STILL EVOLVING, STILL FLUNG: An Interview With Malay Kim

Welp, here we are again! My journey into the lives and aspirations of folks within the online action and independent film community continues, and in somewhat of a timely fashion with the latest release of director Kellie Madison's newest shortfilm, The Gate. The project is the latest move for its helmer toward a feature film well on the way, and, incidentally, it's also the latest notch on the belt of success for one of the hardest working people I've ever seen perform in independent, often zero-budgeted filmmaking.

That person, multifaceted martial artist and filmmaker Malay Kim, comes from one of America's most prominent and active film and stunt fighting companies to date, the EMC Monkeys. Many may know them from their roots on MySpace (when that was a thing), as well as various stage performances, comic-con events, and even YouTube where they have since been prospering with a steadily growing audience of their own through a number of fantastic online action shorts, including a Crows Zero-inspired fan film which has over a million views, their 2012 collaboration with the Pwnisher channel for a live-action Sleeping Dogs fan film with well over four million views, and the recent VoD and DVD/Blu-Ray releases of the Z-Team-produced hit feature, Die Fighting.

Having bared witness to his tenacity on screen, and suggestively off as well, I, for one, share hopes for a career to flourish in his direction and if the reel posted above for you isn't exemplary enough in that regard, there's a whole channel you can rest your eyes on by clicking the video through to their YouTube portal. Kim's screenfighting prowess, filmmaking and fight choreography comprehension is as sharp as any producer would want, and should the right producer and company come along to help Kim shine brighter, it would only benefit everyone and I can't emphasize this enough.

For this, I managed to get a few words in with Kim a few days ago for an e-mail interview. I love his team and the work they put out, and the fact that I've been following these folks off and on for close to a decade now only makes it clearer that in my current online pastime, anothee interview with one of the EMC Monkeys would only be right at this juncture. To add though, it certainly feels good to get a word in with people like Kim. Interviews are difficult to achieve at times and for a number of reasons, so it's always encouraging, especially in this instance.

I like that I can make acquaintances with folks like Kim and engage in simple chit-chat from time to time, and more importantly, being someone who writes and campaigns for martial arts movies on a daily basis, I like what Kim brings to the table and enjoy getting to know him through his craft. The EMC Monkeys have endured the test of time and continue to be relevant in an era where even though the martial arts cinema audience is somewhat smaller since the last few decades, it still reigns in its prominence on an international level.

For all of their efforts and more, genre is far from dead, and people especially like Kim are worth acknowledging in the wake of this fact with all of the mostly uncompensated hard work he puts in. Fight choreography and stunt work are a grueling field, and Kim, making Long Beach as proud as ever, is undeniably one whose investments in this field are worth highlighting. Given my platform, I'm proud to help achieve exactly that in my newest interview this week with the one and only, Malay Kim.

Film Combat Syndicate: Thanks for getting back to me for this interview Malay! How has your year been so far?
Malay Kim: So far, it's had its ups and downs. But right now it seems to be going back up.
FCSyndicate: Well that sounds good! I'm glad to see you making the rounds this month appearing in Kellie Madison's The Gate with Amy Johnston. What was that like for you?

MK: A mixed of emotions [laughs].  It was fun shooting and frustrating because I felt we were rushed. Just like any production, there are disagreements between the creators, artists and such. But the end product came out great, so I can't complain, and it's always great to work with friends you can trust and vice versa.
FCSyndicate: How long was the shoot? Tell us about the scheduling and the process of it all.
MK: It was four days of rehearsals - one of which was the location, and a total of three days of shooting, I believe, but only 2 days were reserved for Xin and I. I remember showing up to the first day of rehearsal and seeing Cecep in person. I thought to myself, "Wow this super nice, quiet guy can kill me at any second!" [laughs] 
When we began running through choreo, I felt the need to mimic Cecep's movements, although all that didn't work out. [laughs] But I still tried my best. It's been a long time since I've had to perform an intense fight scene and by the end of the day, I was exhausted and probably sore the next day. 
THIS is what I've always wanted to do. Heavily choreographed martial arts fight scenes! Don't get me wrong, I love those days when I'm working and all I have to do and run and gun and take reactions. But I grew up watching martial arts films and that inspired me to do what I do now.  So, to be able to work alongside great artists such as Cecep and Amy...that was a great feeling. 
After all four hard days of rehearsal, we got down to the actual day of shooting and I felt I was ready, and I was. My only problem was that I kept hitting my head against the camera operator because he kept getting too close, and getting certain shots were pretty difficult so unfortunately we had to cut out choreography. 
When I had finally finished my days, I felt a little unsatisfied seeing how we didn't get to do everything that Cecep, Chris and Kellie had originally planned. Hopefully, when this gets picked up, I'll get called back on!
FCSyndicate: Was this harder than projects you've previously done?
MK: I wouldn't say this is harder than any other projects I've done.  But I guess it's one of many physically challenging ones.  I didn't have a hard time learning anything, it was just doing lots of long takes over and over.  I mean, when you're doing a film with heavy fighting, that's bound to happen.
FCSyndicate: And you've been doing this long now? Tell us about yourself and your background.
MK: It's hard to say how long I've been doing this because everyone has their standards; I started doing martial arts demos since I was 15 (back in 2000) and that was also when I start learning martial arts. When EMC formed around 2005, that's when we started to shoot our own little projects for the heck of it, and it wasn't until 2008 when I got my first real job (and when I say real job, I don't mean indie productions or what have you - I mean an actual big production that paid well).  
From then on, I started to pursue a career in stunt performing and pushed myself towards that goal.  Obviously, I haven't push hard enough since I'm still barely breaking ground and getting my foot through the door, so to answer your question, I've been training for almost over sixteen years, trying to get work for eight, and actually working for almost a year. Again, it depends on people's standards. 
Others might say that I've been a stuntman for years, but I disagreeI don't consider myself a working stuntman until I can make and actual living of just that while supporting my family.

