FROM DRACULA TO DUBBING! Warwick Paul Evans on His Varied Career in Hong Kong Entertainment!

Warwick Evans as Dracula in The Gate of Hell (1981). Photo © Warwick Evans.

Warwick Paul Evans (born in 1954 in the UK) moved to Hong Kong in 1976 following his university studies and quickly became involved in its thriving entertainment industry. In 1981, Mr. Evans began a seven-year stint as the main news anchor at TVB Pearl following his work for Radio Television Hong Kong. Internationally, however, Mr. Evans is best known for his film acting, which includes features as varied as the Bruce Lee vehicle Game of Death (1978) and the low-budget chiller The Gate of Hell (1981). When he wasn’t busy playing Dracula in Cantonese horror films, Mr. Evans was a prolific voice dubber of many Asian films, working with the likes of Vaughan Savidge and Rik Thomas along the way. In August 2018, Mr. Evans answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his acting career.

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your early life before you moved to Hong Kong. Where were you born? Where did you go to school?

Warwick Paul Evans: I was born in Blackbrook House in Fareham, on the south coast of England, so as soon as I was able to talk, I naturally spoke with a Hampshire accent. When I was four years old, the family moved to South London and enrolled me in the nearest council primary school where, much the horror of my siblings, I quickly began to speak in a broad cockney. This was transformed into a crisp upper-crust accent when I won a scholarship to Alleyn’s School — one of England’s oldest public schools. In England, “public schools” are private, as opposed to “state schools,” which are not.

BH: Why did you move to Hong Kong?

WPE: During my final years at school, we were joined mid-term by a Chinese student from Hong Kong who was instructed to sit next to me. He told me many things about Hong Kong and said that one day I should visit. In early 1973 (during my gap year), I booked a flight and spent eight months living and working in the city. I was so impressed that later on, after university, I decided to go back. I have lived in Hong Kong ever since.

Warwick Evans during his years as a television news anchor. Photo © Warwick Evans.

BH: How did you get involved with acting?

WPE: Acting is in the family. My sister Ingrid is an actress in England and has appeared in TV and film as well as on the stage. The school I went to, Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, was founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn, the famous actor and Shakespeare’s partner in the original Globe Theatre. I had always enjoyed acting in school plays and took leading roles in several productions. I also took up fencing and eventually captained the school team.

My fencing skills later proved useful in a couple of roles in the film industry whenever a fight scene was required, since unarmed combat requires pretty much the same agility and balance. Once I arrived in Hong Kong, I stayed at the YMCA and was recruited there for film-extra work in several movies. I also enrolled in an agency, through which I landed the part of Dracula in the Cantonese horror movie The Gate of Hell.

BH: You appear in Bruce Lee’s final film, Game of Death (1978). How did you get cast, and what can you share about this production?

WPE: Bruce Lee had died in 1973 during the making of the film. It was completed five years later. Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse was enlisted to finish the film using two stand-ins. I managed to get cast in the role of a ringside commentator through my contacts at RTHK. The radio presenter Barry Bakker was also cast in the same role. There were many extras (mainly Chinese) involved as spectators during one of the big fight scenes between two competitors (one Western and one Chinese). As the script required, the Westerner won the fight — knocking the Chinese actor to the floor. The crowd of extras went wild with fury and physically assaulted some Western extras in their midst. It was a very ugly scene. Filming was briefly suspended, and the producer had to try to calm everybody down with the use of a loud hailer.

BH: Did you have any interactions with Bruce Lee?

WPE: Unfortunately, although I was in Hong Kong at the time, Bruce Lee died before I had had a chance to meet him, or even see him. He was a big star, and his name was well-known even in the UK. News of his death shocked everybody, especially in Hong Kong.

BH: Is there anything else we should cover about Game of Death?

