PROFESSION OF CHOICE: An Interview With Actor And Filmmaker Jino Kang (VIDEO)

When David Van Tassell isn't working on his own projects, every now and then he serves as contributor to Film Combat Syndicate and upon his recent review of actor and martial artist Jino Kang's latest action thriller, Fist 2 Fist: Weapon Of Choice, Tassell took the opportunity to offer his services for an interview with the film's director and star.

The movie itself is already available wherever you can find it on VoD and DVD, and is also poised for a premiere on The Fight Channel in the UK this summer while Kang discusses, among other things, his career and current goals in film. For the hearing impaired, Tassell has also made the following transcript available just beneath, and we especially send our thanks to Tassell for going the extra mile to offer us a feat as rare as this seeing as how we rarely get to do Skype interviews in the course of our own busy schedules. And for that matter, we especially thank Jino for taking the time to share his story and insight with us. Enjoy!

-Lee B. Golden III, founder and editor

David Van Tassell: Hello, folks. This is David Van Tassell here from Film Combat Syndicate, and I'm here today with action filmmaker Jino Kang to chat with him about filmmaking, life, and his latest feature film, Fist to Fist Two, Weapon of Choice.

Jino, thanks for joining us today. How's your year been so far?
Jino Kang: Pretty good. First of all, thank you for having me here. This is great. Thanks for the opportunity. This year, a lot of grind. We've been writing and re-writing our scripts, and it seems like a never-ending cycle, and it just keeps going. We think we're done, and then I announce to the world, "Hey, yeah. We're done." Then all of a sudden, no. We're not done. We've got to do this. We've got to do that. It's a constant challenge. So far this year it's just been writing and re-writing, and I'll probably have a couple more meetings coming up in a couple weeks, and then go from there.
DVT: Anything you can let us in on right now, or are we all staying hush hush?
JK: I'm sorry?
DVT: Are we staying all hush hush with what we're working on, or are things in...
JK: No. What we're working on right now is Blade Fury is actual real follow-up to Fist to Fist Two, Weapon of Choice. The same hit man, Jack, is hiding out in a little town, and trying to live a peaceful life, but foils a bank robbery, he gets his cover blown, and if you recall, Toshira, the Yakuza boss who lost millions of dollars with the purchase that he was going to make, he has a specific vengeance on Jack. He finds him, and then he sends out an army of ninjas after him, so Jack has to either decide he's going to run, or he's going to stay and fight for his life, and protect the people he has come to know and love. It should be fun.
DVT: Glad to hear it. That writing process could seem kind of never-ending. It's always fun when you finally get a script that you can work with. Tell us a bit about your background in general. What initially drew you to martial arts, and eventually filmmaking?
JK: The martial art was handed down to me by my father. He's a grand master in Hapkido. I was born in South Korea, near Seoul, lived in another city called Incheon, and my father used to have a studio there, and I was four years old, and I would wake up at their martial arts school with my gi on, so it was an introduction. Then all of a sudden, I see a bunch of people training, so I would just get up there and start training with them, and that's my earliest recollection, and from then on, I never looked back, and I kept on training, and when we immigrated to the States in the 70s, when I was old enough, my father said, "I think it's time to open up a school." That's what we did. Then ever since then I've been writing about Hapkido and other different various martial arts schools in San Francisco.
Jino Kang
DVT: What eventually drew you, or when do you eventually wake up and say, "You know what? I want to get into film."
JK: It didn't really dawn on me, but I was mesmerized by, just like everyone else, watching Bruce Lee films, and also my father used to take me to samurai shows, too, like Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and all that, and I fell in love with those films. 
In junior high school in the States, we had a bunch of friends. We used to run around with an 8mm film camera. I don't know if you remember those little things. Little cartridge, I think it records two or three minutes of film, and we used to shoot, and then we would just do martial art sequences. Unfortunately, I can't find any of them. We moved so many times. 
Anyway, I think that was the start of it, and then in the 80s there was a tournament put on by Ron Martini and Neil Fong, and they said, "Hey, you win this tournament, you can win a part in a movie." My friends encouraged me, so I did it, and I won. That was the start of it, and after being involved with the film, I said, "You know, I can do this, and I really want to do this." 
I enrolled in college in Marin, and I went there for three years, and learned all the production stuff, crewing, how to write a script. It was a really fun process, really fun time, and that's how it got me started, and once we finished the film, it was picked up right away, and got distributed, and so I go, "Okay, I think I can do this."
DVT: That's definitely a nice way to be received with the film, someone picking it up, and that sort of thing, so that's pretty cool. Congrats.
JK: Thank you.
DVT: I noticed you said you started by working on crew, and you were working on learning how to work on scripts and stuff. The process, the learning curve, was it difficult, or did you have any problems on the way?
JK: I found that the hardest part was just trying to look for money. I thought that was the hardest part, getting people to agree with you, and say, "Hey, I'm going to give you money for this film." On a couple of films, I was fairly lucky enough that people just came together and just said, "Hey, here's some money. Let's make this film." Knock on wood, on that. The second hardest thing is, obviously, getting the right talent. Did you see Fist to Fist Two?
