epic film project of 2012. Mr Kicks is a cool dude and passionate fan of all Asian cinema. He started his website as a portal to discuss his passion and easternKicks has since grown from strength to strength, even taking on a number of contributors to help write about not just Asian cinema, but books, music and games too. Their film review catalogue is MASSIVE and they’ve had countless opportunity to interview many greats of the Asian film industry. Mr Kicks is a man of impeccable taste and is responsible for possibly the most intelligent and well written review of Sex and Zen 3D on the internet. It’s always cool to learn about those behind our favourite websites, so here we turn the tables around and interview the interviewer, Mr Kicks Andy Heskins, founder of easternKicks.com.
KCM: What made you fall in love with Asian Cinema?
Andrew: I think my story will be quite a familiar one. Like many my first introduction was the Monkey series in the late 70s. In fact, I’m old enough to remember The Water Margin, which ran a couple of years before. (And before you ask, I’d only have been about five when it was first on!) Both were a kind of wonderful, cross-cultural mash up: Japanese TV productions based on one of the great classical Chinese novels, hugely influenced by Hong Kong Shaw Brothers films (not that I’d realise that for a long time) and dubbed by British actors and comedians like Andrew ‘Manuel’ Sachs and Miriam Margoyles.
Fast forward several years and I hadn’t really seen much else that had captured the same enthusiasm for me. I hated the pan and scan, badly dubbed videos of Bruce Lee films and terrible exploitation films of the ‘Video Nasty’ era. It was only in the late 80s when Jonathan Ross presented a series of ‘Chinese Ghost Stories’ late night on Channel 4 that I realised that there was a place that made the films I really wanted to see – Hong Kong! I remember it included Rouge, Mr Vampire and Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain – all films that have continued to be real favourites of mine. At the same time I was becoming aware of film coming from other Asian territories, particularly China and Japan. (Korea would come much later.)
It wasn’t till the late 90s when it became possible to get hold of more films on LaserDisc(!) and DVD that I could really explore my passion. The idea of putting that online came not long afterwards, but it still took a little time to get off the ground.
KCM: You have interviewed quite a few big names in Asian cinema such as Andy Lau, Donnie Yen, Lee Byung-hun, and Kore-eda Hirokazu. Have you ever been star struck? Which star or interviewee was your favourite?
Andrew: Sadly most of the ones you mentioned have been via email, which is never the same; you can’t interact in the same way, and it puts a lot more pressure to come up with those killer questions! Though I did interview Lee Byung-hun in person around the time of The Good, The Bad, The Weird – and hell, he really is that impossibly charismatic (and nice) in real life!
Some early interviews stick out for me, the late Jun Ichikawa and Lu Chuan, for instance. Tsai Miang-ling was such a warm person, which really surprised me, because his films often play with uncomfortable pauses and spaces – naively I thought he’d be the same in person. Couldn’t have been further from the truth! I realised that ‘play’ is the operative word here, he has quite a sense of humour, spoke eloquently about his work which really made me appreciate it more, and even gave me a little goodie bag including a CD of a 60s Taiwanese singer featured in one of his films.
I rather enjoyed my chat with DenDen too. Perhaps because of all my interviews, I really didn’t have many questions at all (I’m not joking!) – it was all more reactive, it was a proper conversation really!
I have to admit, though I love all Asian film, but I always feel a bit more on home ground when I speak to Hong Kong filmmakers, it just feels much more natural and I get an extra ‘buzz’ from it. My recent interview with Peter Chan is a case in point, a 15-minute interview slot that ended up being nearly 45 minutes.
KCM: Recently many people have started taking more of an interest in Korean Cinema. What do you think differentiates Korean films from other Asian Cinema such as Hong Kong and Japanese films?
Andrew: I think what captured everyone’s interest – particularly in the early/mid 00s – was that it was a new, emerging territory in film at a point when Hong Kong cinema was seen (perhaps unfairly) as losing its way and Japanese cinema risked being too introspective.
Really there is no comparison between Korean cinema and that of Hong Kong and Japan – which is why I love all of them! The pacing, style and cultural references are all its own (though they share common influences). What Korean filmmakers brought was a slick, Hollywood polish to their films from the late 90s/early 00s – even if the subject matter was decidedly un-American.
