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An Interview with William Lee, Star and Director of Architect of Chaos

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2014

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Your new movie Architect of Chaos - in a few words, what is it about?


In a nut shell, God goes crazy and sets into motion events designed to end civilization. Jesus is "hired" by those in the "Holy Hierarchy" to stop this.


With the film dealing with God, Jesus Christ, the Devil and such, how close do you remain to the actual (official) mythology, and how much research have you put in that aspect of your film? And do you consider yourself at all a religious person?


I am by no means a theological expert of any sort, but have done extensive reading of various religions. In this film, there are references to Biblical writings, but there is obviously some theatrical embellishment if you will. For instance, we talk about the "Cosmic Order" and handbook for beings not of the mortal world. A sort of guide book for angels and demons in peacetime and war.

My main point in the film was to drive home the possibilty that such beings would probably have traits similar to what we human beings possess.  I didn't want this to be an overbearing goody-two shoes faith based movie where everything is, for lack of a better term, black and white.

In this film each character, good or evil, is multi layered.

Even in my depiction of Jesus, I based him on the Bruce Lee character from The Chinese Connection. By nature, a good man, but prone to do violent or offensive things to restore order.


William Lee as Jesus

IN SHORT, THIS IS NOT A FAITH BASED, RELIGIOUS, OR Christian FILM. The question posed to the audience is "If Jesus got fed up with the actions of the human race, what WOULD JESUS DO?"

For the record, I do not follow a set of rules for my spiritual beliefs, but rely heavily on Zen and the principles of Buddhism.


Other sources of inspiration when writing Architect of Chaos?


The film The Chinese Connection aka Fist of Fury starring Bruce Lee. The film is also dedicated to my late sister, who died of cancer during the writing of the film. In the mourning process for her, I have asked the age old question "Why didn't God, Jesus or whoever has the power, save my sister's life". SO, In the film Jesus does take specific action to right wrongs.


What can you tell us about the look and feel of your movie?


It is pretty simple and direct, much like Bruce Lee's vision of martial arts and life. There is one goal, and several groups of protagonists and antagonists involved in reaching that goal.


Cinematically, I shot with a Canon t3i, t2i and my Windows cellphone. And for those camera geeks who have their lives consumed with the search for the ultimate high resolution 10k HD BLU RAY super-perfect ultimate pixel count CMOS HDSLR AVCHD monster camera, keep on debating what's best. You'll be in your lab with your high priced fancy picture box, looking smart, talking shit never having shot one feature.


As for our “low rent equipment”... the results were awesome. I have always been a fan of film noir, and directors like Fritz Lang, so lots of moody shots, deep rich colors and high contrast are always a part of what I shoot. And yes, I was the D.P. For the film when I was not on camera. I also edited and scored the film. Good help is hard to find, but by the same token, I love being behind the camera because my complete refusal to do storyboards means that only I know what the fucking shot is supposed to look like. SO sue me.


Your movie promises quite a bit of action - so do talk about your action scenes for a bit, and how were they conceived?


With 40+ years in martial arts training and scholarly research into eastern philosophy and history, my fight scenes are the result of a lifetime of work in the field. Having watched action films from all over the world, time and time again, I have tried to distill my scenes into a simple formula: attack and react.

American action scenes are always too heavily edited, and the use of shaky cameras to cover up unskilled actors is a joke. Asian films are top notch, but some of the sequences become so elaborate American audiences are turned off. What Bruce Lee did, and why he was so successful the world over, is that he combined the best elements of east and west to create emotionally charged action scenes.


In my mind, it is easier to train an actor to be a fighter than the reverse. Martial artists typical have too much ego and cannot separate reality from fiction. They want to be "the tough guy" on set. Bruce Lee Jr! King of the hill! I can beat William Lee in a kung fu death match!

But can you complete this fight scene and make the movie work? God, spare me.

I cannot tell you the number of times big name martial arts guys strut on to set with all the ego and hubris one could fight into an oversized ego, and when it came time to do the scene, they were lost. I enjoy asking them “Okay, any ideas for this fight scene?” After ten minutes of hemming, hawing and shitting themselves, I step in and in less than five minutes there are, indeed, Bruce Lee Jr!!!

Hooray!!! LOL

Actors, on the other hand, are more open minded and more willing to listen to my direction. The bottom line is, you are always IN character, EVEN AS you fight. Some how some way, you as an actor have to synthesize all of these elements into your role. Just to FIGHT, with no part of your being involved is unacceptable, it shows on screen when you can see an actor thinking about fighting, as opposed to immersing his being into the fight. As Bruce Lee once said:

“We need emotional content.”

You'd better believe it.


