Bangkok has always been an iconic location for film productions, and it serves as the primary location for the recently-premiered European action series “Brutal,” which stars Bangkok-based Muay Thai coach and actor Byron Gibson, alongside big-name actors such as David Belle and Vithaya Pansringarm (the “God” who gave Ryan Gosling a rough time in “Only God Forgives”).
The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports have recently made a push for promoting Thailand as a movie location in recent years. The remake of an iconic series such as “Kickboxer” was shot in Bangkok last year, while Hollywood martial artist Steven Seagal has recently announced that his latest project “Attrition” will be shot in Thailand.
For a mini-series like Brutal, without a big budget, directors often have to rely on good old-fashioned movie magic to get shots to look realistic. Action projects in particular come with their own unique set of challenges.
Brutal tells a story of a bouncer at a Paris nightclub, who is viciously attacked by hooligan customers. In the aftermath, he is wrongfully accused of killing one of them. Forced to flee, he finds himself in Bangkok where, in order to survive, he is thrust into the world of underground fighting.
What better way to find out what goes on in a modern action series shot in our favorite city than hearing about it first hand from one of the main actors? I had the chance to sit down with Byron Gibson (“Only God Forgives,” “The Asian Connection,” “Vikingdom”) and ask him about his experience on this project and being in the film business.
Why did the producers select Bangkok as a primary location?
Save Ferris, a French production team, decided to shoot in Thailand because Thailand has a reputation for having some of the best locations and the best stand up fighting art in the world — Muay Thai. They booked so many great places: the old part of Chinatown, Khlong Toey, a big ship on the Chao Phraya, some amazing abandoned tower blocks and more.
What was your experience like working on set?
I loved working on this set as it was a dream for me. I really enjoyed my character Marcus Knox a lot. Years ago, I used to have a Muay Thai school myself in the UK and I promoted fights just like Marcus does in the series. I used to meet crazy characters like him all the time. The Thai team, as usual, was great always giving 100 percent. We had a tight schedule to keep but we made it.
How does working in Bangkok differ from working elsewhere?
I’ve worked in many countries on many different sets and the Thai teams are second to none. They can hold themselves with any professional production from Hollywood, no problem. Another great thing about working in Thailand is the Thai food on set. It’s always good to look forward to.
I understand you spend a lot of time in Thailand?
I first came to Thailand to learn Muay Thai in 1990 and fell in love with the place. I spend my time between the UK and Thailand now. Thailand will always have a place in my heart.
Was there any particularly funny story you can share about production?
There were a couple of things, actually. When we filmed the fights on the boats they had around 500 extras cheering and shouting around the guys fighting in the middle. There were tourist boats going up and down the river and all the tourists were looking as if it was a real underground fight on the boat. That was great!
Also, one time we were shooting on the roof of a helipad near the river. About 20 floors up in a hotel across from us, we could clearly see a couple getting rather intimate through their window. We had to put production on hold actually until the two were finished. Then the whole crew cheered.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I think that the problem with a lot of fight productions is they aren’t gritty enough. I’m pleased to say this is not the case with Brutal. The fights are very real. In fact, there were only about two guys in the whole shoot who were not real fighters before. They used a real live Muay Thai gym in Klong Toey, and most of the guys we used have been in the ring for real. Some even fought at Lumpini. Old school fight fans will love it.
Working with David Belle was great. He’s an amazing athlete, but he’s also very humble. The fight routines he did took weeks of planning. At one point, he was even doing pull ups off the side of a 28-storey building! I’d also like to give a shout out to Surawan Satchukorn and the stunt team. They are true warriors, and I have big respect for them all.
Brutal premiered on Studio +, the mobile TV platform, on October 11, 2016 across Europe and Latin America. The series will launch in Asia next year.
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