DVT: Yeah.
JK: Yeah? Okay. When you're working with SAG actors and so on, it's not easy, and you've got to coordinate with multiple channels to get it right, and I thought that was the most challenging part, and SAG's not easy, because you've got to really keep up with all their paperwork, and all their demands, and so on, and I thought that was very challenging.
DVT: You mentioned before about you watching the samurai films, the Kurosawa and the Bruce Lee films, and just being entranced by them. Let's go ahead and jump forward to today. If we were to, say, look through your Netflix queue, or video on demand, or your current film collection, what would we see?
JK: My Little Pony.
DVT: Me too.
JK: It's been hijacked by my little seven-year-old daughter, and she knows how to work it, man. I turn on Netflix and she's already connecting to Netflix, and then all her channels show up, so I have to scroll through and then find my stuff, but if you were to find my list, usually what you'll see is obviously other martial arts films. Mostly action films. I usually try to watch all of them. I like Scott Atkins films. I like Michael Jai White films, JCVD films, whenever he comes out with a new one. I follow all of them, and I also like Korean crime dramas. I think they're really well made, and I follow that as well.
DVT: I think after watching Fist to Fist Two, I can see a little bit of that influence in your film, and it's pretty cool. Back to Fist to Fist. Why don't you tell us about the first one, and then what exactly inspired you to make a sequel?
JK: Are you talking about Fist to Fist?
DVT: Yeah, the process to make Fist to Fist, because I know the stories aren't related. They're just a sequel in the name only, but what inspired you to make the first Fist to Fist, and then what inspired you to make this sequel that's in name only?
JK: Got it. After Blade Warrior, several years later, I was busy running my school, and several talents showed up at my school. It's kind of incredible, really, so I had a call with a producer. I had a line producer, and all these people start wanting to do this. "Hey, I saw your film. I think we could do another film. Why don't you write another script?" I say, "Hey, you know what? I always wanted to make an MMA film, cage fighting film. I think that's the future," and UFC was really starting to get popular then, and so I said, "Yeah, let's do this." 
A year later, I had a script, and I had all the right people together, and then people wanted to contribute money, and so I said, "All right. Let's do this," but it was a long process, because everyone is a working professional, but we shot on weekends, so that was really rough, shooting every weekend, and except for when we had the SAG actors lined up. We had to shoot them , so we shot them over a week to two weeks, and then after that it was all done, and then it took another year to edit. Long process, and then once that was done, we took it to Action On Film Festival, and we won best martial arts action feature, and from then on it was picked up right away, and that went everywhere. 
It went to Redbox. It went to Netflix. You name it. It did pretty well, and then the Weapon of Choice was a few years later. Some of the people came over from our first production, Fist to Fist, and they said, "Hey, you know, we should do another movie," but it wasn't really a follow up to Fist to Fist. This time I said, "I don't want to do an MMA movie, because it seems to be saturated, so I want to do a hit man movie." I said, "Let me write it." I just went in and did a story about a hit man trying to rescue his niece from a nefarious boss, and then a friend, Tony Irilgo, said, "You know what, let me add a couple of things here and finish it up." I said, "Okay." I wrote the first 70 pages, and he finished the next 30 pages, and then boom, we had a script. Then again, money came together fairly fast, and lots of talent, and everybody in the local neighborhood, in the Bay Area, came together, and we finished it. 
That one, Weapon of Choice, it won action film of the year, and we've been collecting numerous accolades from the film reviewers and so on, so I feel very lucky.
Katherine Celio & Jino Kang
DVT: One of the cool things about the movie is you're not just producing it, or writing it and directing it. You're also the star of the show. What fascinates you the most about the character you're playing there?
JK: Are you talking about being a director, or wearing a producer's hat, or ... ?
DVT: Actually, let's stick on the acting hat right now. What did you like most about that character? What did you like playing about that character? Were you maybe drawing some influence from any other action movie heroes or whatnot?
JK: First of all, I'm going to have to admit my range is pretty limited, so I won't be able to do romantic dramas or anything like that, so I knew I had to write the character within my limits, and that was the key, and from then on, I did emulate some of the Korean films, and some of the characters from there, like the Old Boy character, and a bunch of different ... It doesn't come to mind right at the moment, but I took the same flavor, very stoic, strong character who has a mission, and he has to take care of the mission. I just went on from there, but like anybody, any actor, I study acting, so whenever there's a scene coming up, I will get down there and study, and study, and study, and get the part right. That's how the acting hat goes on.
DVT: We're going to switch over to the producer-director hat. Were there any hurdles that you encountered making the film, and if so, how did you work through those problems?
