Atlin, B.C. recalls its starring role in a Hong Kong action movie
Rob Toohey has worked as a location scout for plenty of wild and unusual film shoots over the years, but he's got vivid memories of one in particular — an obscure 1992 Hong Kong martial arts movie made largely in, of all places, Atlin, B.C.
"It was just insanity," Toohey recalled from his home in Gibsons, B.C.
"We just laughed and laughed every day, because nobody knew what was going on."
Last week, the bizarre film that resulted — Saviour of the Soul 2 — was publicly screened in Atlin for the first time since soon after its release.
It did not disappoint.
"It was as weird this time as it was that time," said Heather Keny, artistic producer at Atlin's Globe Theatre.
"There was a lot of people laughing and shaking their heads throughout the movie and then afterward, I think everybody that walked out of the room was like, wow — kind of lost for words."
5 days of filming become more
The way Toohey tells it, the filmmakers didn't intend to make the whole movie in the area.
Toohey was working as a Yukon and Alaska location scout for TV and film crews in the 1990s, and he remembers getting a call one day from a producer friend in Vancouver.
"He said that a Hong Kong crew wanted to come to the Yukon, for five days of filming on a glacier," he said. "So I took these guys to Atlin, down to the Llewellyn Glacier."
The filming went well — so well that the "five days of filming" turned into a month, with more sequences shot around Atlin, as well as Whitehorse and Carcross in Yukon.
Many people in Atlin remember helping out on the film, working as extras, or making props and sets. (John Kilmer)
"Every day was going to be the last day, and we just kept going on and on and on," Toohey said. "The whole film became an Atlin-, Carcross-based film."
The filmmakers spoke little English, so Toohey said it was sometimes a challenge to help them realize their ideas.
"They would sketch out on a napkin what they wanted for the next day and then they would hand this to me," he said. "I would look at this drawing, and I would count heads, and say, 'oh my God, this is how many extras we need.'"
'Nameless place, presumably future'
Saviour of the Soul 2, directed by Corey Yuen and David Lai, is described on Wikipedia as a "martial arts action romance film."
An awkwardly-translated plot summary on the online movie database IMDb.com is confusing, at best — "Andy was a guy in a nameless place, presumably future. He knew anyone who got the ice on a mountain would get the money from the king," the website reads.
An Atlin landmark, the MV Tarahne makes a cameo in the film. (Youtube)
There's a princess frozen in a big ice cube, dozens of demonic, fighting mimes, and plenty of high-flying martial arts.
Toohey recalls a fantastical scene where the film's heroes fall into a glacier crevasse.
I was sure that we were going to go to jail over it."Then they come out in a bubble bath in Hong Kong, where the heroine is having her bath. So once you start doing that type of stuff, it really opens up the spectrum," he laughed.
- Jamie Tait, pilot in Atlin, B.C.
Several people in town remember serving as extras, supplying props and artwork, or building set pieces.
Atlin-based pilot Jamie Tait flew planes in some scenes, including one filmed in Carcross.
"They wanted shots of the Beech 18 flying down Main Street in Carcross, like at rooftop height, and we went right over top of the police station. I was sure that we were going to go to jail over it," Tait laughed.
"It was a pretty wild time, absolutely. But lots of fun."
The filmmakers originally planned to spend just 5 days shooting near Atlin. They ended up staying in the area for weeks. (Youtube)
'Look at all my stunt men!'
Sometimes the ambitious filmmakers had to be reined in.
Toohey says the film's stunt coordinator didn't seem to like him because Toohey would say no to some of the things he wanted.
"At one point, he wanted to hang a guy from a piece of wire, very thin wire, and just troll him around the glacier. And I said no, he can't do that.
"He said, 'look at all my stunt men!' And there are about ten of these guys laying around on crash pads on the glacier."
Keny said it was great to watch the film again this week and see some beautiful shots of the mountains around Atlin, and the MV Tarahne.
It was just as baffling, though.
"Most of the subtitles are white, on a white background, so it's hard to follow the story plot. It's kind of a bizarre story, to begin with," she said.
With files from Dave White