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[FILM] Broken Trail - Tale of Cowboys and Chinese "Hundred Men Wives"

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  • madchinaman
    Shattered Dreams and Broken Trials A roundtable discussion behind a story of Chinese slavery that still exists in the states.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2006
      Shattered Dreams and Broken Trials
      A roundtable discussion behind a story of Chinese slavery that still
      exists in the states.
      http://www.truewestmagazine.com/westerns/western-
      broken_trails_06_06.htm


      The American West at the close of the 19th century was a land of
      contradiction.

      Progress-minded business men, pioneers intent on building a home,
      railroad magnates with dreams of empires and those who gradually saw
      their freedoms disappear through greed and lawlessness.

      Such was the fate of the young Chinese women sold as servants by
      mainland Chinese families and sent to serve as prostitutes in the
      towns and camps of the American Midwest. Theirs was a fate worse
      than death.

      Writer Alan Geoffrion, Producers Stanley M. Brooks, Rob Carliner and
      Robert Duvall, and Director Walter Hill (Wild Bill) have woven a
      magnificent tapestry filmed in the rolling hills near Calgary,
      Alberta, in Canada. Duvall headlines a cast that includes Thomas
      Haden Church, Valerie Tian, Chris Mulkey, Scott Cooper, Jadyn Wong,
      Olivia Cheng, Gwendoline Yeo and Caroline Chan.

      Broken Trail, a miniseries which airs on June 25 and 26 at 8:00 p.m.
      on AMC, follows veteran cowboy Print Ritter (Duvall) and his nephew
      Tom Harte (Church) as they undertake a dangerous 1,000-mile journey
      from Eastern Oregon to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1897. Along the way,
      they encounter a corrupt slave trafficker taking five Chinese girls
      to a mining camp to be the camp prostitutes. Rescuing the young
      women, the men put themselves and their livestock at risk during
      their escape. Faced with dangerous circumstances, Ritter, Harte and
      the women discover their strength as they overcome cultural barriers.

      What's the message behind Broken Trail? True West conducted a
      roundtable discussion with actors Robert Duvall and Olivia Cheng and
      writer Alan Geoffrion to find out.

      TW: Let's start off with how Broken Trail came to be.

      AG: We are both friends and neighbors. We are lucky that way.

      RD: For a long time now.

      AG: Well, Bobby's got a place down in Argentina, a ranch. He was
      getting ready to go down for Christmas holidays, the year before
      last, and we were getting together for lunch. I told him about a
      story that had been told by me by an old rancher.
      I don't know if you're familiar with the Haythorn Land and Cattle
      Company in Ogallala, Nebraska. It's a pretty big outfit. The head of
      it, at that time, was Waldo Haythorn. His son Greg runs it now.
      Waldo told me about his grandfather taking a herd of horses from
      Eastern Oregon back to the Rosebud Reservation for a government
      contract. We were just talking, not shop. At some point, he said,
      you should write that down. That's a pretty good idea. So, the next
      morning, I got a call at 8:30, and he asked me how much I'd written.
      So, I thought I'd better get started. In about five or six weeks, I
      had the basic framework laid out.

      Another thing that I'd been fascinated with and wanted to intertwine
      the two. There was a lady in San Francisco in the late 1800s, early
      1900s, named Donaldina Cameron [see June 2004, Women of the West].

      She ran a rescue mission in San Francisco for young Chinese girls to
      try and save them from being sold into prostitution. A lot of these
      girls ended up in cow camps and mining towns around the West.

      Because they were so cheap to bring over and the control [over their
      lives] was so complete, they had a brief, violent life in North
      America. Their average life in the country was five years before
      they succumbed to either suicide, violence or disease.
      So I started working on the idea; I had the thing laid out. From
      then on, I'd call up [Duvall] or we'd get together for lunch. The
      first version was set up for a movie in about six months as
      screenplay.

      RD: From a story viewpoint, the thing that came first was the
      journey on the trail, then the women and their plight came after
      that. Geoffrion did a lot of research on the plight of these women
      and made it as factual as possible. It makes a very compelling story
      that needs two nights to tell it.

      TW: How much input did you have in the film Mr. Duvall?
      RD: [Alan] and I conferred on this script from its genesis. As Alan
      said, it started at a lunch and over time, we both shaped it.

      TW: Did anyone else help with the script?

