American Peter Boczar moved to Hong Kong in the 1970s with little more than dreams of kung fu stardom in his pocket. His journey through the entertainment industry in Hong Kong is a fascinating tale, featuring many household names that have dazzled movie audiences around the world for decades. In this July 2020 interview with Brett Homenick, Mr. Boczar recalls dubbing many classic kung fu actioners into English, as well as appearing in the “final” film of Bruce Lee, Game of Death (1978), among many other topics.
Brett Homenick: Please tell us about your background and early life.
Peter Boczar: I grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s/’70s in a small town about 20 miles from New York City, Maplewood. Great schools and parks. Modest homes but everyone had a front and backyard. All the neighbors knew each other and had lots of kids to play with.
I played a variety of sports, but focused on lacrosse and wrestling vs. more mainstream sports, like baseball and basketball.
I could throw a ball with a lacrosse stick more accurately than with my arm. And I guess that wrestling was the start of my martial arts career. I now find it interesting how mixed martial arts has incorporated a wrestler’s ground game into their sport.
After the James Bond and Our Man Flint movies premiered, I was keen to start karate or judo lessons. There was actually a small school nearby that I could ride my bike to. However, my parents were against it. They claimed I’d ruin my hands for piano, which was required training in my family, starting at age five, and mandatory until high school.
Meanwhile, my family subscribed to National Geographic magazine, which planted seeds in me at a very young age of worldwide travel and adventure in exotic places. This played out over my lifetime, which covered 100+ countries.
BH: When and why did you move to Hong Kong?
PB: I first moved to Hong Kong in 1976 a couple of weeks after I graduated from Columbia University in New York City.
I started taking martial arts lessons there, freshman year. At the time, a lot of martial arts groups made presentations on campus to attract students. Notably, various karate styles, taekwondo, ju-jitsu.
One school’s poster noted they taught “kung fu,” and I had no idea what that was. This was pre-Bruce Lee movies. One of my roommates was Chinese-American, and I asked him about it.
He claimed that it was the most comprehensive, deadliest fighting art with many secret techniques, but it could take many years just to learn the basics. He said it was also noted for secret pressure point techniques which would allow you to disable an attacker just by touching them.
I was sold.
Shortly thereafter, I started with a school in New York’s Chinatown in the Hung Gar/Tiger Claw styles.
Hung Gar is a classic style that incorporates techniques based on the movements, rhythm, and character of five animals: Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake, and Dragon. After learning the basic Hung Gar forms known as Tiger Crane and Taming the Tiger, you then learned four additional forms that emphasized Tiger Claw hand techniques.
At the time, we were also taught in Cantonese, but really only needed to know simple commands like “attention/ready,” the numbers for counting repetitions, the stances, and punches.
In the process, I met a Chinese-American girl taking the classes, and we went out for several years. She was born in Hong Kong, though raised in New York City since age three. Her family typically spoke of Hong Kong while introducing me to real Chinese food vs. the foreign takeout variety and the proper way to hold chopsticks. This nurtured and focused my interest in Hong Kong.
Additionally, my kung fu training prompted an interest in Chinese martial arts movies.
There was a small Chinese movie theater around the corner from my kung fu school, and I often went with training partners after class to watch Hong Kong-produced movies. The movies were all in Mandarin, the Chinese lingua franca, but subtitled in English. They were all costume dramas set in early Chinese history.
My kung fu school did not teach you the applications of the exotic kung fu moves until you reached a certain level of training, so we went to the theater to learn them from the films.
The first kung fu movie that made it into mainstream theaters in New York City was Five Fingers of Death (1972). Quite frankly, I was shocked at the blood-and-guts violence, particularly when one of the fighters thrust his fingers through his opponent’s belly and pulled out his intestines.
I never heard about Bruce Lee until my roommate suggested we go see a film called The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury, 1971). This was the first “modern” kung fu film I had seen in the sense that the actors weren’t dressed up in historical costumes, and the hero, Bruce Lee, did not use exotic animal techniques, but punched and kicked like a street fighter.
Then came Fist of Fury (a.k.a. The Chinese Connection, 1972) and, most importantly, the Hollywood production Enter the Dragon (1973), which was a major inspiration for me.