WPE: One extremely sad footnote to Game of Death is that the continuity girl for the film, the journalist Kim Schmidt, met the famous American actor Gig Young during filming and subsequently married him. On October 19, 1978, three weeks after their marriage, the couple was found dead at home in their Manhattan apartment. Police theorized that Young shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself. A motive for the murder-suicide was never made clear. I knew Kim Schmidt quite well, as she had interviewed me at her home for a magazine article about my role as Dracula in The Gate of Hell just a few months earlier.

Warwick Evans (center) in between Clive Francis (left) and Alec Guinness on Caesar and Cleopatra (1976).

BH: In the TV movie Caesar and Cleopatra (1976), you (as a Roman soldier) share screen time with Alec Guinness, who plays Caesar. What do you remember about Mr. Guinness?

WPE: Sir Alec Guinness was treated almost like a God by all those present at the studios of Southern Television in Southampton. He could be very serious, but also had a witty and dry sense of humor. As an example of his stricter side, he had a photographer thrown off the set for clandestinely taking his photograph when he was not ready.

On the other hand, when the script required him to sit on a stool-shaped incense burner on which incense had previously been burning, it was unfortunately still very hot. He sat down and then stood up again very quickly remarking, “That’s what they mean by ‘being in the hot seat.'”

During a very brief break late in the filming (it was about 2:00 a.m.), we were standing together, and he very kindly asked me if I was all right, adding that it had been a long day for everybody. I said I was quite tired but okay, and asked him how he was coping. He said he was fine except for the fact that his helmet didn’t fit properly, and it hurt his ears. He then took off the helmet to show me how the parts of his ears covered by the helmet had gone purple.

Suitably sinister as Dracula. Photo © Warwick Evans.

BH: Your most colorful onscreen role has to be that of Dracula in The Gate of Hell (1981). Whose idea was it to make you Dracula?

WPE: The film was actually made in 1977, but released in 1981. The producer of the movie, Ie “Anderson” Loong, found me through a modelling agency. It was my photograph with its sinister look, he said, which convinced him that I would be right for the part. You can see the movie at the following link.

BH: How did Pao-Lun Lu direct you in your scenes?

WPE: Lu Pao Lun was a very friendly gentleman who spoke no English, so Anderson Loong had to act as a translator. Lu Pao Lun would explain exactly what he wanted from me for each of my scenes and act most of them out himself so I would know precisely what to do. I had to learn my Cantonese lines parrot-fashion, shot-by-shot. He also helped out with the special effects, blowing smoke from his cigarette into my coffin during the skull transformation scene. After a night’s shooting, he and Anderson often used to take me to early-morning dim sum in Mongkok. I remember that at one particular restaurant there were many elderly gentlemen sitting with their caged birds next to them at the table.

Photo © Warwick Evans.

BH: I’m sure there must be a lot of fun stories from the set. What can you share with us?

WPE: I did 20 nights of filming over about two months from April 1977 until the end of May. It was all done at various locations in the New Territories from dusk until dawn, and there were mosquitoes everywhere. The make-up took about an hour to apply, and I had to have real hollowed-out wolf fangs stuck over my upper canine teeth, using a special Japanese glue. By chance, I celebrated my 23rd birthday on the set, and the producer bought an enormous cake for everybody to share. As I was wearing my fangs, I was unable to eat any of it properly, so I broke off tiny bits and popped them in my mouth, imbibed some Coca-Cola through a straw to dissolve the cake, and then swallowed it. One evening, the glue for my fangs ran out, so they were going to use a local glue instead. The label read, “Harmful or fatal if swallowed.” So I ended up using chewing gum. The fangs were a bit wobbly, but it worked.

There was quite a lot of chasing, climbing, and fighting involved in my role, and this was sometimes rather difficult — not least because I was wearing a tuxedo and cape. The hero of the movie was Kenny, played by Li Tao Hung. On the set, everyone called him by his English name, “Fritz.” In one scene, I had to chase Fritz up a tree and onto a roof, wrestle with him on the edge, punch him in the stomach, lift him up high, carry him, and throw him over the top before diving headfirst after him. He was rather heavy, and I only just managed to lift him onto my shoulders using a “fireman’s lift.” Bear in mind that the roof was sloping and wet, it was dark, and there were lights shining in our faces.

