Several years ago, maybe back in 2003 or 2004, I was able to see the horror film Dracula in a Coffin at a special screening at the Korean Film Archives (KOFA–then in their easier-for-me-to-reach location) and I wrote a review for it for the site that hosts this blog, Koreanfilm.org. This past week, I received an email from Mr. Guy Grafius. He had appeared as an extra in that movie and wanted to know if it was available to see as he never had the chance to watch it. Unfortunately, he wrote a bit too late. It was possible to watch Dracula in a Coffin this summer as part of the KOFA;s free online viewing, but it has since been rotated out. I could only advise that he keep checking in with KOFA. It is likely Dracula will be featured again, probably in summer when horror movies are more popular. The correspondence could have ended there, but I was curious about his experiences here in Korea in the early eighties and how he came to be an extra in this film. I asked Guy if I could ask him a few questions and post his answers here and he graciously agreed.
When did you arrive in Korea? I went to Korea with my parents at the end of the school year in 1980 and lived there with them until the fall of 1982. I was 18 when I first arrived. We lived on the Yongsan Base where my dad was stationed.
How did you come to be an extra in Dracula in a Coffin? There was a talent agent who worked with several of the teens on the base. She sometimes approached me about work. For example, I was also on the Min Byung-Cheol Practical English TV show and did a couple of modeling gigs. It paid well for a college kid but I said ‘no’ to a lot of things because I didn’t like being in front of the camera. I don’t remember much about the agent except that she spoke English well and seemed well connected in the industry. She was always nice to me but she didn’t like it when I talked to people on the set. I think she used to tell people I was some big model in the USA.
Professor Min Byung-Cheol is still quite famous today. Tell me about working with him on the television program. I only worked on Practical English for a week. It was a fluke. I was supposed to go into the TV station and do just one sketch, but the main American actor didn’t show up or couldn’t make it so they asked me to fill in. We shot all five shows in one day. It was a long, hard day. I was nervous and I didn’t enjoy it. It had a live television audience. The sketches all came from his books and the audience followed along and every time I missed a line you could hear this hushed “oooowwww.” I was recognized on the street quite a bit after the show aired. One time I was walking and there was a group of college students across the street. They were staring which wasn’t unusual, but I heard them say something about Min Byung-Cheol Practical English. Right after that, I tripped and fell on my face. I’m sure that was a big laugh for them!
That’s embarrassing. You also mentioned modeling…? Yes. I forgot what my first modeling job was. Probably a still shoot for an ad. I was young with blond hair and that was all they really cared about. Needless to say, I stood out in a crowd there. I really didn’t like being in front of the camera mostly because I knew I was BAD actor and I was a little self-conscious. Really, I was bad. But like I said, they only cared that I was blond-haired and blue-eyed.
Well, it helped you get the role in Dracula. They needed young foreign-looking men for the disco scenes. Did you meet director Lee Hyeong-pyo? I met the director on the Dracula shoot, but I didn’t talk to him much. I was given direction through translation, by my agent, I think. (Think of the movie Lost in Translation). All I had to do was dance on the disco floor. No lines, no talking. I did speak to Ken Christopher a little. He had the role of Dracula. All that I remember is that he was complaining a lot! He hated the red contacts he had to wear as he said they were very painful. I think I was only there for one day.
Did you appear in any other movies? I did a scene for a ‘kung-fu’ movie. I’m not sure what they did with that or if maybe it was more of a reel footage for the actor. He was not Korean—maybe from Hong Kong, I forget, but he looked like Bruce Lee, very muscular and knew what he was doing. The scene was myself and another American were supposed to have killed his sister and he had come for revenge. What’s funny is that myself and the other American had total baby faces. Not much of a bad guy image. But we had to do a few fight scenes with no stunt doubles. I remember missing a cue and getting hit in the nose and it started bleeding bad. I wasn’t really hurt, but the actor’s sensei grabbed the back of my neck on some pressure point and the blood stopped. But they told me once he lets go, it will bleed again. It was at the end of the day and they needed to finish the shot. So they got me all set up with the sensei still holding my neck till they said ‘action.’ I could feel the blood start to come out, but we got the shot done before it really started to flow. Oh! One other think I remember is when my agent called for the job, she said they wanted me to wear street clothes, which to me meant a nice shirt and pants…but what they wanted was more of a tee shirt/bad guy image, like a street gang type.
Wow. It sounds like you had some interesting experiences in Korea. Yeah, it was a really good experience living there for two years. I had three big modeling jobs there before I started to say ‘no’ and I had two full time jobs as well as going to college at night. I was a busy camper.
Although Dracula in a Coffin is not available at this time, I wondered if I could find the Kung-Fu sequence that Mr. Grafius mentioned. He had already given me a clue that might aid in searching for the film if it had been made for a movie. He said the main actor looked like Bruce Lee. Although lots of people wanted to imitate Bruce Lee, only one really looked like him, Geo Ryong. In Hong Kong movies he has been called Dragon Lee, Dragon Bruce Lee or simply Bruce Lei. He was raised in Russia and then moved to South Korea as a teen. He was spotted by an agent because of his resemblance to Bruce Lee and was trained and taken to Hong Kong where he began a movie career. Geo made about a dozen films in South Korea. Mr. Grafius confirmed that an image I sent him looked like the main actor of his Kung-Fu shoot. Looking through his filmography and the movies he made in the early 80s, there is only 1 that really stands out as possibly containing the fight sequence mentioned in the interview. It is called Golden Dragon, Silver Snake (KOFA’s website calls it Fight at Hong Kong Ranch but, through searching for ads in newspapers published at the time for the movie index I am building on this site, I have learned that KOFA had never checked original promotional material when assigning names to films). The plot of this movie mentions that Drong Lee is out to avenge the death of his younger brother. Mr. Grafius stated that his kung-fu background was revenge for the death of his sister. However, since the word for younger sibling in Korean is the same for male or female unless specifically modified, his translator may not have known the gender and just picked ‘sister’. I decided I needed to see the film—even though the genre is really not one I enjoy. This movie is not available on DVD in Korea, but I discovered this weekend that they are available in Hong Kong through a site called HKDvds. I ordered Golden Dragon, Silver Snake and saw that two other films from director Kim Shi-hyeon were available there so I bought them as well (Dragon Lee VS the Five Brothers and Enter the Invincible Hero). It will take a couple of weeks for the films to arrive, but I will let you know what I find out after watching them.