Interview: ‘Steam’ director Pau Han Kho

Photography by Dittrich Lourens

Photography by Dittrich Lourens

Pau Han Kho is the director of the short film Steam, a Steampunk/martial arts film about

Steam was screened at Fighting Spirit 2018. I asked him some questions, so hopefully you can get to know him better.

Describe yourself in three fictional characters.

- Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

- Zao (Die Another Day) 

- Gray Fox (Metal Gear Solid)

What are your top three films you would recommend to other people?

Fearless (Jet Li)

SPL (Donnie Yen)

Drunken Master 2 (Jackie Chan)

Are there any filmmakers who inspire you?

Yuen Wo Ping, Tsui Hark, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen to name a few. 

How did you get into directing?

There is no martial arts movie making scene in The Netherlands. By the time I had better film skills, I started my own project. 

What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten on your work?

The Dutch Martial Heritage Conservation Committee (CBME), acknowledged STEAM as one of the 2018 highlights of the Dutch Martial Arts heritage. 

How do you deal with stress during filmmaking?

By keeping in mind that it doesn’t has to be perfect. Don’t reshoot endlessly. Stick with your planning, change if necessary and move on to the next scene. 

Do you have any exciting upcoming work we should look out for?

Still in the idea phase. 

Who is someone you want to work with?

Anyone of the Hong Kong legends.

What’s the best advice you can give to people who want to get into filmmaking?

Start small, pay attention on the details and think about what you are going to do with your film once it’s finished. 

Do you listen to music while you write, if you do what songs do you listen to?

Not during writing the story, but I do listen to music when I’m developing the fight choreography. I listen to soundtracks of martial arts movies, but also cinematic music scores.

What are your favourite stories to write?

Stories that most martial artists can relate and appreciate.  

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? 

Yes, it was a one page script called about a kung-fu master fighting a cyborg demon from hell. I participated this movie in a trailer contest and won a rental budget. With this budget I made STEAM.

What’s your writing process like?

When I get inspired by a certain theme, I make mood boards of the characters, locations and props. After I figured out why my characters are going to fight… that’s the moment I start writing the details.

What’s the best part of writing for you?

Creating a new reality which feels ‘real’ to me. 

Who are your favourite martial artists?

Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen and Jet Li.

What is your background in martial arts?

Started wushu when I was 17. Performed a lot of stage martial arts and won several national and international wushu prizes with flexible weapon forms like the three sectional staff and chain whip between 2001-2008. 

What was the most challenging part of fight choreography?

To combine the fight moves, acting and the camerawork in a way that it looks natural. 

How does it feel when you’re doing stunts?


What is your favourite stunt you’ve ever done?

Getting thrown by a neck scissors technique and fall on a concrete oily floor while wearing full steampunk armour.

What do you see as the future of martial arts/action films?

More (independent) martial arts/action films from different countries

Exploring relatively unfamiliar martial arts

Experimenting new (sub)genres like Afro Futurism

Feature films based on the life stories of our current martial arts legends.

How did you come up with the idea for Steam?

For a long time I wanted to make a martial arts movie. I knew you have to offer more than just a good fight scene to get accepted at film festivals. During an animation class, my mentor mentioned ‘steampunk’. This was a cool visual style with great props for fight-scenes. 

What was the best part of filming Steam?

Working with a fantastic crew and seeing that your imagination is becoming reality. It’s like a dream come true. 

What was the most challenging part about filming Steam

The props are an important part of the film. Unfortunately, they are not made to endure fight scenes and gets broken. We had to improvise fixing them on the spot so we can finish shooting.

What was one lesson you learned while filming Steam?

Don’t do everything yourself.

What was your editing process like when editing Steam?

I had no experience with high-end video equipment before. I didn’t knew anything about ‘LUT Colour Grading’. Luckily I had help with that from my DOP. Working with a composer is also new for me, but that worked out just fine. 

Do you have any tips for editing? 

If you are going to work with visual effects, adjust them in a way that they look believable. 

How did you want audiences to feel when watching Steam?

That they enjoy seeing a different kind of martial arts movie. 

What has your experience been like with Fighting Spirit Film Festival?

Firstly very honoured to get selected and represent The Netherlands in an international film festival. 

I remember that the festival director Soo Cole called out to everyone in the filmmakers group-app to support each other at her festival. This is special because it reminded me of my sifu teaching us some etiquette during a kung fu camp. 

I saw some very high quality and enjoyable short films like ‘Chopsticks’ from the very young director Aeddan Sussex or ‘Punch Me’ from Jeanne Jo.

My lead actor Jacky Dunnes had the chance to perform his trade mark kicking skills in front of all the filmmakers. 

The FSFF is an informal, friendly and energetic film festival dedicated to martial arts. 

How has Fighting Spirit Film Festival impacted you?

I have learned a lot, had fun and made new friends who have the same passion for making martial arts films. This is the festival that I wouldn’t wanted to miss.