THE VIRAL FACTOR
The Viral Factor by current action director Dante Lam ended this year’s edition of the Fantasia Film Festival as the final film the Hall theater, effectively bringing the festival to a close with a loud, explosive bang that surely could have been heard across continents; a film packed with the intense kineticism one has come to expect from the best in Hong Kong action cinema as well as a highly budgeted action thriller spanning continents and languages — the film being in Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Malay . Lam’s richly woven and relentless international action film is a sharp and impressive journey into the world of bio-terrorism and paramilitary operations starry Jay Chou in action role that would have any James Bond incarnation green with envy.
Below, Ariel Esteban Cayer asks the director a few questions about The Viral Factor.
Can you discuss the symbolism of being adrift at sea – as seen in the beginning of the film and occurring in shared dreams? The way you use these images is quite beautifully tied together in the end.
The symbolism is the blood and spiritual connection of the two brothers of Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse. Jay was saved by his elder brother Nicholas from drowning when he was still an infant. Traces of this image sometimes reappear in his mind without Jay knowing what has happened. At the end, when Jay’s physical body demises in this world, he is reconnected with his brother in spirit and he finally understands what those images mean to him.
What are the real life events, organizations or films that inspired this story of bioterrorism and paramilitary intervention and espionage?
I believe most of Jay’s previous roles in movies have been younger and less heavy-hearted. So, we wanted to create a breakthrough character and a brand-new image for him in this movie. We had come up with this story to portray Jay into a more masculine, mature and serious character than anything the audience had ever seen before!
The international, James Bond-styled scope of the film is truly impressive. Did you get to shoot on location?
Yes, at least 80% was shot on location in either Jordan or in Malaysia. In Jordan, it was relatively easier to obtain the military facilities that we needed for our shoot but it was also relatively more dangerous for the crew due to its political situation. Whereas in Malaysia, it was safer to shoot but they did not have too much experience to do big scale action scenes. So, it took more work to get what we wanted done in Malaysia. As for green studio shooting, I would say it only took no more than 5% of the whole shoot, and it was mainly for the enhancement of some of the visual effects only.
As we all know, Jay Chou is a great musician. He does not come from a martial arts background. However, we were all very impressed by how hard-working and committed he was in doing all the action scenes! We also appreciated the trust that he and his manager had in us on our ability to produce stunting action shots and yet keeping Jay safe! I believe it was a mutual happy experience for us to work together!
I like that family is a big part of what drives Jay Chou’s character Jon Man (as well as many characters). Was that important to you in crafting a relatable action hero?
Yes! I’ve always wanted to tell a story with ‘family’ as the theme. When I was trying to create a relationship between the two great cast of Nicholas Tse and Jay Chou, I knew it was a wonderful opportunity for me to build upon this theme and yet creating conflicts among their respective characters. This would make the film more intense, as the love for family is something that the universal audience can easily associate with!
What were the biggest challenges amidst orchestrating the big action set pieces of THE VIRAL FACTOR?
The whole movie was a big challenge due to shooting in those overseas locations as mentioned earlier. With the big scale action set pieces, we had to pre-plan everything more accurately. For example, we needed to have more precise storyboarding. And all the different departments needed to know their respective parts and each others’ parts before the shoot because there was no room to fix mistakes! Overall, the shooting of this movie has been much more demanding on me and on my entire crew!
The final set piece at the docks has a classic action film, maze-like quality to it. Can you discuss shooting that?
Ha! That was actually another challenge! We were trying to explore other locations to do this scene but there was no better option. So, eventually, we finalized with the option that you see now. But by then we only had one week left before the actual shoot! And the cargo ship was empty when it arrived! You won’t believe how much work we had to do, for example to arrange for all the containers to be stacked up there, before we could shoot!
In so many aspects, this is an incredibly ambitious action film where you seem to push yourself to the limits. What is next for you?
My next movie is about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), but it will be more than the action. It is going to be a drama on relationship.
Can you actually live with a bullet lodged in your brain?
Yes, as far as I know, it is possible!!