      AG: I had great people like Horton Foote, the great screenplay
      writer (To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Mercies) to vet [the script]
      and give me some good advice. The other thing, I had a lot of
      cowboys read it—guys earning their paycheck up on a saddle.

      Thomas Haden Church plays Tom Harte, the nephew of Robert Duvall's
      character Print Ritter. Fresh off comedic films such as Spanglish,
      Sideways and George of the Jungle, Church revisits a Western role
      again after portraying Billy Clanton in Tombstone.

      TW: Is it a true story?

      AG: People have asked me if this is a true story. This is a
      collection of true stories. I did not have to use my creative
      imagination for the original script. Everything that happened in
      that draft was either from a private diary, correspondence and
      letters. Real events. Real people. We wanted to get closer to the
      truth and show the Western experience through the eyes of different
      people.

      TW: Olivia, as a young Asian actress, how did the role of Yee Fung
      change your perception of Chinese history in the U.S.?

      OC: I was not aware of the forced slavery before I got the role, and
      even a little embarrassed when I found out. It forced me to research
      the story. I had not known that even in the early 1800s, young
      Chinese girls were brought over to America and forced into
      prostitution in brothels and mining camps across the Midwest. It is
      an issue that still exists today, and after my research, it blew me
      away. Thousands of girls, possibly hundreds of thousands, were
      brought over here after being sold by their families without their
      say. Many took their own lives, died in "hospitals" (out of sight or
      out of mind) or were killed by the brutality of the camps. It was
      shocking ... young Asians are not educated about this. During
      filming, I realized that if I was born in a different time and
      different place, it could have been me.

      TW: With the role of the Chinese girls so central to the film, how
      did you go about characterizing the women?

      OC: When I first heard about the project, I was wary. Here we go,
      another Hollywood project where the Asian characters are reduced to
      one dimensional human beings and not given the chance to show that
      they are damaged people. I did not want to be a living prop. When I
      realized that we were essential to the story and we could be
      normal "little" girls, I wanted to play Yee Fung with dignity. I
      wanted her to be a human being. The tone of the movie let me know I
      could do that.

      AG: There was an incredible amount of people who took part in the
      Western experience. The classic Western has zeroed in on the tall,
      silent, Anglo cowboy who could do no wrong. The real backbone of the
      story of the West are the women, and [the story of these Chinese
      women] had not been told before. We wanted to do that.

      TW: Cast-wise, Broken Trail is rich. Duvall, Thomas Haden Church,
      Gwendoline Yeo, Valerie Tian, Scott Cooper and you, Olivia Cheng,
      add so much to the finished product. How difficult was casting for
      Broken Trail?

      OC: As for Thomas Church, Tom is so known for his comedic roles.
      George of the Jungle. Sideways. A lot of people will realize there
      is more to him than the roles he portrays so well because he is such
      a good actor. When I met him on set, I expected him to be the life
      of the party, but he wasn't. He is a serious, articulate,
      intelligent guy.

      [His character] Tom Harte is a cowboy with issues. Really hard up.
      First time we meet him, he's castrating cattle, not climbing the
      cowboy corporate ladder. This cattle drive for him represents a
      second chance at a better life ... as the story unfolds, you learn
      what shapes him into the cowboy he is. He is the last person you
      would expect to show compassion to the girls. He takes them under
      his wings but [is] not very affectionate. Duvall is the more
      affectionate one. Kind of like the father. Tom Harte is not warm and
      bubbly. Underneath all the bitterness, he is a good man.

      AG: The girls were a different matter.

      RD: Olivia came from Edmonton. I was the one who found her on the
      tape out of about 135 actors across Canada, which I saw in one
      afternoon, and she stood out in a good way. And I figured, why not
      let Edmonton be represented, since we had good actors from other
      parts of Canada. My own sense of a quota system.

      OC: As an actress, it was like winning the lottery. To get to watch
      one of the Living Legends is an amazing experience—a lightning
      strike. It changed my perspective on acting. Robert Duvall brings
      something different to every take. He doesn't have a set reaction.
      He reacts, not acts. He plays off what the other actor brings. He
      taught all of us that acting is about being on camera and letting it
      capture what you are doing. Gwendoline Yeo was the most experienced.
      Jadyn Wong, Valerie Tian, Caroline Chan and I were very green.