I saw my destiny: Go to Hong Kong after university, train with Bruce Lee, and become a kung fu movie star. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee had passed away several years before I went, so I never got to meet him. But I did find a kung fu master there to continue my training.
BH: How did you adjust to life there?
PB: I took a cheap charter flight from New York City, which took forever in crowded, narrow seats with numerous stops in between. I want to say the overall flight was 35 hours. En route, I befriended an older Chinese lady sitting next to me, who was amused by my Cantonese, which was limited to kung fu terms and animals.
Her husband and son met her at the airport and she offered me a ride to my hotel, the YMCA on Waterloo Road, in the Yau Ma Tei district of the Kowloon Peninsula. It is about a two-kilometer bus ride through traffic on Nathan Road to the ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui to Hong Kong Island. About US$12 a night got me a private room with shower, air con, and color TV.
To help me get started in Hong Kong, I got a job teaching English for US$1.50 an hour. It helped me meet people and learn the lay of the land. Meanwhile, I was answering classified ads in the English-language newspapers, hoping to get a summer job. And, importantly, I contacted modeling agencies, hoping to get into a movie. I did some ads for clothing catalogues and a TV commercial for Ballantine’s whisky. However, I couldn’t figure out how to connect with the movie studios.
I tried calling up the two Hong Kong movie studios, Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, but never found my way to the right person.
BH: How did you become a voice actor?
PB: A lucky coincidence. As a practical matter, I was focused on trying to get a summer job, and someone advised I show up at The Jockey pub in Central District around 4 p.m. He claimed that managers from the office building above tended to sneak down to the pub about that time for a pint of beer and drank themselves through the rest of the workday. Maybe someone could direct me to a job.
I took the lead and one afternoon found myself across the bar from an older English gentleman who struck up conversation and asked me why I came to Hong Kong.
“I came to be a kung fu movie star,” I laughed.
“Really?” he replied unfazed, then pulled out a pen and wrote a name and phone number on a bar coaster. “Call this chap,” he instructed. “He gave me a part in a film, and it was jolly good fun.”
The name was Ted Thomas. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Ted had been the English voice of Bruce Lee and also interviewed him for radio and TV.
I called the next day. Ted asked me if I had any experience dubbing films, and [I] didn’t even know what that was. Instead, I gave my martial arts acting pitch, which he probably didn’t get, but noted they were working on a film that night and suggested I come out to the Shaw Brothers studios in Clear Water Bay in Hong Kong’s Sai Kung District in the eastern New Territories.
I found the right bus and the right bus stop near the studio but had no idea what I was getting into.
I told the guard at the gate I was there to meet Ted Thomas, and he directed me to walk up a road to a small low-rise building called Shaw House. No one was there but a blond Canadian woman digging into a spread of Chinese food laid out in the front room. I noted I was there to see Ted, and she noted a shut padded door with a red light above. She was one of the female voices.
“Wait for the light to go out. They are recording.”
After a short while, a bell sounded, the light went off, and I went in.
There were several men seated around a table, hovering over an old microphone. The kind you’d see in 1950s movies. All heads turned as I opened the door, and I announced I was there to see Ted Thomas.
“That’s me,” Ted said cheerfully. “Yes, yes,” he continued extending a hand. “Come in. You need to talk with Ron.”
Ron Oliphant. He was an older English guy with glasses and wore a safari suit like several of the guys around the table. He had a clipboard and was scribbling notes on the attached pages. He worked in radio like most of the other guys and moonlighted dubbing films.
He was Ted’s writer-director who reviewed the films, then wrote the scripts based on a story synopsis and the subtitles. He was constantly making adjustments to the script to fit the words into the moving mouths or “flaps” of the actors.
“Oh, yes, Peter,” he said. “Ted told me you might drop by. Best if you sit in the back for a while and see what it’s all about it.”
There were a few rows of theater-style seats in the back of the small post-production studio, and I settled into one.
Ron closed the padded door, looked down on his clipboard, and shouted out some numbers in Cantonese to the crew in the sound booth behind us. The numbers referred to a short loop of film, maybe thirty seconds long, that the team would dub next.
