CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: PART TWO - An Interview With Andy Le


Last month's online shortfilm release, The Challenger, should serve as an exact reminder that there are people in the world - filmmakers who have an ardent love and respect for the craft to keep the martial arts genre alive. After all, it's played a huge role in the lives of many people, and if that weren't true, the genre wouldn't have had the impact and global appeal it did in more than fifty years.

Director Bao Tran knew this prior to working among the likes of Hong Kong film legend Corey Yuen Kwai and action stars like Johnny Tri Nguyen as of late. To that effect, I think it's quite fortuitous that actor, martial artist and competitive tricker, stuntman, choreographer and master in the making, Martial Club's own Andy Le, knew this too, and to see such like-minds collaborate to achieve something as solid and inspiring as a shortfilm preamble to a hopeful feature film really speaks to the core of independent action done right.

Hopefully you've all caught on to this project and are lending your support to it. I am, and as such, the second chapter in our Challenge Accepted series has arrived following my interview with Tran, and I couldn't be more happier to have had the opportunity to do an interview with Le seeing as how I've been following his videos online since late 2012. He's one of the best athletes in his field today next to his brother, Brian, and with The Challenger in full view, I'm personally looking forward to what the future holds for Le with this project and others.

As for all else though, his own drive is especially rooted in martial arts history with respect to the long lineage of masters and practioners before him. It says a lot about how open he's keeping himself to the options that are out there for him which I think is exemplary and will only benefit him in the days and years to come.

Le's got a talent and a vision that doesn't keep him cornered. He loves martial arts movies and even moreso, he wants to help The Challenger move even further, and he explains why and much more in our following interview:

Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Andy and thanks for taking the time to email chat with me. How has the year been for you so far?
Andy Le: Hey Lee! I have been good. I have been on the same grind as I have been any other year, and as of now I am still training and still building Martial Club the best I can.
FCSyndicate: Tell us how you got started in Martial Arts. You recently posted a video on your channel, so presumably Jet Li is your inspiration.
AL: Yes that is correct I've always wanted to do martial arts ever since I was little. As a toddler, I had always been exposed to Martial Arts movies, although at that age, I never really understood what was going on in those movies. Everyone just looked cool flying around and kicking each other's butts. 
I remember one movie that really stood out to me was Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China - Even though I was really young and never understood what was going on in these movies, I understood that Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) was a Kung Fu master and Hero to the people. I knew right away what I wanted to be when I grow up.  
I was really inspired and the rest is history, and today, I still am on this journey to train and become a kung fu master, and even be a hero like Wong Fei Hung. Martial Club is my outlet to preserve the art and inspire, and it's my way of giving back. 
FCSyndicate: Well I think that's commendable! And you do reciprocate a lot with your competitve work - I've actually been following you since late 2012 through tricking videos. Tell us how you got into that craft.
AL: I had always been trying to teach myself martial arts through movies and youtube. In 2008 I discovered martial arts tricking when I saw a video of Jeremy Marinas. I've been in love with the craft ever since and it is through tricking that I learned to be open minded, free and creative. I was able to apply this to my own martial arts training and in life.
FCSyndicate: Was this when you and your brother started Martial Club? How long ago was that?