      TW: Isn't that mixture of experience and inexperience what Alan
      wanted to capture in the film?

      OC: Yeah. Alan told us that was one thing he couldn't put into the
      script, was our natural connectiveness and chemistry. We bonded as a
      unit and became one. It was what they wanted. We became close to
      each other. When we were scared, we put our arms around each other.
      That's what I remember. We all brought something different to the
      film.

      AG: The girls were always going to be the secret weapon. When they
      come up on screen, you go WOW. I wanted to make sure they weren't
      relegated to some stereo-typical background characters. They seemed
      to like it. I told them, "I'm not a woman, nor am I Chinese. I try
      to keep the emotions in a gender neutral place. If you find
      something that is not quite right, come talk to me." And they did.

      OC: Alan told us "I am an old white guy, if you have a problem with
      a scene, let me know." He appreciated our input. He doesn't know our
      Chinese culture or even the female mind. One example of the
      collaborative effort is when Print Ritter, the Duvall character, is
      trying to make first contact with the girls so they know he is a
      friend. Duvall can't understand them, so he numbers them off. One,
      Two, Three, Four. As the girls talk, they realize what he is
      doing. "He's numbering us. You're number one, two, three, four." I
      told Alan that phonetically, the word four sounds like death. Fh
      instead of Th makes a difference. We added a little scene to explain
      that. "I don't want number four. I don't want to die," we had the
      girl say. The Asian audiences will understand; our superstition is
      very strong.

      TW: The production crew for the film is very talented. Director
      Walter Hill, Robert Duvall and yourself.

      AG: The Canadian crew was fantastic. They did a great job. I worked
      up there in 2002 on Open Range, and it was the same experience. For
      that one, we had double the budget for a two-hour [film] as opposed
      to half the budget for a four-hour [miniseries]. Great people. Ken
      Rempel, the production designer, would wave his magic wand and
      something would happen. I was amazed at how many of the crew, the
      grips, the cameramen, the guy who drove the honey wagon would come
      up to me and say "I read the script." They took a real interest in
      it. The great Alberta scenery is second to none. The Bews family
      [ranch hands in the miniseries] is just amazing to work with.

      OC: Walter Hill was very much a "roll the camera" type director. I
      can count on my hand the number of times he stepped in and asked us
      to change something.

      AG: With Walter at the helm, he wanted more action. We had thought
      of it as more of a character-driven film. We understood and put some
      action into it, beefed up the villains a little, and both Bobby and
      I were very clear that we did not want to have this like all the
      other Westerns.

      TW: Was the film originally slated to air on AMC?

      RD: It was a go project at CBS, but we turned them down because of
      certain things we asked for. Shortly thereafter, AMC came aboard. We
      had written the film as a feature length, but they wanted to do a
      two-night miniseries.

      AG: AMC wanted to do a two-night miniseries, so it doubled the
      length of shooting time and scripting time, but we felt like we had
      a lot there. Westerns tend to run a little longer than action films
      like The French Connection; it's just a different cadence. And there
      was no shortage of subplots.

      TW: With the film coming up for broadcast, has the work stopped?

      AG: That's ironic you would ask that. I still get e-mails asking for
      input, and this morning, I received one. They're still putting the
      finishing touches on [the film]. Right now, I'm working on the
      novel, which will be published by Fulcrum Press of Colorado, and
      after that, Bobby and I have a couple other potential projects.

      RD: We're still editing the film. In terms of handling the roles of
      actor and executive producer—as an actor, it was fine, but the other
      juggling process was a nightmare.

      TW: What's next?

      AG: The novel.

      RD: After broadcast, some rest and a badly needed vacation in
      Argentina.

      TW: Any final thoughts on the film?

      OC: For a first major role, it is an amazing film to be in.

      AG: Bobby had said he really wanted this to be the third jewel in
      the crown for him, Lonesome Dove, Open Range and now Broken Trail.

      RD: It was not an easy experience by any stretch of the imagination,
      but it was very worthwhile and fulfilling for me. I feel when this
      movie airs, it will be very good timing for the United States of
      America.


      ==================


      Walter Hill still a man of the West
      By Susan King, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/cl-ca-
      cinefiel11jun11,0,1664763.story?coll=cl-movies


      GROWING up in Long Beach in the 1940s and '50s, writer-director
      Walter Hill and his younger brother could always be found at the
      local movie theater. "I always loved movies," he says, "but I loved
      westerns the best."

