Not a Sequel: Robert Mark Kamen on Taken 2, Bloodsport and Karate Kid
Well, Robert Mark Kamen and his colleagues had a good weekend. Kamen cowrote Taken 2 with Luc Besson, their ninth collaboration so far. We got to speak with him on Saturday as the numbers were coming in. In Taken 2, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get kidnapped by the fathers of the people he killed in Taken 1, while on vacation with Kim (Maggie Grace). Kamen refers to Liam more than Bryan, like we all do. It’s Liam Neeson kicking ass. We also geeked out over Kamen’s classic filmography like The Karate Kid, Taps and Lethal Weapon 3, as well as an inquiry on the Bloodsport remake.
CraveOnline: Was it important that the sequel play with the idea that the bad guys from the first movie would want revenge and it’s not just a new kidnapping?
Robert Mark Kamen: It’s not a sequel, that’s the thing. It’s a continuation story. A sequel would be a closed ended story and the first part would be closed ended and the second part would start an entirely new thing. A continuation is the same people. In other words, you could take both films and put them together. A continuation story is one where the same people are involved and the situation really deepens. You can’t do that with a third part on this. You can in Star Wars. You can carry those characters on and on and on and on. This one, we’d have to go in another direction if we do in the third part.
Well, there are still family members who could come back for revenge, although maybe they’d say, “Boy, this guy just keeps killing our family. Maybe we should let it go.”
He’s killed the entire southern population of Albania. So I look at this as a continuation story and if we just ended, you could call this part one. Now in their lives there could be part two and that would be the third part but we don’t have any idea where we’re going except we’ve run out of people to take. We could take the family dog. My daughter suggested we call Taken Part 4, Taken 4 a Walk.
I’m glad you guys are having fun with the title. Did you ever think about calling this Taken Too?
No. [Laughs] No, we didn’t. We didn’t think there’d be a sequel. We didn’t think there’d be a second part to this. We thought the first film would be a nice film, it would make $40 million in the U.S. and that’d be it. We didn’t know this was going to happen.
So when you started writing Taken 2 with Luc, did you ever talk about going more the sequel route rather than the continuation?
We started off talking about a sequel. It had nothing to do with the initial story. Then we realized that we were doing something that was not quite organic to the material and we went back and said, “Well, let’s see, let’s see. Wait, there’s unfinished business here. There’s really unfinished business.” Just like Bryan Mills goes to the defense of his child, so does Murad go to the defense of his child. It’s just to seek revenge for his son. Liam was seeking salvation for his child. Then we went back and we started talking about it and we said, “Wow, that’s much more powerful. That’s a much more powerful motif than if there’s something else going on. Much more powerful.” So we pursued it and it worked really great. At least when we were writing it worked great.
It’s always fun for the audience to catch up on where the characters have been since the last film. How much more of that did you want that maybe couldn’t fit into the first act of a movie?
Not much. There was some additional stuff, a little bit of additional stuff but not a whole lot. It was really pretty straightforward. There was an action scene we had in there where [Kim] gets herself in a jam because of the driving stuff and Liam comes to her aid but it didn’t fit. It was just jamming an action scene in so we cut it out and we said, “What’s the best way to get to the heart of the story which is in Istanbul?” And we just went with that.
Did they film that scene?
No, it was cut way before. I think it was cut in the second draft. The way Luc and I work is, since he is basically a camera on legs and an editing machine, when we write he’s always looking towards filming. A lot of development in Hollywood is looking towards development. That’s all they do is develop, develop, develop. He doesn’t do that. He looks at it as a director who’s making a film and it makes it much easier to write. If you look at the scripts, they read like shooting scripts in the first draft and he’s editing as we’re doing it. As I’m writing, he’s editing as if he’s editing a film, as if he’s shooting a film. “This is what I need, this is what I need, this is what I need.” And that’s what he did. That’s the way we work and that’s why we’ve turned out so many of these things in such a short period of time. I mean, we’ve done 10 films like this in the last 10 years.
When it is “by Robert Mark Kamen and Luc Besson,” do you win any arguments?
Who, me? Yeah, the ones that I feel strongly about, yeah. See, he has his providence and I have mine. I would never question him on cinematic storytelling. Never. And he bows to me in terms of literary storytelling. We work very well that way but in the end, if he feels very strongly about something, you’re never going to move him. And he will argue endlessly until you understand his point and I’ve learned not to push it at that point because he has something going on that is beyond what I do which is this particular vision he has. He is truly, truly a filmmaker, an auteur. He truly is which is why I love working with him because he brings this dimension of cinema, of telling a story with a camera that I do not possess.
Were the flashback clips of Taken 1 Luc’s idea or director Olivier Megaton’s idea?
No, no. Probably both of us. Probably we were just talking about what’s the quickest way to do this and that’s a cinematic choice. What’s the quickest way to do it? We have to nail this so the audience remembers what these things are and we just chose very few of them. There were several that we didn’t use when he was showing him the pictures in the basement and says, “My son, he did this, you executed him.” But we’d already used that flashback in the beginning when Murad is at his son’s grave and he said, “He killed our boys. He executed them.” And you’ve seen the pictures so there’s no reason to do it again. He just says to him, “You put him in a chair and you electrocuted him.” And we know. We’ve seen it already. But other than that, they were just used for reference points and I thought they were very effective.