AL: We actually started Martial Club in 2011 along with our teammate and martial brother, Daniel Mah.  We began noticing that tricking, as a sport, was starting to stray away from its Martial roots so we wanted to preserve that. So, as we grew and our passion for Martial Arts grew stronger, we then later chose to apply this idea not just to Martial Arts tricking but to the rest of the world.
FCSyndicate: And Martial Club has been at it ever since, I see. And you've sort of merged that agenda with stunt performance and acting on film as well. Did you always have an interest in that field? Or did things just pan out that way?
AL: I guess you can say stunt performance and acting has always been an interest because that was what inspired me to do what we do. We wanted to be exactly what I saw on the television screen. To us, tricking, martial arts, stunts, film, etc... it all embodies a unified interest. We don't really view them as separate things.
FCSyndicate: And from then on you've done several projects over the years with your latest being The Challenger. What was your initial response when your director, Bao Tran presented the project to you?
AL: At first I didn't know who Bao Tran was because he was so low key.  Nevertheless I was excited to work on it because Ken Quitugua asked me to be a part of it first. I was really honored by that and I soon learned later that Bao had actually been around since early years of The Stunt People and Zero Gravity days on top of having studied under Corey Yuen Kwai. 
I gained so much more respect for Bao when I learned how wise and knowledgable he is about not just filming but martial arts as well. He taught me so much during rehearsals and gave my wannabe kung fu a good fix.
FCSyndicate: And you worked with Ken Quitugua briefly on Dennis Ruel's directorial debut, Unlucky Stars - another indie actioner I enjoyed. How did you meet Ken?
AL: I had been watching Ken on YouTube since the old school Zero Gravity videos and Unlucky Stars was actually the first time I've met him! That is how Ken and I got acquainted prior to his suggestion for me to Bao for The Challenger. I know I keep saying this but I am so honored!!
FCSyndicate: I can certainly imagine. And with this, you both sort of had to figure out a way to sell this particular pitch and so you know this fight had to be THE fight to sell the concept. Tell us about the creative process in terms of styles and Ken's choreography. Was there an exchange of ideas along the way?
AL: Ken said he suggested me for this project primarily because it was a Kung Fu concept. He also told Bao that I was young and I my mind is like a sponge - I guess meaning that I'm open minded and hungry to learn, and he is not wrong. 
The concept of the fight was suppose to be a more realistic take on Shaw Brothers. So when Bao called me the first time he asked me what style I'm most comfortable with. At the time, I was really focused on Hung Ga Kuen and I was trying to teach the pillar forms (i.e., "Taming the Tiger" and "Tiger and Crane" boxing) and studying up on the application and philosophies behind them. Although I was probably not learning them right because of the lack of guidance, Bao offered to give me a Kung Fu fix at the rehearsals.  
By rehearsal time, first time out, Bao spilled some really fundamental Kung Fu drills at me that helped not only my Hung Ga style but all other styles and aspects of Martial Arts. As far as Ken's style, he utilized his background on White Crane for this film; Ken had already understood all the concepts that Bao was trying to train me in and they were already on the same page in terms of action style as well. So the beginning of the rehearsal phase mainly efforted in bringing me up to par with him. 
We later began applying ideas for the action sequence, although Bao had already had all the moments in his head. Ken would choreograph the exchanges and I would help with my own input from my side. As far as action goes, Bao and Ken are the real geniuses. :-)
FCSyndicate: What lessons do you take with you from this experience as you move forward with Martial Club and future collaborations with other directors? I ask because I imagine this was a bit of new territory for you working with Bao and in also possibly seeing you move into what looks like...Idunno...a feature lead role maybe!