The diving part was the worst. I had to land on a lot of stacked up cardboard boxes covered in a green cloth to cushion my fall. I had to do two takes, and each time the producer would give me $100 lucky money in a red packet. The stunt director instructed me to keep my chin down, otherwise I might break my neck.

On one of the nights, I was required to lie down inside a real Chinese coffin. I was there for a few hours while I did my “waking from the dead” scene. Other people on the set thought I was brave to do it, but I had no reservations and took it in my stride. After we had finished using the main location for the film (an abandoned European-style mansion in Fanling), something rather strange was reported. One of the lighting crew was alone on an upper floor, packing away the equipment. He ran downstairs in a panic, saying that he had been beaten around the head by “unseen forces.” It was just before dawn, and we were all extremely tired and just wanted to go home, so nobody really took too much notice of his alleged experience.

Photo © Warwick Evans.

One night, the filming had run slightly overtime. Everybody was in a rush. The van was leaving, so there was barely enough time to change out of our costumes, and my thick green facial makeup with bright red lipstick was still visible, even after hurriedly attempting to remove it. Travelling across the harbor on the Star Ferry that morning, I got some very weird looks, especially as the hot morning sun was causing me to perspire profusely. Later, as I approached my flat in Causeway Bay, I glanced inside a coffin shop while walking past. The owner of the shop saw me and was visibly shocked, as indeed was my next door neighbor who caught sight of me coming out of the lift as she was putting out the rubbish.

The end of the movie involved more fighting, this time with Bill Lake who played the part of the priest. The fight scene ended with him sticking a stake through my heart and pushing me over a balcony. We had great fun doing that scene, I can assure you, but I think that we are both now a bit too old for a repeat performance. I must say that it was a wonderful experience to work with all the cast and crew of that movie, and when it was all over, we all had that inevitable feeling of sadness.

BH: What did you think of the movie once it was completed?

WPE: One is always very critical of one’s own work, and of course there were things I wish could have been improved. It would be interesting to make the movie again and play Dracula in a different way — a little more bizarre, a little more frightening. But that’s hindsight. On the technical side, the lighting for the night-time shots could have been improved. And the storyline itself needed more shock value. I thought the other actors were very good, and it was a pleasure and a privilege working with them. I had nothing to do with the dubbing for the English version, so my character’s voice is that of somebody else, but I think he did a good job.

BH: Let’s talk about voice-acting. When did you first begin dubbing movies?

WPE: It began for me in 1978. I was in the RTHK canteen, and Vaughan Savidge asked if I would like to have a go. In the first movie, I just had a small part and had short bursts of dialogue. Later on, I was given more to do as my skills improved.

BH: What are some of the titles you dubbed? What parts did you play?

WPE: I normally played several parts in each movie, each with a totally different voice. My characters were the old kung fu master, the young thug, the crazy innkeeper, or the deep-voiced villain. I dubbed dozens of movies. I cannot remember the titles, but they included such gems as Killer Butterfly.

BH: Which dubbing companies did you work for?

WPE: I mainly worked as a partner with Vaughan Savidge, and also sometimes dubbed for Matthew Oram and Rik Thomas.

BH: Did you ever work with Ted Thomas? If so, what can you tell us about him?

WPE: I never dubbed with Ted Thomas (or at least if I did, I cannot recall it). But he had a reputation as a serious person to work with. The one person I would like to mention, and who I did work with quite often, is Matthew Oram. He and his dubbing associate Barry Haigh used to do a fair number of Godzilla movies (Ted didn’t do them all). Matthew had a very dry sense of humor but was also a hard taskmaster. He was much respected (feared by some) for the businesslike way he conducted dubbing sessions.

