I was still a trainee reporter when I first came across Chee, then a budding film-maker who has only just left school.
Our paths kept crossing as he sought publicity for his career milestones and now he’s seeing his first Hollywood-style epic zombie film hitting cinemas (largely Vue) across the UK and the world.
So I thought I’d share this piece I wrote to mark it, I’ll also share my review but you should go in see it – just take a cushion to hide behind!
He was once a 16-year-old schoolboy with dreams of Hollywood.
Now an independent film-maker from Lancashire is seeing his epic zombie film released in cinemas across the UK, Europe and Japan, with the latest screenings in Preston and his home city of Lancaster.
For Chee Cheung, a former Lancaster Grammar schoolboy, whose parents own the Golden Dragon in Lancaster’s George Street, this is the fruition of a vision seven years in the making and a career that started as a teenager with his parents’ home video camera.
Chee is now in his mid-30s and Redcon-1, shot like a studio epic with sweeping cinematography, ambitious crowd scenes and a ‘men on a mission-style’ storyline at its gore-ridden zombie heart, is a blood-spattered, yet heartwarming movie produced by and starring an enviable line-up of talent.
This includes martial arts expert, actor and producer Mark Strange, who has worked on multiple films, including Jackie Chan movies and Batman Begins.
Chee has also teamed up with darling of the US independent scene Carlos Gallardo – best known for his starring turn in Sundance-winning feature film El Mariachi with Robert Rodriguez and also Desperado, the film that launched the English-language careers of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas.
Carlos is also a producer alongside Kevin Eastman, who produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s not been an easy seven years for Chee, who has bounced back repeatedly after rejection and embarked upon the challenges of a giant film on a tiny budget like a pro – it took years to actually get to the stage of filming itself.
As he told a rapt audience during a screening and Q&A at Lancaster’s Vue Cinema: “We shot it like we had $180m, we really pushed the envelope and we are very proud. Movies are very hard to make.”
He went on to explain he was lent a tank for filming in exchange for ‘tea and biscuits’ by a collector who has 80 in his back garden – and relied on volunteers.
Huge, logistically complicated, zombie crowd-scenes were made possible by a battalion of ‘background artistes’ from up and down the country at its multiple filming locations, which ranged from London, to Glasgow, to the beach at St Annes, Lancaster Castle, Blackpool, Preston and Leyland. Nurses, business people and children became zombies for the film, after what Chee describes as ‘zombie X Factor’, complete with boot camp.
Love even sparked, with two zombie extras finding love, and recently informing Chee there is a baby zombie on the way. Olivia Story, who lost both legs and an arms to meningitis as a tot, also starred as a zombie who gets chopped up by the film’s heroine, played by famous wrestler Katarina Waters.
It sparked a new acting and modelling career for the Carlisle 14-year-old, who had originally signed up as an extra with her dad – although she is too young to watch the finished product.
This was not just a film, it was a community effort, of which Chee is very proud.
The Intense Productions team filmed 140 hours of material over 12 weeks for the storyline – which sees a group of eight military personnel trying to find a scientist who may have the key to a cure during a mass zombie outbreak. “The first edit was four hours and counting,” Chee admitted.
“The challenge was bringing that down and retaining pace and narrative. “But I’m very happy to retain the scale and scope, it’s a calling card for me to get more money for the next!”
Carlos, well used to the challenges of independent film-making as opposed to studio features, said he was very proud of what they had achieved, particularly the quality of art, design and photography.
Redcon-1 is no easy watch but the gore is treated in a more graphic novel comic-book style deliberately, as Chee explained.
When asked how he managed to get zombie child killing past the British Film Council (BFC) he admitted he tried to get the film graded as a 15 (it’s an 18 certificate) but it wasn’t going to happen.
But he admitted wryly: “There were no child zombies injured in the making of this movie!”