If there’d been just a few outstanding films over the years, the interest might have stalled there, but there’s been so many. Films like Oldboy, The Host and The Good, The Bad, The Weird were really high profile, and even if the filmmaking scene risks becoming overly corporate right now, you can’t fault the quality of the films.
KCM: What did you think of the ‘Year of 12 Directors’ programme by the KCC? Did you enjoy it? Do you feel it gained Korean cinema more fans?
Andrew: Last year really captured a zeitgeist; the amount of Korean directors attached to Hollywood productions or co-productions (as well as remakes finally making it out of pre-production limbo) – though arguably it might have been a long time coming – was really noticeable. It almost felt like something was gonna pop, which you could say this year it has, so the timing was impeccable.
I really appreciate everything the Korean Cultural Centre do for promoting Korean film and culture in the UK. It was an incredible programme to put together, especially with the other events they managed throughout the year and the annual London Korean Film Festival. It was quite incredible and we all know what hard work they put into it all.
Do I think it’s gained Korean cinema more fans? Yes, and definitely raised the profile of the KCC’s work both within the UK and internationally. Though I can’t help but think many have already been reached… New, regular faces at the main screenings were in the tens, not the hundreds. I’m not sure how much else they do to reach new audiences, but I do feel there must be more out there…
I guess the other problem is there’s just so much competition. Putting special events and one-off screenings to one side, there are so many festivals it’s quite easy to suffer from ‘Festival exhaustion’ by the time the London Film Festival rolls around. (Especially if you are interested in more than one area of Asia, or even worse just cinema generally.)
KCM: Which ‘Year of 12 Directors’ director were you looking forward to the most beforehand and who did you enjoy interviewing the most?
Andrew: That’s a really good question. I have to admit there were even a few filmmakers I hadn’t really heard of before. Of them all, I felt the group interview with E J-yong went really well in terms of pacing and flow. And he struck me as ‘quietly mischievous’, which I rather liked.
And of course, Im Kwon-teak is a filmmaking legend, and so gracious and humble with it. End of.
KCM: easternKicks has been running for over 10 years now (Congratulations!) Has your website changed your life in anyway?
Andrew: Thanks! :) I don’t know if I could claim the change has been dramatic, but it’s definitely gone from a ‘sometime’ hobby to nearly encompassing all my spare time! (That’s when I have any left over.) Last year really felt special, not just so much because it was our 10th anniversary, mainly because there is an ‘us’ to speak of…
In the last two years at easternKicks.com our ranks have grown with regular contributors from around the world: an Irishman, a Frenchman, two Italians, a Japanese man, a Brazilian… oh, and another Englishman… (It rather sounds like the start of a terrible joke!) It’s fantastic to find new friends from across the world that like what I’ve built enough to get involved themselves.
It’s also been great meeting all the lovely fellow bloggers and critics out there, especially this last year. (Flutters eye lids!)
I’ve also been on a documentary for (now defunct) UK distributor Cine-Asia, and presented a screening for Joey and Adam’s Meetup group as easternKicks, which was a real hoot (and something I’d like to do more of I must admit).
So yes, things have definitely changed. I’ve been really honoured to meet, talk to or email so many actors and filmmakers over the years.
KCM: Tough last question – what is your all time favourite film? Come on, be strong! :P
Andrew: Aggghhhh – how could you? :O
Actually, my all time favourite is something I’ve thought about quite a lot. It would have to be The Bride With White Hair, directed by Ronny Wu and starring Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin. It’s a pretty hokey wuxia story – which was always going to be a winner in my book – with beautiful, very stylised cinematography by Peter Pau. I always think of it as if Powell and Pressburger (A Matter Of Life And Death, The Red Shoes) had gone off and made a wuxia film.
But there’d need to be a runner up vote for King Hu (Touch Of Zen, Come Drink With Me, Dragon Inn), though, obviously…
Thank you so much to Andy for taking the time to answer our questions! From his answers you can see just how amazingly passionate and knowledgeable he is about Asian cinema. Make sure you check out Andy’s website easternKicks.com and subscribe to his Facebook page too!
With the 2013 Terracotta Film Festival coming up, we also asked him what’s his top picks of the festival as there are quite a few Hong Kong films on this year’s programme, including his pre-mentioned Rouge. So let’s see what Andrew had to say!
Thanks for the insider insight Andrew! And see you at the screening of every guy’s favourite film, A Werewolf Boy?