Watch Out Hollywood

Foreign films are staking their claim. Storm interviews director of The Admiral, Roel Reiné. By Basia Chow

Roel Reiné’s easy nature and affable manner is a far cry from the burly man barking orders that one thinks of when the image of the man hailed as the “best modern action film director” is suggested.

“It’s marketing right? The Americans are really good about selling Roel,” Reiné jokes.

“But I try to be,” he says, turning serious. “I’m aware of my responsibility.”

Reiné directed the award-winning 2015 film The Admiral which tells a story deeply intertwined within the national consciousness of the Netherlands. Michiel De Ruyters, the protagonist, was a 17th century naval hero who was instrumental securing the Netherland’s future during the Anglo-Dutch wars.

His story lives on, retold to children through history books—and this historical significance is why Reiné chose to shoot the film in Dutch.

“English is movie language, and I wanted to reach an international audience,” says Reiné, explaining why his previous films were predominantly English, “but I don’t think language is a barrier.”

Secret Ingredients To A Good Film

The Los Angeles-based Dutch director has directed 16 feature films for studios like Universal, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate. But despite his expertise in action filmmaking, Reiné surprises us by declaring that action scenes aren’t essential. “In the end,” Reiné explains, “I want a good story.”

And his standards do not discriminate, even when it comes to huge blockbuster films like the X-Men franchise. “It looks great, but is there something you can take with you, and dream about at night? Do the characters grow with you? No. Films like the Matrix, however, do that.”

“But,” he adds, “I’ve made both. Terrible movies with great action and no storyline, and great movies that have both a moving story and action. The Admiral,” he finishes proudly, “is one of those.”

Making a good movie is difficult. But Reiné is well-versed in this—he is known for making low budget action movies look really good. “Death Race 2 and 3 had a $6 million budget but we made it look like $50 million. You need to be smart, efficient, have the expertise and the right crew.”

He likens his role as a director to the driving locomotive of a train. “It’s the only profession in the world where you can be a dictator without being arrested,” he adds dryly. “You have to be an inspirational leader for a crew of over a hundred people, and make them follow you in this crazy war you’re fighting.” On top of that, he says, you need to have technical skills and a knack for telling a good story.

Power Struggles

The battle for a good movie which Reiné speaks of doesn’t just happen during the production. According to Reiné, many directors he knows in Hollywood have no influence over the final cut once the studio takes over.

The movies turn out entirely different from what they intended, and the alternative—finding a middle ground between different visions isn’t always better. “It’s a compromise between the studio, director or stars, and what is created is a safe, a boring movie.”

However, Reiné takes this state of affairs in stride. “Whoever pays makes the rules, and that’s how it works in Hollywood. They have to earn it back. It is a business. It’s not an art project.”

He points out that directors fail in Hollywood because of their inflexibility and insistence on authenticity, and also notes that there’s an upside to having a force counter your monopoly over the film. “I became a better director by working through very powerful studios who told me, “Hey Roel, this sucks. Let’s do it this way.” And they were right because they’ve done hundreds of movies and I’ve done five.”

Filming In Asia

Asia is a choice destination to film for Reiné, who professes how impressed he is by the Thai stuntsmen he has worked with. “There’s a lot of creative talent in Asia. I love Thai, Korean and Chinese movies,” he enthuses, “China is at this moment a movie goldmine, with a growing middle class that is becoming wealthier and has weekends off to visit the theatre.” But he adds that he hasn’t seen any Singaporean movies.

And despite his love for the thrills in an action film, Reiné adds that he may be moving away from action movies. The director is keen on television, having filmed an episode on the series Black Sails, and is moving towards historical films as well, currently working on a film in Thailand about a Dutch trade ship which invades Siam.

Catch Reiné’s The Admiral and other foreign films during the 26th edition of the European Union Film Festival. The festival has a line-up of over 30 films and will be playing in Golden Village at Suntec City from the 10 to 22 of May. For more information, visit

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