FCSyndicate: Tell us about EMC Monkeys and your history with the group as co-founder. For folks who are new to you, who are you guys?
MK: Well, Xin Sarith Wuku had his own crew called Evolved Monkey Combat, and then there was my crew, Flung Dung - Yes, it's exactly how it sounds cuz 'we're the sh*t and we flip around! [laughs] We met at an open gym in 2004 where we decided to combine forces and just stuck with the acronym, EMC. We've had members come and go but now we're 7 'Monkeys' strong, in addition to honorable EMC members who often work with us - there's Xin, myself, Tony Sre, Robbie Dill, Tommy Leng, Johnny Yang, and Paolo Ongkeko. 
We started simply doing our own fun little shorts and when Xin released his infamous Urban Ninja video, things just blew up,  and he started getting noticed everywhere we went. Eventually, we went from doing live performances to doing small productions, and after trying to work in the industry for awhile, we decided to go back to our roots and shoot YouTube videos. After all, we're only as big as our fans. 
Right now we're juggling YouTube projects and Hollywood productions. At our core, we're really just a brotherhood of fun loving, ass-kicking, martial artists [laughs]. We want to inspire the next generation as we were inspired by those before us - Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and even the Ninja Turtles!  Not the new shitty ones, the classic ones [laughs]. 
We still receive messages and comments from fans saying how much we changed their lives, and to know we have that can of responsibility is a great deal to us, as it should anyone. Whether you're a celebrity or a teacher or a parent, everyone's job is to make sure we leave the world in the hands of the next greatest *insert here*. We're not just a stunt team or a martial arts group or a film crew, we're all of that and more.
FCSyndicate: I actually laughed my ass off at your jab at the new TMNT films. I'm pretty keen on them myself but I understand the furor behind why some may disagree with it which sort of brings me to my next question: what are some pet peeves you share about films nowadays? Whether its remaking or rebooting properties or even from an analytical standpoint on fight choreography, that is. What things stick out to you the most that we could use less or more of?
MK: Oh man this'll probably black list me from all future jobs [laughs]. The problem, I feel, with films nowadays is there's just too many. I mean really, TOO many. Back when it was much harder to produce a film, you had to be careful with what you create.  Now there's too many genres, too many companies, too many everything and everyone is just out to make a quick buck rather than make sure this needs to stay an art form. Of course, art is only judged differently by opinionated critics. What's horrible for me could be great for someone else. There are times where I enjoy just a fun film but I would rather watch something with a little more substance. 
This goes for action films too, and again there's not necessarily a wrong or right way of making an action film, it's all about how you perceive it to be. From my point of view, action films or martial arts movies with choreography that focus too much on aesthetics may or may not lose the point of creating that fight scene or action scene. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Everyone can choreograph a fight scene, but not everyone can design a fight scene. So I guess my point would be less flash value and more substance...oh, and less shaky cam would be very nice.
FCSyndicate: I think that's pretty fair and constructive insight to share in that regard. What are some fun films you can name for us that you enjoy the most out of your batch, per se? Any ones that have helped shape you as a filmmaker and performer since you've began picking up a camera?
MK: My number one action film of all time is Die Hard. I talk about how a lot of action film nowadays don't have substance, yet Die Hard is a fine example of how it can be achieved. Police Story is also one of my all time favorites, and a most recent favorite of mine is Chan Ho-sun's Wuxia aka Dragon aka Swordsman starring Donnie Yen. One of the most beautiful martial arts movies I've seen since Zhang Yimou's Hero 
Practically almost all martial arts movies shaped me into the way I am now. Whether it was a good or bad movie, it helps me develop an idea of what not to do and what I should do. John Woo, Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen are my biggest inspirations as a filmmaker and performer.
FCSyndicate: And as a lot of filmmakers who create various shorts for audiences online, you folks work without a budget most of the time. What are some practical ways you use to keep going as, essentially, a no-budget filmmaker?
MK: The most important aspect of making a $0 budget film is your crew. You need a crew who you can trust and respect - guys and gals who share the same passion as you. 
FCSyndicate: You guys came up amid the era of internet filmmakers after 2000 among groups like Zero Gravity, The Stunt People, LBP Stunts and folks like Vlad Rimburg to name a few. Compared to then, and with some of the milestone successes a lot of these people are finally reaching as a result of their efforts, how do you feel about the state of independent martial arts movies today with respect to today's industry?
MK: It's definitely on the rise. With the help and exponential growth of the internet, it's become much easier to make yourself known, especially if you create great content. I'm thankful for these guys because they've paved the way for me and other indie film makers. When you have no money for your short, there's a little more heart and soul to each project.

FCSyndicate: Can you tease us a little on what's to come from the EMC Monkeys, and Malay Kim for that matter?
MK: Oh man there's so many [laughs]. Well we have a bunch of videos that are still being edited, but we do have plans to shoot a Samurai Champloo video, a G.I. Joe tribute and another and hopefully last, a Flash Point tribute.
FCSyndicate: Flash Point 2 is actually in the works so it should definitely be in your purview! And I've only recently become a fan of Champloo, which actually brings up a question that just came to me: what, if any, adaptations would you like to see happen in terms of manga or anime? I ask because mine is Kill La Kill and I think it's an interesting topic anyday.
MK: That's one reason why I'm doing it. I've never really given it any consideration when it comes to anime/manga adaptations. I mean, who wouldn't wanna see their favorite anime come to life?  Really, it's more a case of "if they decide to do one, will it be good?"  If I had to chose one though, maybe Ippo.
FCSyndicate: Hajime no Hajime no Ippo.. ha! You're giving me some great anime homework to do and I quite appreciate it. Do you have any last words you would like to throw in before we cap things off?
MK: Thanks for the interview Lee and thanks to any and all followers of EMC. Without your support, we're nothing.

Head over to the official Patreon page for the EMC Monkeys and lend your support to the cause of keeping martial arts cinema alive!


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