Mike Leeder remembers the making of ‘Pound of Flesh’ – not just for the action content, but the chance to work with old friends…
I had the pleasure of working both in front and behind the camera, on Pound of Flesh, the Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller directed by Ernie Barbarash… the film we jokingly referred to as The Merchant of Vengeance. The film, written by Joshua James, follows Van Damme’s character a former ‘Kidnap & Rescue’ specialist who is forced to bring his skills to use for very personal reasons when he wakes up in a bath full of ice, to find one of his kidneys missing. To have your kidney stolen is bad enough, but when you’ve pledged that kidney to save your brother’s daughter from an early death, well that’s even worse. Van Damme rips the underworld apart to find the men responsible and get his revenge, and hopefully his kidney back!
The film starred the late Darren Shahlavi in one of his final roles is dedicated to his memory… it was a solid hit around the world and definitely got plenty of attention upon its release. Is the film perfect… no it’s not. We had a hard shoot to say the least, but thanks to Ernie Barbarash, who steered the ship through plenty of rough waters, and a hell of a cast and crew, we got the movie finished and I’ll treasure the memories both good and bad from the shoot.
The film which was produced by Kirk Shaw and Henry Luk. I was just trying to do Impact proud as both a producer and also playing the role of ‘Boris the Human Punching Bag’. It saw Impact’s original cover star Jean-Claude Van Damme taking a step away from his usual high kicking style of action. Due to the nature of the story and the his character’s deteriorating physical condition in the film, Jean-Claude wanted a grittier more realistic style of action. That’s where I brought in a longtime friend ( who I met on my first weekend in Hong Kong more than 25 years ago!) That’s Fight Choreographer and Action Director John Salvitti, a true warrior both on and off screen, a man who cut his teeth in action film making working with Yuen Wo-ping and Donnie Yen on both In the Line of Duty 4 and Tiger Cage 2. He has also served as a mainstay of Donnie Yen’s Fight and Action Team both in front and behind the camera on such projects as Crystal Hunt, Cheetah on Fire, Der Puma TV series, Flashpoint, Special ID and Kung Fu Killer. Salvitti is a life -long martial artist who has studied everything from Chinese Wushu through Kickboxing through Jujitsu and MMA, and so much more, and brought years of experience with a variety of martial arts and military combat technique into play for the film.
We assembled a very strong fight team for the movie which included German martial arts maestro Mike Moeller (the star of One Million Klicks who had worked with Salvitti on Der Puma series in Germany), Brahim Achabbakhe from Man of Tai Chi and the upcoming Undisputed 4, Temur Mamisashvili from Skiptrace and Dragon Blade, veteran martial artist Ed Bavelock of KmaKei martial arts, Australian fighters Nick Patterson and Ryan Payne, China based British Action Actor Kevin Lee (Dragon Blade, Wolf Warrior) as well as a Guangzhou based Chinese stunt team.
Now thanks to John Salvitti, we can take a look back at the literal blood, sweat & tears that were shed during the making of the movie, giving a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at what goes into making a martial arts movie, and the various personalities involved. You get to see the passion that John Salvitti has for the action and the choreography, he’s all about the combat!
It brought back plenty of good memories for me and some sad ones too when I see Darren Shahlavi on screen. I’d known Darren for over 25 years – we’d met in the UK before either one of us had ever come to Hong Kong, two guys who shared the same birthday and a lot of the same dreams, and many a night the two of would exchange a giggle or two over the fact that… here we were… all these years later, we’d gone from having Jean-Claude Van Damme posters on our walls, to me producing and getting beaten up by Jean-Claude and Darren playing the main villain in a Van Damme movie. Darren brought a lot of enthusiasm, energy and fun to the shoot, and he made a hell of an impact on all of us, and we still miss him.
So here’s to you Darren, and the memories of that shoot, take it away Mr.Salvitti!
Fight Team Tribute: