When the director of Die Hard 2 tells you his next film is a Hong Kong action thriller that is like “Die Hard 2 in a mortuary”, it’s, well, hard not to get excited about Renny Harlin’s Bodies At Rest.
Starring Nick Cheung, Zi Yang, Richie Jen, Clara Lee and Jiayi Feng, Bodies At Rest is set in a morgue, where a forensic scientist and his assistant find themselves accosted by masked gunmen who demand access to a body that holds a crucial piece of evidence important in an upcoming trial.
In a recent phone interview from Hong Kong, Harlin said the movie is an action thriller “in the same genre as Die Hard 2”. “It’s the kind of movie where I want the audience to be on the edge of their seats from the beginning to the end and never have a chance to really take a breather. It’s very intense,” he said.
Harlin started his career in Finland in the 1980s before moving to Hollywood, where he got his big break with 1988’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which was the highest-grossing film of the franchise until 2003’s Freddy Vs Jason.
The 60-year-old director’s career since then has been a series of ups and downs, ranging from hits such as Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea and The Long Kiss Goodnight, to infamous duds like Cutthroat Island and Driven.
In 2014, Harlin went to China to direct Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville action-comedy Skiptrace, and after falling in love with the country, he decided to move there and start his own production company, Extraordinary Entertainment. Bodies At Rest is his third movie in China.
How was it like filming Bodies At Rest?
While this movie has a lot of action, I didn’t want it to be a totally action movie. I wanted to keep it realistic.
Some of the characters, like the doctor, are real life people who can get physical, but when they get into a fight they’re not going to start doing martial arts. I worked with really great action choreographers here who understand what the story is and know how to make it so that it’s fresh and new and exciting.
We built the morgue set ourselves, so that it becomes really a character in the movie. It’s got a lot of different spaces, some pretty kind of spooky rooms with dead bodies. I tried to use the environment in every possible way so that the audience always feels like they are getting something new.
How was it like working with Nick Cheung and Richie Jen?
They are both real professionals. It’s really nice to work with people who don’t act like they’re big stars; they show up in the morning on time. They know the scenes, they know their dialogue, they are prepared, and are very open to ideas and being collaborative.
I’ve actually become very good friends with all the actors that I work with and really enjoy that we have this sort of a lasting relationship.
You’ve worked in Finland, Hollywood, China and now Hong Kong. What is the difference in filmmaking between the countries?
In Finland, I was working with a crew of 20 people. Then I went to Hollywood, where it was a crew of hundreds, and everybody had a very specific job. I didn’t even know all the job titles, like what gaffer was or key grip or a best boy! That was, for me, the biggest culture shock.
I spent a couple of decades in Hollywood where I learned to work in that system very well. It’s a very organised, very well-planned way of making movies.
The methods in China are quite different from Hollywood. A lot of things are improvised on the set, and you can come up with ideas and constantly change plans. Sometimes people don’t even have a script when they are shooting!
In Finland we are used to the fact that everybody works together and helps each other. That’s the same mentality in China. That was one of the reasons I felt very much at home here, because it was a team effort and I knew that everybody will work together and fix things if there was a challenge.
You’ve had some high highs and some very low lows. Looking back, would you say going to China was a natural progression in your career?
The fact that I was able to make it in Hollywood was a miracle in itself! I’ve had hit films and I’ve had some films that didn’t work so well in Hollywood, you kind of have to keep reinventing yourself and look for new ways to keep doing what you love.
When I came to China to do Skiptrace with Jackie Chan, I thought that it was just going to be one movie and I’ll go back. But I fell in love with the country, and I saw how different it was to Hollywood. The collaboration was so good, and I enjoyed it so much, it felt natural. I felt like this could be the next stage in my life, to start a whole new career in China.
I’ve been here for five years now and I’ve made three movies, I have my company going, and we’re now developing several projects. It just feels like, in some crazy lucky way, I was the right guy at the right place at the right time.
Bodies At Rest is now showing at GSC cinemas nationwide.