POSTED JULY 16, 2008
July 16, 2008

ROLLING WITH THE REAL INDY : On location with Vic Armstrong

Last time I was on a major movie location in Bangkok, it was for The Medallion, then called ‘Highbinders’, and I was working with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, two men who defined (and then redefined) Asian action cinema. Today, I’m in the Thai capital on the set of ‘Shanghai’ with Vic Armstrong, the man who defined (and then redefined) Hollywood stunt action. As Harrison Ford’s double for the first three Raiders films, Vic can certainly claim to be, at least in part, the real Indiana Jones.
Vic and I first met, many years ago, when I was editing Impact, a British magazine dedicated to action cinema. (Is it still being published, I wonder? Didn’t see it anywhere when I was in England recently…) It was a great pleasure to travel to Armstrong’s beautifully restored Home Counties farmhouse. Warm natured, calm and drily humorous, Vic was great company, and a terrific interview. Periodically the ‘phone would ring, and Vic would answer it was a terse but cheerful “what do you need?” During one of these interruptions, I tried on one of the original Indiana Jones hats hanging from a coat hook in his office. We discussed Vic’s work on such films as Rambo 3, Double Impact, Terminator 2 and similar small, art-house titles... (I’ll see if I can find the original interview and, if so, will scan it and put it up on my Alivenotdead page.)
After the interview proper, Vic took us into the stables behind the house, to a chest of drawers packed with mementoes from his career. There was a French magazine with paparazzi shots of ‘Harrison Ford’ shooting a scene for ‘Temple Of Doom’… where every blurry image was actually Vic!
Sometime after the Impact magazine interview was published, I received a fax (yes, it was that long ago!) from Vic, requesting additional copies of that issue. I believe he needed them for the dossier he was sending the US Immigration Service towards getting his green card. If so, I’m proud that Impact played even a small role in the process!
Since that brief encounter, I made the move to Hong Kong, and became involved in every aspect of Asian action cinema. Vic went on to mastermind the ground-breaking action sequences on the recent James Bond films, on Gangs Of New York, War Of The Worlds, I Am Legend… the list seems genuinely endless.
Armstrong tells a funny story, at his own expense, regarding his directorial debut, Joshua Tree. The film starred action idol Dolph Lundgren, with whom Vic had worked previously on Universal Soldier. It features a gunfight in a ‘chop shop’ where Dolph, with a gun in either hand, mows down a small army of white overall-wearing Asian heavies. Despite the absence of white doves, it’s a beat-for-beat retread of a John Woo gunplay sequence. At the premiere, Vic was horrified to encounter Woo himself. “Sorry, John,” he mumbled. “I’m kind of ripping you off in one scene in this movie…” Unperturbed, John Woo replied “Don’t worry about it, Vic. I’ve been stealing from you for years…”
Vic coordinated the action for Mission: Impossible 3, which marked the Hollywood debut of my sister in arms Maggie Q. Armstrong is effusive in his praise for the Q-ster. (Maggie’s fight scene from the film hit the cutting room floor, but is in a deleted scene on the DVD.) I had missed Vic when I visited the MI3 set at Paramount, and he didn’t attend the film’s Rome premiere, which I was lucky enough to go to (with Maggie’s parents in tow!). Vic did get to launch MI3 at a film festival in Mumbai, getting the respect that is due the action coordinators on these blockbuster epics. He recalled Ms Q paying an unexpected visit to the I Am Legend location in New York, bearing a box of cookies for the crew. (That’s a girl who knows which side of the camera the guys that really matter are on!)
It’s very exciting to have a film-maker of Vic’s caliber working alongside our visionary director, Mikael Hafstrom. It’s a blast to watch Armstrong at work shooting second unit on location at the Bangkok railway station. (I’ve filmed here so many times now, one day I’ll actually have to take a train somewhere…) During the dinner break, cast and crew sit at tables laid out in the main station concourse, and I enjoy hearing Vic’s ‘tales of Hollywood’, and also take the opportunity to update him on developments in Asian actioners. (Someone should actually sign Armstrong to write an autobiography.) He observes that he’s never been a huge fan of the Hong Kong ‘wire-fu’ action, and reveals that he tried to keep it to a minimum on the first Charlie’s Angels, where he worked alongside Chinese choreographer Yuen Cheung-yan (action director on the Jet Li films Tai Chi Master and Fist Of Legend, out soon from Dragon Dynasty).
After dinner, I head over to the main unit, confident that our ‘Shanghai’ action couldn’t be in better hands.


Hmmm...Interesting read...I'll look forward to seeing more from him...I think I'm a good fan of his work, even without knowing about his efforts!
- Loc, Washington | 2008-08-08 20:48:10
Bey, IMPACT is still being published. Saw it in tower records, picadilly circus. Nice interview, by the way.
- Daniel Day, England | 2008-12-17 08:12:06


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