I had the extreme pleasure to sit down and speak with martial artist, creator of Hapkido, action star, writer and director Jino Kang, whose film Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice was just released on DVD and VOD, and if you have any sense you’ll pick it up immediately.
James: Great to have this talk with you Jino.
Jino: Hi James, thanks for the talk. Glad to be here.
James: I’ve heard you’re a fan of Kurosawa, especially his samurai films. Which films of his do you love and would you want to make your very own samurai film? And did that give you the film making bug?
Jino: Yes, Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors and I love all his films even non-samurai films like Rashoman and High and Low. However, The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo and Sanjuro is my all time favorites. I love the way he infuses humanity, intelligence, savage violence and dark comedy.
Perhaps, one day making a pure samurai films would be very cool. My father used to take me to the movies in Korea and it made a indelible impression on my young mind and I would fantasize about sword fighting all the time.
James: Unlike most action directors and actors, you’ve only done a handful of films since you began in 2001. Why haven’t you done more since?
Jino: I was busy building my Hapkido school and it gave me a chance to develop and grow my skills as a martial artist. I did finish two other scripts “Tenderloin and “Trained to Kill” which I hope to develop and shoot one of these days.
James: Can you please explain your martial arts expertise in Hapkido and how it differs and is similar to other martial arts?
Jino: Hapkido is such a unique style in that it is very eclectic and progressive. It incorporates powerful kicks and strikes of Tae Kwon Do and Karate and bone-breaking joint locks and throws of Judo, Jujitsu and Aikido. The Hapkidoist is able to use strikes and kicks for long-range fighting and utilize joint locks and throws in a grappling situation. However, the ground game element was missing, if one is taken to the ground. So, I incorporated Gracie Jiu-Jitsu into my style of Hapkido. This fusion completes what we do.
James: Having seen your newest film Weapon of Choice, and with the inclusion of Hapkido, do you enjoy incorporating mixed martial arts in general in your films?
Jino: I truly do, because it’s fresh and incorporates reality to the choreography. Of course, if it’s not done right, it can look pretty bad but if it’s done right, it can look pretty amazing.
James: I grew up when the UFC was starting to come out, with such gladiators as Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. Are you a UFC, Belator or other mixed martial arts competition fan? If so, who do you enjoy watching fight?
Jino: Yes, I am. Currently I follow Damian Maia, Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey. I believe these fighters have extreme skills. If they work on the weak areas they would rule and dominate the cage.
James: What action films influence your films? What star do you like and better yet, who would you like to co-star in one of your films, either as a partner or a villain to spar with?
Jino: Great questions. Of course besides Kurosawa and Bruce Lee films, I love Luc Besson’s The Professional and La Femme Nikita. The films emanate charisma and style. The action scenes create tension and enhance the story instead of uninspired fight scenes or ridiculous action with flying cars/people scenes. I also love classics like Heat (one of the best shoot-em-up scenes) and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and especially Once Upon a Time in the West. The latter, most of those gun fights last only a few seconds but they build up the tension with artistic cinematography and contorted faces of the actors.
I would love to work with great character actors like Danny Trejo, Joe Pantoliano, Guy Pearce. If I were to be a bad guy, I would let Keanu Reeves beat me up (in movie only).
James: How did you come up with the idea for Weapon of Choice? What made this a sequel by name only? And did working with Tony Urgo help the project grow in a different way?
Jino: The distributor taught that following up with Fist 2 Fist would be great idea since it was a huge success. I wrote first 70 pages of the script, created all the characters and plot line and sent it off to Tony, who added additional 30 pages with more character development and dialogue. We stayed the course and I believed it worked out well.
James: They say a film starts with a line of dialogue and it grows from there. Did you enjoy writing the film with Tony?
Jino: Yes, it was a pleasure writing with Tony. Perhaps we can collaborate more in the future.
James: I really enjoyed the actress who played your niece in the film, Kelly Lou Dennis. I also loved that she wasn’t the usual damsel in distress, and actually held her own in her fights. Did she train before or was she already a trained fighter?
Jino: Kelly was a great find. She came on board after numerous auditions and her willingness to train in MMA helped her win the part. Kelly was a hip hop dancer and in no way a martial artist. She was a natural and worked very hard and I wanted the female characters to have wit and valor and she embraced the character.
James: How was it working with Katherine Celio as your love interest and partner throughout the film? Again, another tough woman in your film. Was this a thought that you had beforehand or did it just evolve naturally?
Jino: Katherine was an absolute delight and a real trooper. Again, her willingness to train and dedicate herself for the film even though she’s never done martial arts before was fantastic. I remember one of my co-producer Christine Lam complaining about weak female character in Fist 2 Fist (Melissa Tan plays my wife Mimi), so I took the challenge and made the female characters smart and dauntless while I made the secondary male characters cowards and dumb-asses.
James: I love two of the villains in the film, Banducci and Don. I see Hester Schell did the casting, but who cast those two because they are gems in the film, with their sarcastic back and forth and Don has a pretty fun street fight at one point in the film.
Jino: I hate taking credit but it was me again. This is what happens when you’re the producer and co-director. I met Doug Olsson and Artem Mishin while I was helping out a friend (Kenny Leu) with choreography on a short “Love Hurts”. Doug had this pompous look (in his character) and his demeanor was very impressive and I thought he would be great as a mob boss. Artem was a riot (off the set) and his athleticism and easy going persona was perfect for the right hand man of Vitriolic Banducci. Artem is also a gifted Judoka so we choreographed the fight fitting the street fight scene. Tony Urgo added the sarcasm in the dialogue and it came out terrific.
James: Will we be seeing Jack Lee kick butt again in a true sequel?
Jino: For sure. We (Christine Lam and I) just finished the script Blade Fury, a true sequel to Weapon of Choice. The story follows Jack, when he goes in hiding and tries to live a normal life in a rural town but quickly gets exposed when he’s discovered by a Yakuza mob boss, Toshiro, who seeks vengeance and unleashes an army of Ninja’s to get to Jack. And now, Jack has to fight for his life and others that he’s come to love and respect.
We’ ll be knocking on some doors to get this project financed and green lit real soon.
James: Anything else on the horizon for you? Besides a sequel, I’ve heard you’ve been working on your Hapkido book. Any other ideas for films that you have in the works?
Jino: Yes, I have been working on and off for my Hapkido book (electronic) “Secrets of Hapkido” for the last 25 years. But it’s finally done and hoping to be released by December 2016.
Also, working on a true follow up to Fist 2 Fist called Fist 2 Fist: Wages of Sin but as a pilot/series. Almost done with the script and will be shopping that around as well when finished.
Thank you, James!