      During his nearly 40-year career, the writer-director has carried on
      the western tradition shaped by such filmmakers as John Ford, Sam
      Peckinpah, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh and Anthony Mann.

      "I always say somehow, it is like imprinting with animals — you take
      the little duck and put it next to a clock, and it thinks the clock
      is its mother. My brother and I, it seemed all we ever did was go to
      westerns as kids."

      This week, American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica
      is offering a tribute to Hill that features his latest western, the
      two-part miniseries "Broken Trail," which airs June 25 and 26 on
      cable's AMC, as well as two of his other sagebrush sagas:
      1980's "The Long Riders," which focuses on Jesse and Frank James,
      and 1993's "Geronimo: An American Legend." Rounding out the
      retrospective are Hill's directorial debut, 1975's "Hard Times," and
      the 1989 drama "Johnny Handsome." Hill will appear at the Aero on
      Thursday and Friday.

      The Cinematheque, says Hill, suggested films for the retrospective,
      and he agreed. Not that the features selected are necessarily his
      top picks.

      "People always want to know what your favorite films are, and I
      resist that," says the 64-year-old Hill over bacon and toast at the
      Polo Lounge.

      "I always say, 'The next one.' It is complicated. They are not
      simply aesthetic experiences. They are social experiences — an
      investment — and sometimes you had a good time doing them and
      sometimes you didn't have a good time, and that clouds your
      judgment."

      *

      Cable guy

      HILL, who hasn't had a hit movie in years, has found a new outlet
      for his craft on cable. In recent years, he has won the Emmy and
      Directors Guild of America awards for directing the impressive first
      episode of HBO's western series, "Deadwood." And now he has "Broken
      Trail," which stars Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.

      AMC, he says, chose "Broken Trail" as its first miniseries "not
      simply out of their love or reverence for westerns. They find that
      their basic ratings go up when they air westerns."

      It was the Oscar-winning Duvall, with whom he worked on "Geronimo,"
      who sent him the script penned by Alan Geoffrion.

      "Duvall had developed it with Alan," says Hill. "I thought it was a
      good story, and I was looking to do something that wasn't
      biographical. I wasn't constricted by the historical aspect. If you
      do a movie about [Wild Bill] Hickok, he has to go to the No. 10
      Saloon and he's going to get shot in the back of the head … and
      Geronimo is going to go to Florida. I wanted to do something that
      maybe had a little bit more open canvas and also something that
      wasn't as blood-and-thunder as other things I had done."

      Duvall plays an aging cowboy who teams with his estranged nephew
      (Church) to drive a herd of mustangs to their buyer, knowing that if
      the venture fails, it will bring financial ruin to both men. Along
      the way, they end up taking care of five young Chinese women sold
      into slavery who were on their way to being delivered to a brothel
      in a rough-and-tumble mining town. The town's madam discovers what's
      happened to the girls and sends a group of vicious henchmen to bring
      them back.

      "The thing that struck me was that these are men who lead not
      particularly remarkable lives up to that point, who take on a
      situation for reasons of family and finance that is an enormously
      difficult thing to do — drive these horses for 8- or 900 miles,"
      muses Hill.

      "Through fate, they become the unwitting and unwilling protectors of
      these five girls, and this brings out complicated human reactions.
      They are not always perfect in their decision-making, but they are
      basically, despite their weaker moments, real decent guys, and the
      situation brings out the best in them."

      Though the film was shot on a TV budget and schedule in Alberta,
      Canada, Hill decided to shoot it big. "I am going to let it breathe
      and let it play. It's not a hard-driving, fast-paced type of thing.
      We are out there in God's country, and we're out there with God's
      creatures, and the herd [of horses] became endlessly fascinating to
      me."

      One scene he's most proud of occurs when Church's character has to
      put one of the horses down by shooting it after it hurts its leg.

      "So little is said, and I thought Tom handled it with just the right
      amount of purpose — to get it over with, to dispatch the situation
      as smoothly as possible and at the same time feel the pain. To me it
      is almost a microcosm of what the entire sensibility of [the movie]
      is about. It's the working man, good at what he does but having a
      larger sensibility. I think if you apply that to the situation
      involving the young Chinese women, it kind of encapsulates it all."
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