You have cast yourself as Jesus Christ in your movie - now have you written the character with yourself in mind, and always assuming you're not really the Son of God, what did you draw upon to bring your character to life?


My concept of Jesus has always varied greatly from the commonly accepted notion of a man in white robes, walking around spreading prose and poetry to huddled masses. Generally, the most popular stories of his life are relegated to happy, shiny things and then suddenly the exterme of crucifixion.

Jesus spent a lot of time with the lower rung of civilization, it was NOT a squeaky clean life, and it is a joke that most filmmakers and pundits tend to ignore the reality and totality of his existence. Jesus' life cannot be told without dealing the the violence, conflict and anger he endured and in fact, he experienced and used (the money changers) to spread his word.

The image of Jesus as a man of words and not action is to me a fallacy. In the more than 100 years few film portrayals of Jesus, few have been of a man of color and or action and of humor, wit or commonality with humans. So, I decided to go in a completely opposite direction. In my film Jesus is a man possessed with one thing: stopping evil by any means necessary. And he does not have blond hair and blue eyes, nor is he of Germanic descent, nor is he tending sheep, or praying for people.

He is an extremely upset black man, killing demons, taking names and kicking ass. Deal with it. With that said, Jesus used FORCE, VIOLENCE and ANGER to achieve his goals. his relationship with women is also a major part of the film.

It's not your granddaddy’s Jesus by any means. Some people will not like it. That is their choice. I choose to be more realistic than the others who have told this story in the past 2000 years.


What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?


Joe Estevez was the main cog in the wheel, so to speak. Once he was involved, the film gained enormous legitimacy. While most people only know him as Charlie Sheen's Uncle, or Martin Sheen's brother, Joe has established quite an amazing film career on his own. Many people do not realize that when Martin Sheen experienced a heart attack on the set of Apocalypse Now, Joe actually filled in for a great number of scenes in that film.

As for the rest of the cast, I can only say that the talent was extraordinary. It amazes me most of these people are not working in Hollywood. But from all indications, they will be. Soon.


Do talk about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere for a bit!


The film took three full years to complete, obviously complicated by my sister's death, and the typical egos, infighting and mutinies expected on any film project. One day last year, in the depths of depression and doubting the film would ever get rolling, I had a phone conversation with my UPM Cherokee Hall and Claude Miles, a Los Angeles Filmmaker, and after the optimism and support they showed, the film was finally on course to completion. From that point on, we never looked back.


Any idea when and where Architect of Chaos will be released onto the general public yet?




As far as I know, with Architect of Chaos not yet out, you're already preparing part 2 - so you have to talk about that one for a bit!


The plot picks up right after the end of the first one. This time, there are seven treasures at seven locations around the world. The first person or group of persons to locate and possess all seven has the power to save or destroy the world. Actress Debra Lamb [Debra Lamb interview - click here] will be playing the archangel Gabriel, who attempts to seduce and then destroy Jesus. Joe Estevez will be back as God, of course!


Another upcoming project of yours is Crak'd Pipes - what can you tell us about that one?


Think of"Goodfellas meets It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I play a  Black / Italian mob guy named Vinny Vincenzo. It's a film I wrote back in 1995, and have been waiting to do since that time. It's an action comedy, and comedy is something I have always been told I should do. I always hesitated, because it seems that the public tends to pigeonhole many black actors into comedy. But this film is much more than a slapstick, stereotypical stepin' fetchit laugh fest. It still maintains the high octane action and adventure of my previous efforts.


Any other future projects you'd like to share?


Black Redemption - a Black woman from the inner city is killed by sinister forces. She is resurrected by an unseen force to wreak havoc on the bad guys. Now, to find a Black woman who wants to star in such a vehicle! For some reason, I have the utmost problem finding black actresses for my films. WTF?


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?


BORN IN NEW YORK, Lee's father A World War two veteran and aircraft engineer moved the family westward when William was 6 years old, but not way out west, as in La La land (rumor has it that Lee's father was a staunch New Yorker who hated phoniness and superficiality, ahem.) AFTER seeing kung fu legend, and martial arts movie legend BRUCE LEE on screen for the first time in 1974, Lee asked his father to purchase a movie camera so that he might replicate the famous martial artists' exploits--albeit on a smaller scale. Within a year of picking up a movie camera, Lee received his first film award at the Eye Music Festival of San Francisco. Since then, he has directed over thirty film projects.

"I would have directed quite a few more films if I had had the financial backing," Lee explains. "But, sad to say, a lot of done deals unraveled before I saw a penny. I met people who promised me unbelievable sums of money, or Hollywood stars who agreed to be in my films, then would disappear like the wind, leaving me looking like a complete fool. So I made up my mind to do it myself, no matter what the cost or struggle. My work has been financed with my own sweat and what little cash I could scrape together."


