The Accidental Plonker

April 14, 2012

I collect the uniform of a superintendent of the Hong Kong Police constabulary, change into it, and then join the other extras on the bus heading out to the film set, in the Kowloon countryside. The bus climbs the mountainside and about half way up, just before it becomes too steep, we pull up a little distance from the shell of a solitary three-storey house. Intriguingly, one of the gable walls has totally gone, so end on, you can see into all three floors.

Today’s script concerns the true story of an impoverished crofter who feels persecuted when threatened with prison for not paying his rent or taxes, his wife and youngest child die and his one crop fails. He breaks down, loads his shotgun and goes into town where he opens fire on the police. The police pursue him back to this dwelling, where the real events took place.

The first scene I am in is where I marshal the heavily armed police, with much gesticulating and pointing, to form an extended line and advance up the hillside, halting them some fifty yards or so from the house. We do this several times as the director wants the optimum location for his one camera. Precision, apparently, is very important because of the final scene — or so his assistant explains to me, as he practices his English.

We break and join the queue for the packed lunches. I notice a Chinese, wearing a uniform identical to mine. The assistant explains he is a stuntman and is to be my double.

Strange, I’m one of a dime a dozen extras and I’ve got a double? Why?

The explanation is that my character is to be one of the two fatalities in the episode. The superintendent is arrogant, ambitious and recklessly brave and decides, before engaging the ground troops to go for broke, to use a subterfuge. I am to climb a ladder up to the roof, go through a skylight and shoot the little farmer.

Unfortunately, he is in the room below the skylight, sees me before I see him and peppers me with his scattergun. I dive, presumably dead, headfirst off the ladder, through the skylight and crash through two specially prepared floors, to smash onto the concrete floor of the wash room on the ground floor. I take time to reflect that the provision of a stunt man is not too shabby and definitely a good idea – especially from my point of view.

I remark, with irony, inconceivable naiveté and possibly a foolish, supercilious smile, that they would have to pay me five times what they are paying me now to do that. He looks at me strangely, gets to his feet and hurries off. Within ten minutes, he returns and says, “The director says okay. He pay. It worth it. Now he can camera with you all the way down and show close-up of face.”
I stare at him, then can only say the first thing that comes to mind, which happens to be,”What?”

The open-ended house becomes all too clear. The three guys, with tool belts and a mechanised saw, working on the wooden floors, make sense. I realise that I have moved from lowly extra to the relatively exciting and exalted world of the dare devil stuntman. My sphincter does not welcome the news.

(to be continued)

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