There always seemed to be an undercurrent of potential violence in what he said and the way he said it. He was famous for lines like “We’re not here to enjoy ourselves; we’re here to work!” and the immortal “We have to finish this film tonight, so if any of you are thinking of leaving early, just remember that I can reach that door a lot quicker than you can!” On one occasion, I was at the microphone, dubbing my character, while Matthew and Barry were sitting at the back of the room monitoring the quality. After I had struggled with my character’s dialogue several times without success, I exclaimed loudly, “My God, who wrote this shit?”

There were five seconds of silence, followed by the voice of Matthew shouting with his powerful baritone voice, “You hold him, Barry, while I hit him!” Thank God he was joking. The person I dubbed most frequently with was Vaughan Savidge, a person of unmatched wit. I was a partner in his dubbing team, and it was also my job to write the scripts. Our dubbing sessions were always full of humor, mixed in with a lot of conversation about every subject under the sun. It was a bit like group therapy, really.

BH: Rik Thomas is another name who’s well known among Hong Kong dubbing aficionados. How about him?

WPE: I dubbed several times for Rik Thomas, and he also dubbed for Vaughan Savidge and myself. Rik always insisted on his dubbers having American accents. (I was never sure quite why.) It was always fun to work with Rik, and the standard of his dubbing was high.

On the set of The Gate of Hell. Photo © Warwick Evans.

BH: Who were some of the other voice actors you worked with over the years? Any good stories?

WPE: There were many. Those who immediately spring to mind are: John Culkin, Suzanne Vale, Ashton Farley, Barry Bakker, Sheilagh Cullen, Kingsley Bolton, Mark Reeve, Martin Evan-Jones, Warren Rooke, Caroline Levine, George Montgomery, Harvey Moore, John San Miguel, Jim Harvey, and Andy Chworowsky. We sometimes dubbed in a studio called Kin Sing, at the top of Diamond Hill village. On one occasion, Vaughan Savidge was in charge, and we were sitting at the back watching Martin Evan-Jones recording his part while sitting alone at the dubbing desk.

As he began recording, an enormous rat the size of a small kitten approached him from behind and began chewing his flip-flop. We did not want to disturb his work, and so didn’t say anything until he had finished. On another occasion at Kin Sing, one of our female dubbers (I will not mention her name) discovered the studio’s bulk eraser, which was positioned behind a curtain. When the machine is erasing the soundtrack from a spool of film, it makes a loud vibrating noise. She thought the noise would make us laugh, so she turned it on and placed a spool of film on top — thereby erasing approximately 10 percent of a Chinese movie which had just been completed.

As a punishment, she had to go and explain what she had done to Mr. Kung, the very elderly man who operated the sound panel and who was in charge of the audio side of things. He was very good about it, and somehow was able to fix it. Perhaps he had a backup copy.

BH: What were some of the strangest things you remember dubbing?

WPE: I think the weirdest thing we ever dubbed was a movie called Chop Chop. We had secured the rights to a serious kung fu movie and had rewritten the script in English to fit the lip movements, but had changed the entire thing into a bizarre comedy. Those interested can watch it at the following link.

BH: Did you dub any Japanese productions?

WPE: I did a couple of Japanese movies (both about Godzilla) when I dubbed for Matthew Oram. It was great fun, especially working with Matthew who took the whole thing very seriously, being the consummate professional that he was. There was always a tense atmosphere in the studio with Matthew, and it worked beautifully.

BH: What sort of projects are you involved with now?

WPE: Now I am enjoying a well-earned retirement. I have dubbed my last movie, voiced my last commercial, written my last documentary, and presented by last news bulletin. If somebody offered me a part in a feature film, I would probably say yes — not for the money but for the fun of it. But now I am avidly following the career of my daughter Amor, who is a singer/songwriter/model/actress living and working in London. Other than that, my wife and I spend a few months every year at our house in the Philippines, but always return to Hong Kong which has been our base for so many years and which is now our true home.

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