Was crashing through the embassy a fun sequence to write?
Yeah, it was slightly different when we originally wrote it. Lenore was in the car, the mother was in the car too and they crashed the car and they had this sort of lighthearted conversation as these guys with bomb proof vests are coming out of the embassy because they think it might be a suicide bomb car or something. They’re coming in and the three of them are laying there and she says something about Kim will never pass her driving test. Liam says something like, “Well, it took you three times.” And Kim says, “Mom!” And then they have this little tête-à-tête about the mother couldn’t pass her driving test either, until Liam taught her how to drive and stuff like that. But then we realized they’d just crashed through an embassy gate, these marines are firing at them, we took the mother out of the car to jolt up the tension even more and they should have an intimate father-daughter moment because we don’t know what’s going to happen. That line where Kim says, “What are you going to do?” And he says, “What I do best,” that originally was written where they get out of the car, the embassy staff gets them out of the car and he says, “Keep them here, keep them safe.” And he starts walking off and Lenore says, “Where are you going?” And he says, “I’m going to go do what I do best” and then he kills every Albanian in southern Albania.
Was throwing grenades the first idea you had to help them locate each other?
Yeah. Originally they were flash bang grenades and I’m not sure if Olivier said, “Let’s use real grenades.” At a certain point they just became real grenades.
Well, that is what you should do to find your kidnapped father.
You know what else was great, this girl’s setting off grenades in the middle of this city of 12 million people and nobody’s saying anything. What?
They’re not saying anything because it’s awesome.
I just thought it was great.
Speaking of continuation stories, Karate Kid II famously began with the ending they cut out of the first movie. If there had been DVD and deleted scenes back then, would they have put that on the DVD and removed that option for you to begin the next movie?
You know what, they very well might have and there might have been an outtake reel. Who knows? Who knows what it would have been but those were the dark ages before we had all this stuff. That was the end of the first movie. The coda was [Miyagi] confronting Kreese outside. The image of Mr. Miyagi’s face and Daniel being lifted up and Johnny saying, “You’re okay” and Mr. Miyagi’s face at the end was so moving when we saw it, that we just chopped it off. It just didn’t feel right. Seeing Mr. Miyagi’s face at the end was so cathartic that we just let it go.
Was it then harder to make Karate Kid Part III a continuation?
Well, the truth will now be told. I turned down doing Karate Kid III because I wanted to do something different. I wanted to have them flashback to 16th century China and do a historical flying people movie. I wanted to do a Hong Kong Kung Fu movie. That’s what I wanted to do. Guy McElwaine, rest his soul, refused to do it. He wouldn’t do it. Jerry [Weintraub] wouldn’t do it. They didn’t want to mess with the franchise and I felt very strongly that doing the same story all over again was f***ing boring so I didn’t do it and they hired somebody else to do a draft. Somebody else could not write Mr. Miyagi and Daniel, couldn’t write them. So Dawn Steel took over the studio from Guy McElwaine and she was a good friend of mine. She said, “How much would it take for you to do what they want to do?” I was very flippant and I threw a number out and she said okay. I didn’t really want to do that one but I ended up doing it because first of all, they appealed to me. They said, “What, do you want somebody to f*ck up Mr. Miyagi? Because we’re going to make the film.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll do it” but I wouldn’t do the fourth one, the one with the girl with Hilary Swank.
I actually quite like The Next Karate Kid because I thought doing a Karate Kid with a girl, but you never thought about going in that direction?
I didn’t want to do it. I had had it by then. There were no more lessons to be learned. If it was going to be with a girl, it had to be completely, completely different. I would have done it if they would have done my Kung Fu sequel. If they would have done my flying people movie I would have done it but they didn’t want to do that. So I didn’t. I wanted to do the third one with a girl and get rid of Daniel, but they didn’t want to do that. Enough already. I was so tired of The Karate Kid. There’s only so many things Mr. Miyagi can say that sound great.
It’s funny, Karate was so huge in the ‘80s and now they had to change it to Kung Fu, and they were even going to call it The Kung Fu Kid but they ultimately had to stick with your original title, even for the remake.
Yeah, they did. Taking it to China was smart but it was also a total rip-off of what I wanted to do. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted them to go to 16thcentury China and be involved in a flying people movie.
How would you have done that with Japanese Karate and Mr. Miyagi?
Well, he wasn’t Japanese. He was Okinawan and originally Okinawan Karate came from China. And it came from China by Okinawan fisherman going there and by Chinese traders coming to Okinawa to work. The real Mr. Miyagi, Chojun Miyagi, founder of my style of Karate was from Chinese ancestry. My weapons teacher in Okinawa was of Chinese ancestry and a lot of Okinawan people are very proud that they come from Chinese people and especially the martial arts community. A lot of the guys who were founders of martial arts styles in Okinawa, it came from Chinese martial arts and they just adapted it. So it was very easy to reverse it. As Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel in the first movie, he said the first Miyagi was a fisherman, he got drunk and he fell asleep and his boat drifted to China and he spent 10 years there and learned Karate. When he came back, he knew Karate. I was going to tell the saga in reverse. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are in a boat. It all happens when Daniel gets hit on the head and he has a dream. He’s in a coma or something and they see a boat in the mist. It docks and Mr. Miyagi and Daniel follow the first Miyagi ancestor into China and then they get involved in this thing. It would’ve been really cool but nobody wanted to do it.
