Jackie Chan, Thorsten Nickel and Ken Lo
Thorsten, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Fans of Hong Kong action already know who you are, but for the gaming fans who haven't seen too many movies from Hong Kong, can you tell us a little bit about your background and where we might have seen you on the big screen?
Sure! I grew up in Germany and had that desire to work in movies, and after I did my National Service in the Airforce I started getting involved in the industry, first as an extra in Germany and in England. Here I started taking acting lessons and carried on with my Karate training where I got my 2nd Dan (black belt) through the Japanese Karate Association.
Looking back I got to say that I used to be a bit obsessed with the training aspect of things. I trained pretty much all the time (every day) until I met a guy called Richard La Plant who in turn hooked me up with Bey Logan as a contact for my move to Hong Kong.
I basically had my heart set to go to L.A. straightaway but a stuntman in London mentioned to me that I would be better off going to Hong Kong first, do modeling, commercials and movies, then take all that with me and go to America. Everything he told me came to pass. I did just that, modeling, commercials and then movies. I'm sure anyone who remembers me might have seen me in Jackie Chan's 'Thunderbolt' playing Cougar. It was at the time the biggest budget movie in Hong Kong Cinema history and I was the co star opposite Jackie playing the lead villain. Even though it was such a big role I never saw the script so I could never prepare, just do all the scenes on the spot. It was a great shoot since we were filming in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and California for 6 months.
Jackie also saw me working on the Jet Li movie 'The Enforcer' where he came to watch on the set. But in this film I only have a very small role as a Russian arms dealer. I also was the co star opposite David Bradley in 'Crisis' who took over from Michael Dudikoff in those American Ninja movies.
We would really like to talk to you today about your involvement on the video game Jackie Chan The Kung Fu Master, made by Kaneko in the mid 90's. How did you get involved in this project? And do you know how Kaneko struck the deal with Jackie and Golden Harvest to make this game?
About this project I have some mixed feelings, basically because I didn't get all the money I should have (these things do happen but are rather annoying and it was quite a chunk which I didn't get but Jackie's own people were paid). I'm still not sure why that has never been rectified.
I was first introduced by Bey, who took me to the set to see Jackie when he was finishing off 'Drunken Master 2'. We met again and if I remember correctly I at some point auditioned for this game. It was originally only produced for the Japanese market. I can only recall that there was Kaneko, Jackie's crew and an talent agency who were involved in this production.
This game uses real actors like Mortal Kombat for a realistic look and feel. How was the experience of recording the frames for the game? At what location did you film the footage?
It was the first time I had done something like that and it was all filmed in front of either a blue or a green screen in a studio. Not sure if it was actually at Golden Harvest. None of the exiting special effects were visible on the set. The look of these kind of sets are not very exiting though since there is nothing else but a blue or green background.
I have to say that Hong Kong film crews really know their stuff. They knew exactly which moves were needed and Frankie Chan* was great. It's not easy for the actors because you have to act and react all day long to something which isn't there and when you play the game you can then see how it all comes together. It was fascinating.
We had to do all kind of actions and in my case a lot of 'knifehand' slashing downwards. There were punches, kicks, head moves, all possible scenarios.
Knowing the heat and humidity in Hong Kong, it must have been quite grueling and hot recording all this footage?
There usually was some kind of air con (not the sophisticated in the ceiling but some of those standing fans). But after having been in Hong Kong for a while you make the best of it and do get used to it somewhat and just get on with the job.
When you recorded all the footage, did you interact with the other actors at all, or were all the frames shot individually?
No I think we all shot it individually but I worked with another performer from 'Thunderbolt', Sam Wong. He was one of Jackie's permanent stuntmen.
Thorsten Nickel in Thunderbolt
This game is actually quite interesting because Jackie is very strict about his public image, and did not want to be shown in overly violent movies. However this game features a lot of blood and rather macabre sequences at the end of the fights. Were you and the other actors aware that the game would be so violent when you were filming?
I wasn't even aware of that. No you wouldn't have an idea based on what was recorded. I only got to play this game in Tokyo in a game arcade. Because I don't know how to play those games and I really wanted to see what happens when I win I played Thorsten vs Thorsten to make sure I win and it didn't seem particular violent other then what you would expect. But then again I haven't seen all of it.
The special effects were good though and it's just great how they put it all together.
Kaneko held a press conference for this game in Tokyo at the time of its release which you attended. Do you remember what was said at this conference? How did the press react to the game?
I received a fax or phone call in my hotel room in Sendai, Japan where we were filming 'Thunderbolt'. I was asked to travel down to Tokyo with Jackie and a few others of his people by train. We booked in a hotel and after dinner and a few drinks one night Jackie and I were rehearsing some little 'fightscene' in his suite.
I think the press conference was going well. It's here by the way where I learned that the game would go global and appropriate compensation for me didn't take place.
It started with a small Martial Arts performance I think and then I was interviewed about the game and about the movie I was shooting with Jackie. All in all I believe it all went down well but the other games which were animated and sprite based seemed to become more successful. But friends have played me in the game in the USA and in South Africa I think also.
Do you still participate in any activities or movies in Hong Kong?
After my time in Hong Kong which ended me signing autographs everywhere, something which takes some getting used to, I moved on to L.A. to continue my career. No one could have predicted what happens but instead of becoming the next big thing I actually 'found God' and became a born again Christian not far from Muscle Beach in California. This has set me on a different path whereby I bring hope to old people and also occasional preach in a prison.
Having said that I'm very much ready and happy to make movies again if the right opportunities come along.
Again, thank you so much for giving us some very interesting insight into a very unknown game, I am thrilled to have had the chance to talk to you as you took part in movies and games I am a big fan of, and I wish you the very best in your future activeties!
Thank you very much for the interest and I hope it helped to supply some info.
Hey and since I lost touch with Jackie (who promised me that we would work together again –before he was caught up in his 2nd American career-) if anyone speaks to him or meets him please send my regards.
Thorsten as he appears in Jackie Chan the Kung Fu Master
To find out more about Thorsten Nickel and read about his quite inspiring story, head to ThorstenNickel.com
* Frankie Chan is a Hong Kong martial arts actor, director, action director, producer and composer who is most well known for his role in The Prodigal Son. He acted as producer on Jackie Chan the Kung Fu Master