AL: I learned a lot through this process! As far as film concept goes, we have to make sure everyone is on the same page.  That way we can avoid clashes in ideas and opinions because everyone will initially have a different taste. This I will take with me and apply when working with other directors, and compared to Martial Club, this is a different taste in action from our usual channel content. I hope to be able to be able to utilize the creative process for this type of action and apply it to our own projects.  
We would also love to create own projects with more production value in the near future much like The Challenger. Working with such a larger scale production and being the lead was such an amazing experience and I would love to do more of it!
FCSyndicate: I certainly hope so. Your drive clearly from a genuine place of appreciation for kung fu in general, and I also understand you have TWO specific goals in that regard. Tell us about them.
AL: I have only two goals in life right now.  FIRST, I want to become a Kung Fu Master, and I spoke about this in a rant I recently did about the importance of why we need martial arts movies. 
As cheesy as it may sound, I have been inspired to become a Kung Fu Master ever since I was a kid watching Once Upon a Time in China. I want to train and grow to be the best Martial Artist AND human being I can be. Martial Arts has taught me through years of consistent training that learning is endless and I've also been picking up a lot on philosophy and ethics and applying them into my own life. 
Moreover, between now and 2016, I wish to travel to China and train in different areas and provinces. If I can manage making it happen, I will definitely document my trip and share my experience with the viewers of Martial Club. 
Still from The Greatest Adversary (2015) by Martial Club
My SECOND goal is to spread and promote the Martial Arts Spirit, and this is where Martial Club comes into play. As Martial Arts purveyors, I feel like it is our responsibility to inspire and preserve the treasures of Martial Arts, especially in a modern world where Martial Arts is growing extinct. Martial Arts carries a lot of history, culture and values which NEED to be passed on; Similarly to a Martial Arts teacher passing on his/her knowledge onto his/her student, Martial Club is doing the same via YouTube and social media. 
Our goal is to recreate an era of Martial Arts films that once made an impact on society as well as any variation of videos that may inspire and educate our viewers.  This is why you will find more than just short films on our channel, including tutorials, vlogs, rants and such. The trick with YouTube, however, is to be consistent with our upload schedule, in a way that will keep the members of Martial Club very busy since we have to commit to an upload every week.  
Right now we are simply trying to build our fanbase, an army that will help us spread the Martial movement, and as we continue to build Martial Club, we hope to one day be able to fund our own big Martial Arts film that will blow everyone away and promote the Martial Arts spirit to the world.
FCSyndicate: Between training, filming and competing - and I know you do a LOT of traveling in that regard, how do you balance it all out? Because I can only imagine the toll it could take and I also know that injuries are a given thing for athletes like yourself.
AL: I have actually been struggling with a minor ankle injury for over a year and a half now, but thankfully it's not as bad to the point where it will limit me with what I can do. I can still train, perform and do everything I need to do. I also think it's important to eat a lot, rest and rehab for these injuries, which is exactly what I have been doing.  
As far as training goes, there is always something to else to train or improve on that doesn't stress the injury. For example, if my ankle is feeling weak on a certain day, instead of pushing it, I would at least be able to do some upper extremity strength training or something like Wing Chun to keep the progression going.
FCSyndicate: And with progression, do you see yourself dabbling into other styles outside Chinese kung fu? Are you experimenting right now?
AL: Yes I do plan on exploring slowly but surely. After being in South Korea for a while, I actually started taking an interest in TaeKwonDo and applying the kicking techniques and adapting them to my own style. Kung Fu is so vast and has such a wide variety. 
Like I said before, learning is never ending and therefore I can always dabble and explore in Kung Fu. I eventually want to get more into the actual fighting or combative side of martial arts. As a martial artist, I think it is important to be open-minded.  However, I would like to get focus on one thing at a time to train and adapt these elements of martial arts to my style.
FCSyndicate: I also noticed you privately coach your own students? Tell us about that experience.
AL: That definitely speaks back to what I mentioned about preserving martial arts. I do believe that it is our responsibility to pass down the art and wisdom hoping for one day our disciples to surpass us and take it further. Therefore, I like to make an effort in some private coaching on the side when I have time.
FCSyndicate: You speak a lot about preserving martial arts, and you're not alone there. I guess in that respect, one question I think is worth asking is... what will we lose if we don't?
AL: For one, you can lose the art itself. What is more important is that there is a lot of wisdom in Martial arts culture - Philosophy, virtues and values in Martial Arts that I can already see being lost in the modern day. These are lessons that don't necessarily just apply strictly to martial arts, but to everyday people and in life.  If there is more appreciation for Martial Arts in the modern world, I can see the world being a better place.
FCSyndicate: Is there anyone in particular you wish to collaborate with in the near future? Be it films or in martial arts, generally?
AL: Of course I would love to work with any of the heroes of Martial Arts film that i grew up watching; Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, etc. If any of these opportunities arise, that would be awesome.  
Someone who I really wanted to work with or at least meet was Lau Kar Leung. His films and ideology really inspired Martial Club to do what we do. His films truly represented Martial Arts in the most genuine form, and unfortunately, he passed away two years ago.
FCSyndicate: That was a sad day indeed for a lot of fans. I am certain though that with people like you around and adding to the mix that his legacy won't be forgotten. You're clearly committed and nothing you contribute is ever wasted. Do you have any last words for our readers and Martial Club fans?
AL: For the fans and readers, I would like to say to keep training hard! Keep learning and growing! Don't stop! I would also like thank everyone so much for the constant love and support, amd especially to you Lee! Thank you so much for always featuring us and our work. It's people like you that keep independent action filmmaking alive! And also, thank you for having me for this interview! It is my pleasure to speak with you and share my experiences and philosophies.
It was a pleasure indeed Andy, and thank you, in kind. You're on my radar!

Watch The Challenger and support it by sharing with friends. If you missed my interview with Bao Tran, click here to take a look and be sure to stay tuned for the third and final installment of The Challenger Series, coming soon!

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