A very grainy black-and-white print then came up on a small screen up front about twenty feet from the table. I could barely make out the actors, let alone their moving mouths.
The guys at the table were huddled around a single microphone and a single script. They rehearsed one take. Ron made some adjustments to the script, then the bell and red light went on, and they recorded. If one guy stumbled, they had to do it all over again.
I watched for several hours until Ron called a break and let everyone out.
“Sorry to keep you so long,” Ron apologized. “But I wanted to make sure you got the hang of it. It’s a bit tricky. You need to keep one eye on the script and one on the screen and try to make the word fit into the mouth. Three dots on the script means there’s a pause in your line. You also have an earpiece to hear the Chinese audio, but it’s only to help cue you.
“Don’t try to act the part like an actor. The most important thing is to get the lip sync right. That’s how they judge the quality of the film. Also, most of these films will be re-dubbed into other languages around the world anyway by local actors who just use the English for reference.
“Just give it a try.”
I settled into the table, and Ron gave me a script that had both short and long lines for my character. A number of lines were broken up by dots. There were only two characters in this loop, and he played the other.
He ran the loop a couple of times as I silently mouthed the words as rehearsal. It didn’t seem that hard until [it was] time for the real thing. The pressure to perform live caused me to stumble and slur. Worse, when I heard my recorded voice, it sounded terrible. Weak and reedy rather than strong and deep.
After a few taped tries, Ron asked me to wait outside as the others came back in. I knew I blew it.
Finally, Ron came out, and I expected the ax.
“Hi, Peter,” he said quietly and slowly. “I talked with Ted, and we think you can give it a go. Can you come back this Saturday afternoon?”
And so it began.
BH: What are some of the films you dubbed in Hong Kong?
PB: We did about one film every one to two weeks from 1976 to 1978. So you are likely to find my voice in any Hong Kong film during that period.
We did a number of the early Jackie Chan films, and the one that comes to mind is Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978) because I had a pretty significant part, playing a character that appeared through most of the movie.
Another I remember is Ten Tigers of Kwangtung (1979).
But I typically never knew what the English title would be unless my character was featured in the promotional trailer. The Shaw Brothers library was later bought by Celestial Pictures, which released the films on DVD. I looked through the entire library for films I recognized, but found that a number I worked on had been re-dubbed. The quality wasn’t any better, so I’m not sure why. Maybe something to do with lawyers and rights issues.
I also remember working on Five Deadly Venoms (1978) which is considered a classic that you can now watch online. However, it was re-dubbed. I recognized my character, but not my voice.
BH: Could you describe the Hong Kong dubbing scene in the late 1970s? Who were the major players and their companies?
PB: There were essentially three small teams. I’m not sure you could really call them companies. One was run by Ted Thomas, another by Barry Haigh and another by Matt Oram. Ted and Barry worked in radio and television and did this on a freelance basis after work in the evenings and on weekends.
Matt published a horse-racing magazine called Racing World.
Virtually all of the voice actors were also radio and television guys or journalists. The writer-directors also did voices. We were a mix of nationalities: British, Canadian, Australian, South African, and American. Everyone had to dub their characters with an “American accent” because it reportedly raised the value of the film.
Ted had a core team of: Ron Oliphant, his writer-director, Warren Rooke, Chris Hilton, Saul Lockhart, Ian Wilson, Lynne Wilson, Caroline Levy (or maybe Levine). And me. Occasionally, Ron’s wife and son threw in a voice.
Barry Haigh’s group consisted of Matt Oram, his writer-director, Saul Lockhart, Rik Thomas, Linda Masson [the spelling of her last name may be in correct], and Harvey Gamecock. “Harve,” as Barry called him, was the pen name for the horse-racing columnist for the English language daily the South China Morning Post. His real name was Tony something, but can’t remember the last. Maybe Moore.
Matt used the same voice actors as Barry.
I recall that the teams neatly divvied up the dubbing pie here. Ted did all the Shaw Brothers films, Barry did Golden Harvest, and Matt got various independents, including Taiwan films.
BH: Among the other voice actors, whom did you know the best?
PB: Saul Lockhart. Saul was an American Vietnam vet who worked for the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes during the war. He then settled in Hong Kong as a freelance writer and contributed to a magazine I later worked for. He had long hair, a bushy beard, and a small beat-up motorcycle you could hear choking along a mile away.
I later got to know Rik Thomas because he often gave me a ride in his two-seater sports car to the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui where I’d cross to Hong Kong Island. He was working with Barry and Matt at the time, and I later introduced him to Ted.
Rik had a very strong voice and a sharp eye for getting the lip sync right. So he typically played one of the leading heroes.
At one point, we conspired over a beer to start our own dubbing team — me as writer, and Rik in charge of production. He had a friend in film production who outlined all the costs and production requirements. However, I already had plans to go back to the U.S. and only later learned on a return visit that he had gone ahead with it.
I didn’t really get to know Ted until I later returned to Hong Kong and looked him up. He was a regular at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club where I was a member. Then we made a point of having an annual Christmas season lunch at the Peninsula Hotel to reminisce about the old days.
BH: How was dubbing usually done?
PB: In the good old days, someone wrote a script based on a synopsis and the subtitles, which often didn’t make sense, so the writer had a lot of leeway as long as he got the overall plot correct.
The key objective of the writer was to come up with English phrases that fit into the mouth movements of the Chinese actors.
The film was then cut into loops maybe thirty seconds long and numbered by the writer-director. The loops were then scheduled in the studio to group actors together so they could finish their parts quickly and get released from the set, just like shooting a real feature film.
As a result, we dubbed the loops out of order and typically never got any sense of what the story was all about.
The writer-director would screen the loop once so all us actors could identify their character and practice the lip-sync timing. It also gave him a chance to fine-tune the scripts to make a line fit the moving mouth and minimize flaps, that is, a moving mouth with no words coming out of it. There was typically only one rehearsal before recording.
A loop that only had a fight scene with grunts and groans was typically not dubbed, unless mixed with dialogue. If the fight was a big rumble, the actors with dialogue sat at the table to deliver their lines while the rest of us stood in the back of the studio grunting and groaning.
If one character had a long soliloquy, they’d cut the film to make it a single loop to lessen the chances of holding everyone up if he couldn’t get it right.
BH: What was the most difficult aspect of dubbing a movie?
PB: The lip sync. Fitting the words into the mouths. Tracking your character’s [lip movements] and timing the line to fit as best as possible. This was considered the essential skill to dub films successfully and determine the quality and market value of the movie. Very ironic when I went back to the U.S. and the standing joke about Hong Kong films was that the character’s lips and words typically didn’t match.
Aspiring actors with drama school backgrounds who couldn’t get the lip sync right were quickly shown the door.
Also, you only watched a very grainy, black-and-white workprint on a small screen too far away, so it was a strain to see your character’s mouth unless it was a close-up shot.
It was very tricky. You had to keep one eye on the script and one of the screen while an audio track played in your earpiece. The track was meant to help you cue your character, but it was more of a distraction.
Typically, only one character spoke at a time, but the interchange was often very quick and the pauses in your lines hard to spot on the screen, especially if the characters were fighting. You really needed to concentrate.
Plus, it could take six hours to finish a film, depending on how often someone screwed up their lines.
Then they recorded it, and hopefully no one messed up. If someone messed up more than twice, he was assaulted with sarcastic comments from the others.
Some years later, on a return visit to Hong Kong, I looked up Rik Thomas who had his own production company at the time. By then, the computer had entered the scene.
Each character had his own track, and the dubbers came in one by one by appointment, sat in front of a computer screen, did their bit, and left. A film that previously required everyone to hang out in the studio for maybe six hours to finish could now be done very efficiently.
Another challenge was changing your natural voice so you could dub other characters. That meant you got paid more.
Ted was very gifted at this. He could do several different, distinctive voices, and you’d never know they were coming out of the same person.
Aside from my natural voice, I could only manage an old man’s voice by croaking my vocal cords and a little kid’s voice by squeaking them. However, kids, boy or girl, were typically done by the women dubbers.