I earned a B.A. and M.A. from Ohio State University's now defunct Cinema Department.

BTW, Ohio State is on my shit list for closing down the Photography and Cinema Department. Totally inexcusable given the new age of digital film making.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Architect of Chaos, and your evolution as a director?


My best action films were made as a teenager in the 1970's and 80's. The New Chinese Connection, Seven Bold Dragons and Dragon Vs. Ninja are classic films shot on Super 8. I hope to have them transferred to Blu-ray soon. As a teenager I could not separate the Chinese influence from the real world, thus you had black people with Chinese names fighting in Chinese battles (Ice., no guns). It was a dichotomy that hounded me until my college years. then, I spent a  few years trying to solve that riddle in dreadful films like Kung Fu Nitro, Edge of Tolerance and Soulripperz. Then, with Room 13, a film about terrorism in the modern world, I gave up the idea of being a  leading man, and decided to just direct films. Now, ten years later, I've come full circle to being a leading man and fighting on film.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I simply do not take shit, waste time or kiss asses. If it ain't about business and selling the film, then fuck it.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Fritz Lang, Melvin Van Peebles, Ivan Dixon, Erich von Stroheim, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Walter Hill, Howard Hawks, Sam Peckinpah, Sergei Eisenstein and Orson Welles.


Your favourite movies?


Un Chien Andalou (1926), anything by Chaplin, A Clockwork Orange, Training Day, Sunset Boulevard, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Bicycle Thieves, Battleship Potemkin, Birth of a Nation (yes, I said it), Across 110th Street, Dr. Strangelove, any film by Jerry Lewis, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Master of the 36th Chamber,  Scarface (1932), Public Enemy (James Cagney), Blow Out ( Brian De Palma),  JFK, Mama Mia, Singing in the Rain, Django, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol 2, Spook Who Sat by the Door,  Mantis Fist Fighter, Five Deadly Venoms, Day the Earth Stood Still (original), the Die Hard series, the Rambo and Rocky series, Best Years of our Lives, Under Siege 1 & 2, Nothing but a ManBlack Sister's Revenge, Coffy, The original Predator, obviously all of Bruce Lee's work...


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Soul Plane - The epitome of plantation negro film making. Absolute trash.  

Paper Soldiers - The prime reason rappers should be banned from making films. Complete shit. An embarrassment to black people the world over.

Contact - One of two films that ever gave me a migraine. Jodie Foster was awful, and Matthew McConaughey was irritating.

The Octagon - Second of two films that ever gave me a migraine. Big misstep for Chuck Norris. The final showdown was the ultimate let-down for a film which was so heavily built up for that last fight. A cardinal sin for an action movie.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Have seen this three times, and each time I go "So what?"

Animal House - Uh, really? Sorry, don't get it.

EVERY ADAM SANDLER movie made after The Waterboy.

Any film other than The Scout featuring Brendan Fraser. How he continues to get multi million dollar films, while better actors can't get jack, still eludes my understanding.


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?



Anything else you are dying to mention and I've merely forgotten to ask?


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I have never watched The Wizard of Oz all the way through, Never saw Cool Hand Luke, never saw one JAMES DEAN or MARILYN MONROE FILM.

My views on Marlon Brando's acting (outside of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) are not favorable.

The last 30 minutes of Kill Bill Vol 1  AND 2 COULD HAVE BEEN REDUCED TO 10.

People who do not like black and white films are morons.

Fellini's 8 1/2 bored me to tears. Highly pretentious and far too self aware. Trying to be too clever is a big turn off for me.

Love Jackie Chan, but all of his films made for American audiences are awful, sellout cinema. Armour of God, Meals on Wheels and Fearless Hyena, however, are required martial arts cinema.

Leo Dicaprio is the best American actor of this century.

Daniel Day Lewis is highly overrated. Doesn't mean he isn't a superb actor, but Lincoln was not a masterpiece of acting.

The current trend of teenie vampire films is proof positive civilization has stepped back about 1000 years.

Spike Lee's people did not want to produce one of my action films back in the 90's, which is curious since now Spike has done films like Inside Man and Oldboy.

Citizen Kane IS the best motion picture ever made. They should give up changing that "greatest" list every year. 

I once walked out on a film called Ninja Turf. Besides the shitty cinematography, and bad acting, before one of the poorly staged fight scenes, some non-descript guy yells: "I want the black guy!"


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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the new anthology by
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On the same day
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and your Ex wants
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... and for the life of it,
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A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
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Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD