DROPOUTS, TIGERS AND GRAVITY: Dinner With Indie Action Cinema's Finest

Once again, a year after my rendezvous with a select group of individuals resulting in ceremonious meeting and making of friends, I had the distinct pleasure of doing the same in the midst of all happening this weekend for the Urban Action Showcase & Expo. As with last year though, I didn't get to go to the full event because of work and so everything was close to being over and finished by then, but the night was as young as it could have been despite some of the hurdles that were there.

I like to give myself until 10:00pm as a good estimation of arrival time anywhere because of my commute, and you never know how these buses and trains will operate. Eventually I got to Times Square around 9:25pm where I stood outside the AMC Empire 25 at first before going inside, and I had a LOT of time to spare which was a bit worrying because things were hardly settled on a plan for the evening, which was really to wait for a few people I had been in touch with and talked about seeing over the weekend during the events at UASE before convening someplace to chill and eat something. I didn't know where or when and a lot was still in the air as long as I didn't see any faces, so in the words of actor, filmmaker and martial artist Andrew Suleiman, we were really playing it by ear, and it wasn't until he came down the escalator in the theater that things began falling into place, with a little proactivity on my part.

Arriving in town for his first-ever film festival event to promote Holy Bastards' debut project, You Can't Hear Me, You Can't See Me, this year marks close to ten years since I had begun following independent action movies online, and Suleiman, by way of his membership with Zero Gravity at the time, has earned him a place among the pioneers of online indie action. Thus, it was in the 2004 (released in 2005) shortfilm, Cha Cha Chinaman, that Suleiman truly got the attention of fans including myself, and I was really mixed with emotion upon shaking his hand in lieu of all that was about to happen for the rest of the evening.

By then it was 10:45pm, and I won't lie - the mood was a little depressing prior to Suleiman showing up. The UASE was in its third year and not being able to attend the event in its entirety and meet all the people there, many of whom I share space with online, much less join the crowd in the auditorium where the awards ceremony was being held, was a bit of a bummer. Hence, trying to make a thing of these late night get-togethers was a priority for me, and much to my own satisfaction and with a few exceptions, things were starting to pan out just fine.

Still waiting in the lobby for more people, filmmaker Sophano Van surprised Suleiman and I as the crowd at the UASE slowly began dispersing. Van's own short, The Last Dragon 2: Leroy Goes To Hollywood, had just premiered next to the original film it's based on, Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, celebrating its 30th anniversary, and he and his company weren't able to stay very long after flying in at the last minute, so we shook hands and parted ways - It just so happens it was afterward that actor Taimak and his two associates waltzed right by Suleiman and I in the lobby, and I completely FROZE!

It's okay. You can laugh. I deserve it.

A little while after, Suleiman and I decided to leave the theater and head next door to Applebees; It was not our first choice seeing as how it IS Times Square and it was not like we were short on options, though it was next to the theater and so it was at Applebees where we settled since it was already familiar to folks anyway, you know, just in case. Alas, after ordering greasy-yet-delicious Quesadea with fries, a tall Budweiser and a toast with one of the best action performers and actors I've come to know online, another of the internet's earliest auteurs, UASE award recipient Joey Min, messaged me back after I made attempts to contact him prior. Some minutes later, Min showed up and sat with Suleiman and I as we all chatted up about the Expo and their careers, adding more to their conversation over the weekend, although it was just that Saturday evening Min awoke a bit more of Suleiman's history by way of Zero Gravity, and to say the least, Min was quite jubilant. As much as he is a filmmaker, he is also a fan of the genre in a huge way with a grand appreciation for other filmmakers and creators like himself, so reasonably you couldn't ask him to hide his excitement for the time he was with us.

Thankfully before he left, UK based stuntman, actor, martial artist and choreographer Law Plancel (Green Street Hooligans: Underground) joined the rest of us later on, thus making us a quartet. Plancel's own career direction sort of added to the generational formula at our table with his own current contribution to indie cinema via his shared partnership at JP/LP Action Design. Together with fellow UK-based Frenchman and action actor Jean-Paul Ly (Now You See Me 2, Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist), the two just recently premiered their latest short, Dead End, following their earlier Bond-inspired release, Sapphire. Plancel himself actually arrived in New York City earlier this week by his own volition and it was by the good graces of action legend and UASE attendee James Lew, that Plancel managed to put on a martial arts demo of his own (and I hope there is video of it!).

Plancel and Ly have few more gigs on the way, including Charlie Denis's upcoming action short, Deep Pan Fury, and another JP/LP project now in development. In the meantime, Plancel just recently finished working as a stunt extra under director Gareth Edwards for next year's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and much to our collective chagrin, he gave nothing away, although it did strike up a bit of industry talk among our group later on.

As the evening moved onward, Min had to depart with his other friends en route back to New Jersey and we bid our goodbyes there. To note, it had been a year since Min and I briefly shared a table at Brasserie Athénée where we met for the first time, and it was rather opportune for us to finally break ice that needed to be broken after butting heads online months before. He's one of the coolest and kindest people I've met in the last three years since I began writing, and I couldn't be more prouder to share social circles and a meal with the guy. Clearly he and I are hanging out again next year, and there's no debate there.

Finally, we down to three as Plancel just ordered a meal for himself while Suleiman spend the entire evening being one of the most generous people I've come across, buying dinner for the both of us at the start of our evening as well as our beverages, though I insisted on at least paying for the second beer! I honestly didn't see it all coming and to be the recipient of such kindness and magnanimity really added some major layers to the overall humility of the moment. It was a real gift to share from him on such an occassional evening and I honestly hope to be able to buy him the food and beers next time, in kind.

The hours passed and the evening had almost fully wound down into the wee hours of Sunday, and by then, Virginia-based Leroy Nguyen and Edmond Shum of Rising Tiger Films finally arrived. Before then, they reportedly had an issue attending an afterparty located at NYC Skyline Lounge & Rooftop Bar, and by then Nguyen had just remembered I was in the neighborhood; He hadn't been on Facebook for close to five hours and we finally connected via text before he and his entourage came in, making a total of ten for us.

With Nguyen to my immediate left, we all sat and greeted once more as Nguyen shared a little bit about the UASE experiences, as well as stories from some of his past and current projects. Nguyen attended this year to present another of his shorts, These Dog Days, following a year circulating his most recent protracted award-winning short film effort, Black Scar Blues, which is currently underway with more scenes to shoot toward its feature completion.

We also shared chuckles over grievances on life and relationships, as well as further talk with Suleiman and Plancel about the UASE, the Stunt People forums of yesteryear, although admittedly for Nguyen and most prominently, what felt more comforting was actually sharing a table with all of us kicking back and cutting loose after the UASE crowd dispersed. It was rather gratifying to know I helped accomodate this for all of us in this respect, providing a space to generate a dialogue among indie film professionals right before my eyes while sitting back and just enjoying the moment. We laughed, drank, ate, laughed harder, helped a drunken English couple off the floor after they fell right next to me and thankfully no one was hurt, broke the silence thereafter about Nguyen's awesome steak, talked more about movies and then some. But above all else, while the evening could have been a bust, the result turned out be favorably different. We simply clicked. It was magic and despite not having everyone with us before we parted ways, I wouldn't have it any other way, if only though we may all congregate once more next year with no one missing.

Being a blogger does not get me paid. I don't make a dime from it, and that's not to say I don't wish to. Rather there are complications and things that get in the way of me focusing on that end as opposed to just doing the work aside from my current living as a clothing salesman. That said, I haven't gotten along with everyone I've come across working in film. Some people in this industry are assholes and complete douchebags of a toxic nature, and there are those who I just simply don't click with for reasons none other than just because;  In turn, this goes for about a lot of people in any level of society. Gladly my current degrees of separation benefit me from not ever crossing paths with some of these folks again, be it virtually or in person, and so going into starting Film Combat Syndicate back in 2012 on Facebook and on Blogger in 2013, partly my motive for doing so stemmed from a need to meet more people and make friends, and notably a few of these people were so when MySpace was still a thing at least.

Fast forward to 2015 and my social circles online nearly completely shifting, the continuing realization here is that a lot of friendships you make come and go, as per the nature of change. Change, little did I know, has benefitted me in ways I never expected but had only ever hoped for from others while I continue to wish for better prospects in the long haul. I've had the grace of meeting some amazing people in the last three years, as lonely as my own personal life has been. I really can't describe in words how difficult things were in the last fifteen years or so, what with life-threatening injury, heartbreak, depression and ecomonic stagnation all being a factor leading up to some of the choices I've made to this day as far as pastimes are considered. For all intents and puposes and in the face of all things I once considered nearly impossible, and more so at the risk of sounding corny, I'll add this: while money is certainly nice and very much needed, it's moments like Saturday night, or any of these nights, I couldn't feel more prouder or more fortunate for.

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Three years, two months, many-many drinks and toasts, selfies and brohugs later, and my newfound social journey continues...

Thank goodness for action movies, and the arts. And Applebees.


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