Indirectly, a difficult part was the sacrifice of giving up a nice, sunny weekend at the beach for a freezing cold dubbing studio, “shouting in the dark,” as some of us called it.
BH: What were the dubbing studio conditions like at the time?
PB: They were essentially unkept, dusty warehouses. Big studio lights and other gear were typically stored there, including props, such as swords or sticks, furniture, and even sound-effects noisemakers. I once stumbled across some kind of wooden clapper device used to make punching and kicking sounds.
Also, they were freezing cold. The temperature was kept very low to keep the humidity down, which reportedly affected the microphone. We sat in front of a table on folding chairs hovering over a single mic and script.
On the positive side, the director usually ordered a great spread of Chinese food for the dinner break, which we took outside the room, relaxed for a while, and got to know each other.
BH: What are some of your favorite dubbing memories?
PB: My first actual job was only making ambient crowd noises. They were typically in teahouse scenes. The voice actors without dialogue would stand in the back of the studio, humming and mumbling in different pitches and volumes, while throwing out a quick line like, “Waiter, more tea.”
However, I had once heard on a late-night live interview U.S. TV show that crowd noises were simulated by asking everyone to repeat the word “rhubarb” over and over again.
I tried it on my first job to impress everyone with my “professional training.” So, while everyone was muttering amongst themselves, I was repeating “rhubarb,” but at various pitches and volume.
When they played back the loop, the crowd mumbles sounded great except for [the] one idiot shouting “rhubarb” over and over. All heads turned, and Ron came over and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I didn’t.
Overall, there was a lot of camaraderie and mutual support amongst the dubbers. Everyone wanted everyone else to get it right on the first take, so we could all leave as soon as possible.
BH: Movies dubbed in Hong Kong are usually well known for their recurring phrases like “but still” or “so then.” Did you find yourself using those same phrases?
PB: Definitely. Short phrases were often thrown in at the end of a line if you noted that your character’s lips were still flapping. “However,” “Right,” [and] “After all,” were other popular flap fills. “Hah!” and “Take that,” were typical flap fills during a fight scene.
BH: Do you remember dubbing any Japanese movies, especially any sci-fi or horror titles?
PB: I remember one Japanese film I did for Barry Haigh about Japan Self-Defense Force fighter pilots. It wasn’t a war film. It was more like Top Gun. I played a fighter pilot who competed with another pilot during training drills and patrols. But, as I recall, we weren’t really competing to be the top fighter ace but for the affections of the same woman. There was a very emotional ending when my plane’s engines failed, I couldn’t eject and was doomed to die. I was exchanging tear-jerking dialogue with the other pilot over the radio, dubbed by Barry, and felt I was actually acting.
The horror films I did were not really horror films but Hong Kong ghost films. I typically played one of the ghosts because their faces were usually veiled or masked, so you couldn’t see the lips move. A perfect part for a beginning dubber who didn’t always get the lip sync as tight as it could have been.
BH: How were Ted Thomas and Rik Thomas different as dubbing directors?
PB: By the way, they were not related.
Ted was generally pretty relaxed about the whole thing, often making jokes about the characters or their actions. He was fun to work with. And if you screwed up, he made a joke about it to put you at ease. He was also a well-known media celebrity at the time, so I held him in awe.
I never worked for Rik when he went out on his own because I had already left town. Rik was one of the voice actors I sat at the table with. He had a very solid voice, so using got strong characters.
BH: When and why did you stop dubbing?
PB: I basically stopped dubbing because I took on a new full-time job that required a 24/7 commitment.
BH: Do you have any Shaw Brothers memories?
PB: My first long, nervous walk up to Shaw House, breathing deeply, calming myself down. The building is still there. That part of Hong Kong was still pretty much countryside at the time, so a beautiful bus ride sitting on the top of a British-style double-decker bus. Also, the Shaw Brothers company logo was the letters “SB” framed inside a shield like the Warner Bros. logo.
But, most importantly, just working at the studio made me feel like I was truly part of Hong Kong’s kung fu movie heritage. That continues to be a very special, personal memory for me.
BH: Please talk about getting cast and working on Game of Death (1978).