JK: I like to collaborate, because I'm doing so many things, so I don't mind having co-producers, and I don't mind having co-directors, and so on. I thought that worked really well for me, and I plan to do that in the future, too, unless I'm stuck, "Okay, I'm just going to direct," and that's fine by me, too. Finding locations, for me, also was really hard, especially when on a limited budget. You lock a place down, and they say, "Oh, they want more money." Or, "Oh, this place is not available now." "Hey, this is not the kind of film that we want you to shoot here." There's a lot of different things that come in the way, but eventually, when you're in a time crunch, and you're trying to shoot out, 30 day shoot, it's tough, and not only that you've got to get all the actors, their availability, and then you've got to get the crew, and you've got to get the locations, and you've got to get all the props, wardrobe, so there's so many variables. It's a miracle when the film is done. It's just crazy. Crazy amount of work.
DVT: There's always a ton of moving parts. You've got to coordinate all that, and make sure they work in sync, and it's chaos, but it sounds like you had a good team that you're working with.
JK: Yes.
DVT: You said before that some of these people were people that you've worked with before. Did you pull in any new talent or anything, to help with the producing end of things, or were you sticking to the same core group?
JK: It seems like people move on, and different things happen. Let's say for Christine Lamb, she was a line producer for Fist to Fist, and then she wanted to ... She couldn't do it in the beginning, but at the end, she helped us with all the warehouse fight scenes, so that was crucial in getting her for that, but then I had a different line producer for the other parts of the film, and then then Tony was the editor for Fist to Fist Two, and then he's also a terrific writer, so he came over and he edited ... I'm sorry. He co-wrote and co-directed Weapon of Choice, and he also edited the film as well, and I edited the fight scenes, so it's a synergistic relationship.
DVT: On the flip side of things, obviously, no one does this ... Everyone usually wants to do this sort of thing because it's fun. I don't really think any filmmaker makes films and doesn't like it. That's a cool thing about filmmaking. What were some enjoyable, funny moments for you with producing Fist to Fist Two?
JK: It wasn't funny at the time, but if I think about it, there was this one set we secured, and I had everybody there. I had at least 100 people. 50 extras and all the talents were there, and I had to fly people in from New Jersey. That's where Bill Duff was living. I had all these people in one location, and then all of the sudden, I get a tap on the shoulder and goes, "Hey. I don't think we can shoot here anymore." We haven't even shot yet. We were just setting up the cameras and all that, and I said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I thought you got clearance, and you're the boss, right? What happened?" He goes, "Oh, you know, I am the supervisor for this location, and I had the final say and all that, but my boss's boss somehow found out about it." I said, "You didn't clear it with your boss's boss?" So we actually got shut down, so I had to cancel everything, and so at that point, I go, "Oh my gosh. We're done," because just that weekend would cost us 20, 25 thousand dollars. Just that weekend. "Okay, we're done." 
Then the core group the same night got together and the investors and so on. They said, "You know what Jino? We believe in you," and a good friend of mine, Philip Glee said, "You know, you can use my studio, but at a low cost." Then all of a sudden some of the friends jumped in and said, "You know what? Yeah. I can invest some more money," and, "I can invest some more money." At that point, I'm going, "Okay, maybe we can do something here." 
It turned out better, because the location we were shooting wasn't as glamorous as the final location, so the studio turned out to be a better location, and we were actually able to build a set, and we ended up having more money, and so we built a cage, and we built that whole basement scene. The whole set was built, and we had everybody back, and we had more time to shoot, and so it turned out better, so now I can laugh about it. 
Back then, boy. It was not fun. It's fun now, right? It turned out even better, so sometimes it happens for a reason.
DVT: That's definitely ... Seems like the gods of filmmaking were definitely shining upon you.
JK: Yes. It's amazing what this filmmaking ... It's just amazing.
DVT: It's crazy how quickly things can go downhill, and then go back uphill, and all that stuff. That's really cool. I'm glad it turned out well for you, and you can laugh on it and stuff.
JK: Thanks for asking, because I never told this to anybody.
DVT: Cool. Now the internet's going to know. More broadly, what's your favorite part about the filmmaking process in general? Or the whole dual producer-director thing. Do you like one of those sides better than the other? I know you mentioned that you'd be down just the be a solo director on something. Obviously both jobs have their own challenges and whatnot, but do you prefer or the other?
JK: I do like being in front of camera because I imagine all the shots, and I imagine ... I can't always get the shots that I want, but ... I'm talking about just the fight scenes, and some of the images that is created, when it just happens because you know this is how it's going to happen, and so you choreograph everything, and it comes together, that's my favorite part. When you're shooting it, and then you jump... Before you couldn't see when you were shooting film, and now it's digital, so it's instant gratification, so, "Okay, was that good?" "I don't know. We've got to send the film to the lab." It's not like that, so we would just, boom, run back to the tech and look at the image right away, and go, "Oh, let's do it again." 
When you shoot something the way you imagined it, and it comes out right, that's the happiest thing for me, and also the editing process. When it's done, all the little pieces come together and go, "Wow, look at that. Look at the sequence. Look how it's working." When all that comes together, I'm the happiest camper at that time.


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