Drag Fu film more classic, comedy camp from Canadian director Lee Demarbre

There’s a new drag kung fu movie out, and it’s from the guy who made 2001’s gloriously silly Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, so fucking pay attention!

Ottawa-based filmmaker Lee Demarbre has returned to his cult/action/comedy roots with Enter the Drag Dragon, and the film is … well … fabulous!

Demarbre’s wacky low-budget flicks are entirely their own thing, but there’s an obvious affection for the kung fu genre shining through the screen. 

I had to ask Lee if there were any classic martial arts films that influenced him. 

“I love this question – YES!” he enthused. “Hong Kong films particularly. 

“I remember before making my first short film back in 1996 (Harry Knuckles), I decided that I’d try to appropriate a Hong Kong action aesthetic into my action scenes.”

It turns out that, like myself, Lee is a big fan of legendary Hong Kong director, actor and producer Sammo Hung. “Sammo is the best! His style of capturing and covering action is incredibly cinematic and continued to inspire all my films leading up to Enter the Drag Dragon.”

Lee also revealed the reason why the film’s protagonist, Crunch, is played by multiple actors.

“Drag Dragon was made over the course of four years without producer, investor or granting involvement. It was made out of the pure desire to make a movie.” 

The planned two-year shoot was unavoidably delayed by tragedy.  “During the read through I got the call that my mom was dying and that she had a short time to live. I let everyone involved with the film know that I would have to put a pause on production. While my mom was being treated, I spent all my free time with her. At first the treatment was going well, so with my mom’s permission – we started production and shot every other weekend. We would continue to shoot off and on according to my mom’s health – the process was now taking twice as long as it should have…however, I loved being on set, away from the hospital, taking my mind off of my mom’s illness.

“In the meantime, Sam Kellerman (who playas originally cast as Crunch) got a full-time job and wasn’t available as much as I would have liked. I explained to Sam that I needed to continue shooting, because being on set was a way for me to deal with my mom dying.” 

This led to the idea of having two additional actors take turns with the role. “I got the idea from two movies; Emmanuelle 4 and Walking Tall Part 2 – both films changed out the leading actor with another actor through the process of plastic surgery. I always loved these films for (their) audacity, and found this gimmick hilarious!” 

“Incidentally, my mother plays ‘The Screaming Lesbian’ in Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. 23 years later, Enter the Drag Dragon is dedicated to ‘The Screaming Lesbian’!”

One imagines that staging fight scenes with characters in outlandish costumes might lead to the occasional mishap.

“Running in high heels was the biggest issue,” confirms Demarbre. “And keeping the wig on during a fight. You’ll get a big kick out of our blooper reel!”

Lee Demarbre

If Drag Dragon seems like a return to the style of Demarbre’s earlier work, that’s because it is. “My last feature film was a properly budgeted production; shot in 14 days! When you make a movie in two weeks, you’re trying to get through your day; you’re not trying to make the best film you can make.” 

Lee seems to have flourished with a more easygoing shooting method. “It was so much fun to make, I often wish I was still on set making the movie!”

Just like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, Demarbre’s new film is proudly Canadian. “The producer of my last two feature films told me that I couldn’t set a movie in Ottawa because he couldn’t sell it overseas. He even went so far as to say ‘fire anyone with a Canadian accent’! I call bullshit on this, and made sure to show off Ottawa as much as possible! 

“So every time you see a Canada Post mailbox, the Parliament Buildings, or anything Canadian – it’s my middle finger to those who think Ottawa isn’t cool enough to be a set piece in your movie!”

ENTER THE DRAG DRAGON plays Sept. 1-Sept. 7 at the Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market Cinemas.