PB: Purely coincidence. I had some photos taken of me in various kung fu poses, which I sent to a modeling agency run by Mandy Cooke, a top British model here at the time. I happened to run into her walking her dog one day along MacDonnell Road and asked her if she got my photos.
Then she asked me if I was free to go to Diamond Hill that night for a film shoot. Diamond Hill was where the Golden Harvest studios were and famous for the Bruce Lee productions.
She didn’t tell me anything about the film or my part. Only that I should wear a suit [and] bring some snacks and drinks because I might be there all night. When I get there, ask for a Madalena Chan, who will tell me what to do.
I followed [her] instructions, found Madalena, and she sat me down at a desk in front of a boxing ring, noting that I was one of four ringside radio announcers. The others were actual radio announcers in real life.
The scene was where American karate fighter Bob Wall was fighting Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung in a boxing ring. Bob had previously played the bad guy with a scar across his cheek in Enter the Dragon. I was thrilled to be there.
When the action started, I picked up my mic to try acting a bit, but one of the real-life radio announcers corrected me saying a professional would never do that because it would make noise.
Meanwhile, the director was constantly telling us to “liven it up a bit,” so I created some interaction between myself and the referee with waves and hand signals, suggesting we were exchanging scoring details of the fight. Even though you can’t see my face from the distant shots, the hand signals tell you it’s me.
My five seconds of fame were a couple of slow pans across the announcers’ table catching us covering the fight.
BH: I understand you met Bruce Lee’s brother [Robert] many years later. What was that experience like?
PB: He attended the unveiling of the Bruce Lee statue on the Avenue of Stars promenade along the Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, harborfront. I heard about the event weeks earlier and introduced myself to the Bruce Lee Club here, who gave me a pass to get into the inner circle. Robert was sitting in one of the chairs, and after the ceremony, I simply introduced myself, noting my appearance in Game of Death and asked to take a picture with him. He graciously accepted. It was obviously an emotional moment for him, and I didn’t want to push him into much more conversation.
BH: You also once met Jackie Chan by happenstance. What could you tell us about that?
PB: One year, I was invited to attend the opening ceremony for the Hong Kong [International] Film Festival. However, it was in the middle of the week, early evening, and required black tie. I found that hard to believe.
People in Hong Kong work very long hours and are not likely to change into black tie in the middle of the week. So, I called the event organizer, who not only confirmed but insisted I wear black tie and come on time.
The event was at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Kowloon side near the Star Ferry terminal. I was five minutes early and the only one there. There were tables of refreshment around the venue, but only soft drinks, so I couldn’t even comfort myself with a beer.
After a while, a few people showed up, but none in black tie. I was beginning to feel like the concierge. Finally, a Chinese gentleman showed up wearing a black suit. That was good enough. I was grateful and went up to him to say so.
We just made polite conversation about living in Hong Kong but never got around to asking each other what we did or why we were here. Then the place started filling up and local celebrities started showing up, walking in on a red carpet that had been rolled out in front of us. Ultimately, Jackie Chan showed up. He walked the length of the carpet then went on stage to make a presentation, which included a trailer from a film he was promoting.
Then he joined the crowd. I thought about going up to him but chickened out. I made lots of excuses for myself. Also, some years earlier, I was fortunate enough to attend an Oscars event party in Los Angeles, and they made the protocol very clear. Do not approach any actor, unless they know you personally and really want to speak with you. I assumed that if I did, some guy with arms bigger than my legs would drag me out, no questions asked. So I refrained from going over to Jackie, though many others did.
After a bit, Jackie walked directly over to me and the gentleman I was speaking with and started speaking with him in Cantonese. When there was a pause in their conversation, I gently butted in with some frantic Cantonese, addressing him by his movie nickname “Ascending Dragon,” and noting I was honored to meet him.
He looked around not knowing where that voice was coming from, certainly not the skinny white guy standing next to him. Then he resumed his conversation with the guy next to me. At the next pause, I tried harder clasping my hands together in a traditional martial arts bow, also noting that many years ago I had dubbed some of his early films.
Thankfully, he understood my Cantonese and asked, “Really? Which one?”
“Really!” I replied in Cantonese, followed by Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin.