That’s a fascinating “what if.” And in the last few years, they would have done that.
Yes, they would have and CGI and flying people. I predated wanting to do it because I grew up on these Kung Fu movies in the ‘70s in Chinatown, New York. I predated all this stuff by 15 years by the time they got around to doing The Matrix and Crouching Tiger. I had wanted to do that in 1986.
I’ve got to know, in Transporter 3, did you write the line, “I want to feel sex one last time?”
Was that delivered as scripted or interpreted by the actress?
Delivered as scripted.
Fabulous. Are you going to be involved in the “Transporter” TV series?
I turned down writing it. I didn’t feel like doing television and then they brought me on as a consultant, but that was way, way down the road so I had very little to do with it.
Are you writing the next David Belle movie, Brick Mansions?
Oh, I wrote the English movie of B13. Brick Mansions is B13. I call it Brick Mansions. We were supposed to do it but I don't know what happened. Maybe they couldn’t find a distributor or something. It’s been in preproduction forever and I don’t know if it’s going to get done or not. They were talking to an actor, they have a director and they were talking to an actor and I don’t know what happened. Usually I’ll find out when he tells me which is perfectly fine with me.
With Taps being your first film, did you write that on spec or on assignment?
Stanley Jaffe hired me. That was based on a book called Father Sky which didn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the film. It was mostly a story about the kid’s father and the mother of one of the other kids having an affair. I turned it into a siege at the school. I had been in the business all of 30 days when that happened. I had written a screenplay, Warner Bros. bought it, I bought my piece of land that ultimately became my vineyard up here and got a call from Stanley Jaffe who had read my spec script and really liked it. We had a meeting, he told me about this project and I said, “Oh, I would turn it into that.” Before I knew it I got hired. Six months later they made a movie and I was in the business for six months.
I want to be sure to tell you I liked your film Gladiator, so whenever people talk about the Oscar-winner, I think of the Cuba Gooding Jr./Brian Dennehy boxing movie.
In my house we call it Gladiator: The Flop to differentiate it.
Is it true The Fifth Element, the first film you wrote for Luc, was originally a trilogy?
Originally it was supposed to be a trilogy. The first time he showed me something was 180 pages of just stuff. It took us forever to mold it into that film. That’s a very complicated film. Very dense, very complicated. That is truly his vision. I was just the guy who was putting it in structural shape and writing dialogue. It was his vision. It was his vision since he was 16.
Was there a lot of stuff you took out that could have made another movie?
Yeah, we just talked about this the other day. We said if there were two more films, it’d be a 300-page script.
Do you happen to remember any of the interesting visionary things he wanted to do?
I do but I can’t talk about them.
When you got to do Lethal Weapon 3, did they go out to lots of writers on that or did you pitch them?
No, I was Warner Bros.’ script assassin at the time. I was the guy who was rewriting a lot of the stuff that went into production. I wrote large chunks of Lethal Weapon 2 without credit because I was just that guy, and when it came to Lethal Weapon 3, I was writing so much of it that I said, “You know what, I really do want to take credit on this one.” I wrote on lots and lots of films where I took no credit. Lots. But I did this for five years at Warner Bros. On Lethal 2, the whole idea of the South African villains was all my stuff because I had just come back from South Africa researching this film The Power of One that I wrote.
With Lorna Cole, were you ahead of the curve again on the kickass tough woman character? She was kind of a bridge between the Ripley/Linda Hamilton and the current Angelina Jolie model.
Yup. That’s true. I always wanted to write a female action movie, always, and I still do. Luc and I do these characters that are these female action girls. Colombiana was the first time we really did it. We did it with The Professional but that was really a two hander and she was a kid. With Colombiana we had a female action hero, and if it weren’t for the hurricane on the east coast when that film opened, we would have done over $55 million. But so much for the weather.
With the new Bloodsport, Van Damme said he wanted to play the coach and the producers weren’t interested. What do you think? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have Van Damme in the new Bloodsport?
This film resembles the original in title only. It has nothing to do with any Kumite contest. It has nothing to do with Frank Dux. If the title was not the same, you would not associate the two films. To use JCVD would make no sense because the association would be lost as the story has nothing to do with the first one. If anything it would be a distraction.
Are you writing the splits into the script, or will you let the actor decide when to do the splits?
No splits. This is a character driven, politically motivated film. It has nothing to do with splits or muscles or grudge matches and as I said, if the title were not attached to the rights, you would not associate one film with the other.
What are you working on next?
I have something that I’m writing for New Regency and Lorenzo di Bonaventura is the producer called The Sword. Luc and I are in the middle of writing something that I can’t talk about and I’ll bet any amount of money on Monday I’m going to get a phone call and we’re going to start talking about Taken 3.