Copyright 2003 The Straits Times

[ February 17th 2003 ]

There she was, in cream-coloured figure-hugging jacket with frog buttons from Shanghai Tang, walking in knee-length fancy boots outside Hong Kong's Causeway Bay station. Her eyes were squinting from the bright morning sun and her bee-stung lips in a supermodel pout were easily recognisable. Inevitably, Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, who was filming a scene from her upcoming movie, Lara Croft and The Cradle of Life: Tomb Raider 2, became the centre of attention in this busy street. Passers-by, from tourists to students, stopped to gawk, while star-struck fans frantically made calls to their friends: "Come here quick, it's Lala (Croft, her larger-than-life character from the movie)!" The Hollywood beauty, however, remained calm and unperturbed.

She was busy rehearsing her lines while holding a small global positioning system gadget - a device her character in the movie always refers to in her adventures. Occasionally her eyes would dart to the huge TV screen in front of a nearby building, where she would gaze for a few moments before looking at the ecstatic crowd and giving a friendly smile. Jolie - hair pulled back in the signature Croft braid-and-ponytail - was accompanied by her strapping Scottish co-star Gerard Butler (from Reign of Fire, Dracula 2000, Tomorrow Never Dies), who sported a swanky black leather jacket and matching dark Armani jeans. And while Jolie commanded full attention, Butler was hard to miss. The suave, silver-haired six-footer, with brooding, sophisticated good looks and "injured" fists (probably from the preceding fighting scene) would be perfect as the next James Bond.

Could he be Croft's sidekick in this sequel? As we all know, the action hero(ine), first introduced to the silver screen two years ago with the box-office hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (following the massive success of the computer game of the same name), always "works" alone. Is he Croft's love interest in the sequel? Whatever role he plays, the film's director Jan De Bont didn't look like a happy man in this cordoned-off area on the set (where only the cast, crew members and members of the Press were allowed).

Since the movie is scheduled to hit the screens in July (the original release date was June), De Bont only has a few more months of filming before post-production work starts. As the camera rolled, the stern-looking director was busy figuring out the best angle for the scene. Each take was repeated at least eight times and shots were even done from the top of a nearby tall building. "Cut!" he shouted, again and again, sending the crew members into a frenzy to change reels and set up new positions for the cameras, etc. And it was between these shots that Jolie rushed to her trailer to get her two-year-old adopted son Maddox.

Immediately, you see a different person. Jolie is no longer the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails archaeologist and explorer extraordinaire who enjoys life-threatening assignments. As she wrapped her arms around Maddox and carried him around the set, she turned into the doting, caring mother who loves nothing more than spending as much time as possible with her child. "I never knew I could love someone so much," she said in an interview later during the day, referring to the toddler whom she adopted shortly after filming Tomb Raider in Cambodia.

It was also during the filming of the movie at the historical temple of Angkor Wat that Jolie experienced a spiritual awakening which she admitted altered her life forever. Since then, she is no longer a girl, interrupted (couldn't resist that...). With Maddox accompanying her during the filming, "I was up until 1.30am last night finger painting with him while everybody was sleeping. Maddox enjoys playing football and bright lights, that's why we love it here (Hong Kong)," she said, adding that it was her first time in the country.

She described the experience filming the sequel as thoroughly enjoyable. While shooting a scene inside an active volcano in Tanzania, she recalled hearing the sound of molten lava from the ground, reminding her that "there is a greater power around us". Another location where the film was shot was the scenic islands of Greece "but I hate water and wearing a bikini... Maddox loves it though". Her character is also more complex this time. "Now, Lara is a three-dimensional human and no longer an action figure from computer games. You will see the feminine side of her - the 'lady' in Lara (the character comes from an upper-class English family), and more layers of her personality such as her fears, strengths and weaknesses. She is also more vulnerable."

Even the villains, played by Hong Kong star Simon Yam and Ciaran Hinds (The Sum of All Fears), are more invincible. "They have a noticeable similarity to Lara in terms of strength and agility. With the Tomb Raider, she didn't have strong enough enemies. But this time, it is gonna be more edgy because she meets fighters equal to her," Jolie explained, adding that the sequel is "funnier, sexier and darker". She added that the good-looking Butler plays Croft's "love interest Terry Sheridan" but refused to elaborate since the plot was classified information. Other cast members include Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator) and Noah Taylor (Vanilla Sky). She also learned new skills including "jet-skiing, stick-fighting, bull-riding and rifle drill" for the role.

De Bont, who directed such box-office hits as Speed, The Haunting and Twister, described the fighting scene between Croft and the baddies as "sexy". "Think of the sword fighting scene in The Mask Of Zorro (starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones), but with an edge. The difference between the first movie and the sequel is that there was less conflict in the former to create tension in the storyline. But this time, it will be more prominent. In addition, there are between 30 and 35 action scenes and about eight to 10 highlights which are spectacularly done," he explained.

His most challenging task while filming the movie? "To retain the movie's action-packed elements as seen in computer games and at the same time, bring out the human side of the characters," he said, adding that "working in a pressure cooker" to meet the release date was giving him sleepless nights." As such, he said, post-production work began after each scene was completed. On working with Jolie, he said the athletic star "is ideal to work with. She is willing to do anything the role demands; she trained for months preparing for it. She's an amazing actress."

Later, during a lunch break at a hotel in Kowloon, where the cast and crew gathered for a scrumptious eight-course Chinese meal, I spoke to the talkative Yam who plays the villain in the movie. Accompanying us was the film's publicist Susan d'Arcy, who had worked on such movies as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Gorillas In the Mist and all the Indiana Jones films, and was assisting with the interviews.

Excited about being in a Hollywood production, Yam said he attended auditions held by October Pictures, a Hong Kong-based production company which helped identify locations for the filming and sourced talents including extras for the movie in the country. "Weeks later, I was told I got the part. I was so proud and happy!" he recalled. "Everybody on the set, from the crew to cast members, is like family and I am very honoured to be part of it. And Angelina (Jolie) is great to work with. She is very helpful and casual on the set - she makes me feel so comfortable during our fighting scenes. It was a real challenge because we didn't use stunt doubles."

Yam is also proud to "introduce a bit of Hong Kong culture to the crew" - the restaurant was recommended by him - and, during filming, he even brought Chinese siew pau for Angelina and Maddox ... "they loved it!" He added that he couldn't reveal much about his character except that "he is a businessman who has an orb which can destroy the world. It is very difficult to say whether he is good or bad." Describing his experience in a Hollywood production, Yam said: "The crew members are very professional. They don't stop during filming to take calls on their handphones unlike the local productions I have been with!"

Copyright 2003 Straits Times & FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN

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