He laughed, extended his hand, and we shook while he noted that the guy I was speaking with was one of his executive producers.
BH: What memories of the late actor Jon T. Benn, who co-starred with Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon (1972), could you share?
PB: Jon was a great guy. A friend introduced us at a cocktail party. He had co-stared with Bruce Lee, playing the evil foreign gangster with pointy beard and big cigar. But that was years earlier, and I didn’t recognize him.
When I met him, he ran the Bruce Lee Cafe in Hong Kong, which included mementos and props from some of the Bruce Lee films.
He noted he originally owned some gift shops in the U.S. Most of the stuff was made in Hong Kong and one year decided to come out for a look. He stayed for a while and got cast for the film.
He later moved to Shanghai where he was a restaurant consultant, and we’d make a point of meeting for lunch or dinner when I visited to relive the good old days. He was a well-known celebrity within the Shanghai social scene but very gracious and approachable, always willing to help someone get a start.
Out of the blue one day, I got an email from him indicating that he had a stroke and was going back to the U.S. to be near his family in Kentucky. He gave me a number and suggested I call in a couple of weeks.
I called, we had a brief chat, then some weeks later a mutual friend noted he had passed away.
BH: You noted you once met Nancy Kwan, star of The World of Suzie Wong (1960) with William Holden. How did that happen?
PB: I attended a presentation she gave at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong regarding a personal documentary she was promoting at the annual film trade show here.
I was waiting near the door when she walked in with Ted Thomas.
Ted immediately spotted me.
“Nancy, you need to meet Peter Boczar,” he said, introducing us. “He’s one of Hong Kong’s kung fu legends,” he added, talking me up just a bit.
He then assembled us for a photo.
She’s another testament to the magic of Hong Kong. I asked her how she got the part and said it was just a lucky coincidence. She had been studying dance in the UK and back home, visiting her family. Her family lived near one of the movie studios, and she typically snuck around, looking out for stars. One of the directors spotted her and asked to audition for the film as Suzie. Every time I watch the film, I am astounded at what a natural actor she was and how amazingly she played the role.
BH: Could you talk about almost dubbing a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie?
PB: Well, almost dubbing is very accurate. He had shot a movie in the region and was looking to add the voices in post-production. I got a call out the blue from a woman looking for voice actors to dub a “JC” film. Of course, I assumed she was talking about Jackie Chan. She said she’d set a date based on JC’s schedule because he wanted to be present at the audition.
The audition took place in the meeting room of an apartment building Jean-Claude was living in Kowloon side. There were several others there for the audition, but I got the impression none of them had ever dubbed a movie before.
When he showed up, I almost didn’t recognize him. He was dressed in baggy sweatpants and shirt, sport shoes, a baseball cap, and thick glasses. He was very relaxed and casual about it, which put us at ease.
My turn came, and I went into the nearby room where he sat with his producer and the casting person who had called me.
They asked me to talk a bit about myself, then gave me a page of lines to read. The producer noted the character is American, so I need to be American. I affirmed that I was.
After a few lines, the producer said that I needed to speak American English and asked me if I was really American because I sound like a Brit faking an American accent.
JC jumped to my defense, saying that I actually sounded like the actor, but noted to me that the actor is actually from New Jersey in the U.S.
Ironically, I was born and raised in New Jersey. And we do speak with a unique accent if we want to.
I responded, “Joisey? Hey man, I’m from Joisey. No shit. How much Joisey do you want me to speak, man?”
They looked at each [other], the producer said thank you, and let me leave. I left my actor’s head sheet which included a bunch of shots of me in classic kung fu poses, but never got a callback.
BH: I understand your auditioned for a Kung Fu remake. Please tell us about that experience.
PB: I was thrilled to get the casting call. The David Carradine TV series came out during the early days of my training. I was still in university and made a point of grabbing the TV lounge on my dormitory floor every week to see it. Also, it emphasized the spiritual side of the art in direct contrast to the Chinatown movies, which were mostly about violent fighting skills, revenge, and secret techniques.
