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YU, RONNIE: FREDDY VS JASON

JASON MUSTN’T TALK
With 17 movies already made about Freddy and Jason separately, Ronny Yu brings them face to face for a horror film which also has humour, action and tits and ass, but which never breaks the well established rules of the characters, the director tells Andrew L. Urban, including Jason’s eternal silence.


Ronny Yu had to win battles of his own in making Freddy V Jason, when studio execs suggested a variety of options to supposedly make the film more commercial; “there was even a suggestion that Jason should talk,” exclaims the director, still in shock at the suggestion. And if you don’t understand what that means, you’re clearly not a core fan; Jason is the ever-silent killer of Friday The 13th movie series, who comes up against Freddy the spike fingered killer from your dreams, in the Nightmare On Elm Street movie series.

“Or maybe we should do more of a crossover movie so more people want to see it,” said another. Yu declined the suggestion: “that is the most dangerous thing,” he recalls telling them at the studio, “because that means you tear down everything. No, you have to satisfy the core fans first, and if you satisfy the core fans, word of mouth will spread and other people will get curious and they may come and see it.” 

"animated and enthusiastic"

In Freddy V Jason, the memory of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been systematically erased from the once terrorised Springwood. Unable to invade the dreams of terrified teenagers and exact his grisly revenge, Freddy has languished ineffectively in hell for ten years. In a moment of inspiration Freddy decides to resurrect the indestructible madman Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) and turn him loose on Elm St. The plan is effective at first but when Jason refuses to step aside and let Freddy do the lion's share of slaughtering, a battle erupts between the two homicidal maniacs. Meanwhile, virginal teenager Lori (Monica Keena) and her boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter) attempt to stay alive long enough to expose the conspiracy of silence around Freddy.

Yu, accompanied by his wife and his mother during our interview in Sydney, where his family is based (he has an Australian passport), is animated and enthusiastic as he talks about his latest film, which one studio exec secretly told him would be a success if it took US$15 million. “He said they’d give me a Hollywood parade…” It opened with over US$36 million and at the time of our interview, had already grossed over US$85 million. Yu is a real hero, not only to his studio (New Line) but to the fans of the horror genre, who may now expect a greater degree of respect and attention from all the studios. As they say, money follows talent . . . 

The success of Freddy V Jason is not reliant on the critics, either, as Yu points out. “If you don’t like this movie genre, even if a thousand critics rave about it, you won’t go and see it; this is not your cup of tea,” he says sipping an espresso. “But if you’re a fan, you will want to check it out, no matter what. That’s why I went back and watched all the 17 movies, to make sure I didn’t break their rules.”

What all this proves – again - is how studio executives often make the wrong decisions for the right reasons; New Line wants to ensure the best possible commercial outcome for its product. But the development process ignores the creative aspects of filmmaking and storytelling, clinging to mere recipe elements. It’s like mixing English mustard, chilli sauce, custard and bread in the belief that the result will be hot, spicy, tempered with a sweetness and given texture. But it will be inedible.

"extra layers of other genres"

Of course, Yu and I aren’t talking in metaphors; so when it was suggested Jason should talk, Yu frowned. “About what?” Considering he’s never spoken a word before, that’s a fair question. “No,” it was suggested, “he should make a sound … when he gets hit, he should make a sound like ‘oeeeeergh’. I said noooooooo!”

What Yu did do, though, is add extra layers of other genres to the basic horror film that the two characters come from. His Hong Kong filmmaking days prepared him well for that. “That’s what we do there,” he says. “So there’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of humour, there are good looking teenagers running around … some T & A….” he chuckles.

In Hong Kong, he recalls, “we always mix and match genres…so I experimented with it here. With horror, we have comedy, which I have made a couple of time. And I go into a cinema and watch the movie with the audience, and that’s how I learnt. I don’t know what it is, but when people get scared, they’re not happy that they got scared. So we have to give them some relief . . . so they don’t feel stupid that you managed to scare them. So you give them something fun and they laugh so they don’t feel too bad about it. I realised that was a good direction to go for entertainment. 

“And with Freddy V Jason, it’s been 20 years … and people are only scared of the unknown, aren’t they. Everybody knows how they operate, how they kill…how they lurk around, so there’s no way you can sustain the scare through the movie. But there’s a lot of room for action… it’s like King Kong V Godzilla! Two beasts fighting each other. And I felt the humour shouldn’t be on them, but about the people around them.”

"I want to push it so far that it doesn’t feel like violence"

And just as importantly, he says, he makes fun of the violence. “I push the envelope so much it’s not real…it’s silly…it’s fun. I don’t want to be accused of promoting violence. On the contrary, I want to push it so far that it doesn’t feel like violence. It’s funny.”

Yu, who laughs easily despite his power-black T shirt under a black jacket and over dark cargo pants, speaks with a Chinese accent. Born in Hong Kong, educated in England and the USA, he travels wherever the work takes him, and in between films, he returns to his family home in West Ryde. But he has spent enough time in Australia to have a sense of humour that owes much to the larrikin spirit of his adopted country. “I’m a banana,” he declares when asked about what he feels is his ethnic status. “Yellow on the outside, but white Australian inside,” he laughs loudly.

Published October 23, 2003

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