BREAKING OUT, AND FURTHER IN: An Interview With Actor Jean-Paul Ly

Nick Gibbons
2013 was definitely a freshman year going into this site, but it became a surprising endeavor to get to meet people almost instantaneously, which is funny because I live in New York City and I was sooner meeting people from other countries. I still am, too... I guess this town is like that.

At any rate, the list of people I hope to meet nonetheless continues to grow, and having also added Chinese/Cambodian UK film star Jean-Paul Ly among others. It was five years ago that he messaged me as he had made his way to London at the time without any knowledge of where to plant himself, until he found one at Identity School of Acting.

His applied craft to date has provided a mixture of credits in both acting, as well as stunts considering his martial arts background, training in Shotokan Karate from the age of five with his older brother, and expanding onward to other styles. Nowadays his career shares a multitude of credits working with a number of international firms, accruing quite his share of experiences.

Jean Paul Ly on the set of THE PREY
"It was unreal as I thought a moment like this would never happen." he stated, regarding an upcoming Disney project he's decided to keep secret for the time being, and with a director he cited as one of his most favorite.

He continued: "As a stuntman, I would say that working on Doctor Strange was the experience that taught me the most. Working for Jonathan Eusebio and Vincent Wang in the fight team, it helped me tremendously to design Jailbreak, which I did two weeks after wrapping Strange."

Jean-Paul's career proliferation with Jailbreak, the 2017 hit Cambodian action comedy now on Netflix, was a sheer culmination of his efforts to bring another worthy face to the list of who's who in relative action actors. It was also a milestone for the burgeoning film star in having endured some of the most intense training and management he had undergone for his career, namely having served as the film's fight choreographer.

Generally, Jean-Paul sees opportunities on both sides of the lens, with time being his only comfort zone; Aside from this, he has a sharp acumen for multi-tasking and mitigating on-set complexities when needed. The only drawback occurs when doing it in a very low budget environment which changes everything: "I can evaluate the situation and say that I can’t or can do certain tasks, I guess that’s what we call 'experience'. It’s a learning curve, and I feel stronger in every project."

And learning was exactly what it took for the rising star actor and martial artist having to shepherd the fight sequences in grueling Cambodian heat against stringent hours.

"It was really tough to focus on one thing." he says. "Jailbreak gave me my first acting role as well as a position to direct action and I'm glad that we earned as many awards and as much praise for the action, which was my main focus, but I still believe that I, personally, could have done things differently."

It's a mindset he's since brought back in recently, collaborating once again with Jailbreak director Jimmy Henderson for The Prey, on which he shared duties on action directing and fight choreography as well for lead action actor Gu Sheng Wei. Jean-Paul was initially offered a role as the villain but instead settled on working behind the lens whilst tending to other film obligations prior to the film's production wrap earlier this month in Asia. He didn't get to work with his usual team, although The Prey proved to be a more smoother affair for him earlier on.

"At the end of the day, the work accomplished on The Prey is very satisfying." he says, which he also insists helps him in going forward with other projects. That help may very well extend to a pitch package he journeyed to the Cannes market titled The Division, for which he partnered with U.K.-based actor and stuntman, Law Plancel, whom he had known for sixteen years since training together as teammates in Paris; I also had the pleasure of meeting Law first hand several winters ago when he was in New York City.

Jean-Paul Ly and Law Plancel on the set of THE DIVISION - Photo: Nick Gibbons

"I found that we had the same vision, energy and references, and, he is also one of the best martial artist and screen fighters that I know," says Jean-Paul, who now aims to make The Division his next promising move upward in stardom, as well as director. "We produced several projects, which led us to create The Divsion, so we could finally express ourselves freely and with a clearer vision. We started together and we will finish our work in the movie industry the same way, that’s why I respect a lot how Chad Stahelski and David Leitch handle their career. Trust and confidence in your teammates are key in that industry, and it is the only one way to guarantee success."

Part of that continued success is especially one that is still a work in progress. After reaching hit value with Jailbreak, Jean-Paul asserted his own quality earlier this year preserving much more of his focus on acting for Marc Price's new martial arts thriller, Nightshooters. The official trailer is yet to release publicly whilst already rousing fans who were able to attend MCM London Comic-Con this past weekend.

The film was an explicit push for the actor in envisioning a more universally affable action thriller rather than a niche martial arts film - one with a comedic touch brought in part by its cast.

Ascendant Releasing
"Marc did a great job by making and directing it so." says Jean-Paul, who expressed his gratitude for Price trusting him with the action design and direction. "It was a good collaboration and the fights look fantastic at the end. Filming that kind of action is not easy as I am usually doing Hong Kong-ish style, but we had to make it quick and efficient. It had to be leveled up in everything, and so I believe that the movie will shine thanks to the acting of the entire cast, they were brilliant, and I felt honored to be able to share and be on set with them. It was a win!"

Interestingly, Nightshooters had an even lower budget than Jailbreak, alerting Jean-Paul in mapping out two weeks of fight scene prep and camera angling with a limited stunt crew, and a timetable comprised of eighteen strenous nightshoots. Needless to say, the similarites with Jailbreak were prevalent, though with exception to getting to working with ease alongside stunt players - Axel Nu, Donovan Louie, Jon Alagoa, Eddie Lee, Danny Darwin, Michael Lagin and Tom Cotton.

Fellow stuntman Hung Dante Hong was also another key member of the team, and with whom Jean-Paul actually had to rehearse their fight scene together through WhatsApp since Hong lives in Manchester - which isn't exactly five minutes away from Jean-Paul's bearings in London - and all prior to "figuring it out" as cameras rolled for five consecutive evenings, and then some.

Ly (third from left) and Plancel (far right) with select NIGHTSHOOTERS stunt crew at MCM London Comic-Con
"The sixth night was when I had to give it all." said Jean-Paul, who adds that he and Hong were successful in just after five or six hours compared to other productions where actors get up to three days. "My energy was already fifty-percent less than usual, but I tried to do my best anyway. No excuses!"

Jean-Paul, who also joins in the action for David Newton's own directing debut in Amber opposote Jack Jagodka this year, is currently expecting Nightshooters - the latest premiere outing for UK production banner Ascendant Releasing opening locally in July - to make festival announcements in the coming weeks. It comes a year since gaining ground with Jailbreak which he says surprised even the crew when awards arose. None of it has gone into his head though when it comes to his current goals and standards, even as he grows into his hopeful international appeal with moviegoers. Nightshooters sequel hype notwithstanding.

Nick Gibbons
"I simply hope to create more exciting content, as an action actor and designer." he says. "I am looking at these films like John Wick and The Raid which set the bar very high, and it’s stimulating to contribute on my side to the genre, even in somewhat of a much smaller scale. I have a clear vision of the design I want to bring, but I will need bigger budgets and a bigger team to create even more."

He adds: "The Jailbreak crew never expected the film to perform so well, especially at festivals. The awards at Fantasia felt unreal, as well as the Variety and The Hollywood Reporter reviews. So, maybe we’re on the right path to create something new. Let’s hope that the audience will welcome our upcoming works!"

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