This was very meaningful for me because my kung fu school was very traditional. It required you to master the movements of the art in a dance-like form before learning their practical fighting application. Many were very complicated, and the instructors never corrected you verbally. You learned by imitating them. The most you heard them say was, “Wrong. Wrong. Watch again.”
It really trained your observation skills and made you develop total intuitive awareness of how your body moved in space and time. Sometimes you’d punch, and they’d make you repeat it over and over again. Not because the punch was incorrect, but because your feet were not aligned properly. Or your breathing was not coordinated.
It was like yoga in motion.
Needless to say, this took a long time, lots of patience and faith in the training. It took me eighteen months to complete the Hung Gar Tiger Crane form to their satisfaction.
For the Kung Fu movie remake, I guessed I was auditioning for a fight scene or perhaps as a Western student of a Shaolin master. Maybe a student of David Carradine’s character. Or maybe his nemesis. Because they didn’t have me read any lines. They were looking for Westerners trained in traditional Chinese kung fu.
So I did a short form that emphasized Tiger Claw movements. Notably, the circular double-claw movement that simultaneously parries and strikes. It is a classic movement and also looks pretty exotic.
They seemed to like my performance, but I never heard back. After a while, I followed up with the casting person, who indicated that the production was not going ahead but didn’t know why.
BH: Did you ever meet Jet Li?
PB: Yes and no. I attended a television interview he did. I happened to be at the entrance to the venue, and as he was walking in, I said, “Jet Li, very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you.” he smiled back.
The interview was quite interesting in that he talked mostly about his personal life, notably how he almost drowned with his young child while vacationing in the Maldives during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
BH: Where did your career take you aside from your acting pursuits?
PB: After leaving Hong Kong, I spent most of my career in advertising, working on international brands — notably Marlboro, 7 Up, Kellogg’s, and McDonald’s. I had gone back to the U.S. in 1980, got an MBA, and got hired by a major ad agency in Chicago.
The exciting thing was that these brands wanted the best quality work and had budgets big enough to fund it.
Also, a lot of Hollywood talent did TV commercials when they weren’t working on a feature. So, at one time, I was privileged to work with film director Tony Scott, known for Top Gun with Tom Cruise. He had a great working style. He was very casual personally, but he planned the shoot down to the very last detail.
He was always looking for ideas and honest thinking from anyone and typically asked a junior member of the team for their opinion.
BH: Could you discuss your Ultimate Master series of short videos?
PB: I initially created the idea for mobile phones. At the time, the telecom industry had just introduced next generation technology that was able to stream video, and they were looking for content.
However, they were just running the same sort of short video filler a TV station might use if they had an unsold advertising spot, like music videos. My advertising background told me there was an opportunity for a short, episodic video series that could ultimately be branded and attract advertisers.
I also believed that the audience would most likely watch it while waiting for public transport or riding it, notably for a bus or train, so it needed to work within that time frame. As a guide, I initially timed the ride on Hong Kong’s subway, assuming people would at minimum travel two stations.
The mobile phone screens were still very small, so I specifically shot it to that format. Closeups and single actor shots.
In short, Ultimate Master is a hybrid of Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Chan. It’s an episodic martial arts action comedy. All with an “Oliver’s Twist” at the end. It emphasizes visual storytelling, so there is no need to dub or subtitle into various languages.
The hero and kung fu “master” is played by myself and always trying to show off his martial arts skills. He looks pretty good, but the twist is that he always gets one-upped at the end by the person he is trying to impress.
Initially by some clumsy muggers, then by his girlfriend, then by a puppy dog in the “Dog Daze” episode. One of the favorites.
I pitched the series to all the telecoms around the region, and they all said the same thing: “No one is going to watch a movie on their phone.”
Timing is everything.
Subsequently, I got it on iTunes where it is still available as a complete set.
BH: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t already covered?
PB: Only about Hong Kong. Hong Kong has always been a special place for me and many others. I think my film adventure could only have happened here. There’s always been something magical about this city. You meet people from everywhere. And things just happen. It’s like a cosmic vortex.
BH: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. Do you have any closing comments for the people reading this interview?
PB: Follow your heart and pursue your dreams. No matter how crazy. You don’t know if you don’t try. And when you pursue your dreams, magic happens.