I will be interviewing Bob Halloran, author of "White Devil", a biography of John Willis, and I want to get as much about John Willis as I can before the interview.
It's interesting because people who don't know John Willis and just saw the article where he got arrested could immediately see the fact that this was going to be a movie, a big deal, dollar signs everywhere, not necessarily for John.
Grace had asked me if I knew him and that I should write a book about him. It's not that I didn't want to. I had a letter all written out to send to him. But when it comes down to it, I'm not there yet in terms of journalism or name as a writer.
Bob Halloran wrote "Irish Thunder" about Micky Ward which became "The Fighter" starring Mark Wahlberg. Now he has written "White Devil" about John Willis, and that's also going to be made into a movie.
The thing I'm starting to hear around Chinatown is that John Willis wasn't that big a deal. In terms of Gang organization he was average. In terms of money he was average, in terms of brutality he was average, and that there are a lot of other guys who were a bigger deal that they haven't made movies about, and they think the main reason is because those guys aren't white.
But think about this....
How big a deal was the real life Wong Fei Hung? He wasn't as big a deal as the movies were. He inherited a Kung Fu School from his dad, he may have been a medic for the Black Flag Militia, but in the movies, he saves China. Now Wong Fei Hung is really a big deal. Because of the movies. They used the character to talk about issues like modernizing China, the opium wars, and European powers abuses of China.
Let's take a look at Chuck Wegman, who fought Muhammad Ali fro 15 rounds and Sylvester Stallone saw it and wrote a screenplay, but filled in the personality gaps with his own experience. The true story is no easy feat, but in the end he didn't win. He certainly didn't end Communism the way Rocky did in Rocky IV. Rocky Balboa, is still a big deal. Creed is still in the theaters.
And finally let's look at Apana Chang. Maybe he was the first Chinese Detective on the Hawaii Police Force. He was arguably significantly cooler than Charlie Chan, who was based on him, but author Earl Derr Biggers, made the personality of Charlie Chan more like himself. But the countless movies where Charlie Chan travels all over the world saving it, that became a bigger deal than the real Apana Chang was.
Now Charlie Chan was from a different time and is pretty racist, but at the same time, a lot of Chinese American actors got work as the supporting cast (but never the star, who was a white guy in yellow face.)
Basically the John Willis concept is the INVERSE of Charlie Chan. Instead of a white guy playing a Chinese Detective speaking English in an accent, you will have a white guy, playing a white gangster in a Chinese gang, speaking Chinese in an accent. There is a lot of potential here. Not just for one movie, but for sequels and a series. There's no reason why the imaginary character has to end up in jail.
He can escape.
He can go to Hong Kong.
You could have a crossover movie that taps into the Asian market as well as the American one.
Imagine a movie that was half Ben Afleck's, "The Town." and half the Young and Dangerous movies that starred Ekin Cheng.
I mean who was James Bond based on? The guy actually failed in his mission right? But who is James Bond now?
Now I'm not saying that Chinatown will be shown in the best light. But since the bad guy/protagonist is white
the supporting Chinese cast can be a lot of good people. I'm just saying that the concept has a lot of potential. And it has a lot of potential for GOOD. (okay for bad too.)
But ultimately everything will come back to the origin story of the concept. Because if this was just made up, it's sort of not believable. Only with the "Based on a True Story" to back it up can it get enough momentum to become a franchise. And that's why Bob Halloran's book is so important. In fact, that's why it's also important that a writer like Bob Halloran was the one who took interest.
In any case Bob is taking the time to meet with me in Chinatown soon. So please, if you have any questions or stories or stuff that you think I should know before this interview let me know. If you don't tell me than you can't be like, "Adam you should have asked him... " afterward and complain how certain things never get talked about outside of Chinatown discussions over tea and cigarettes.