411 Talks With Actress/Martial Artist Juju Chan About Her New Movie Savage Dog
The B-Movie Interview: Juju Chan
Juju Chan is a martial artist and actor who has been acting steadily since 2009 when she appeared in the web series Lumina. Since then, she has appeared in numerous shorts and feature films, including Fist of the Dragon, the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and Hit Girls, among others (you can check out her imdb page here). Chan is also well known in martial arts circles for being a master of the nunchucks. Chan is set to co-star in the upcoming action movie, directed by Jesse V. Johnson, Savage Dog, alongside Scott Adkins, Cung Le, Marko Zaror, Vladimir Kulich, and Keith David. Chan recently took time out of her very busy schedule to talk with this writer about Savage Dog, her career, martial arts, the current state of the action movie, and more.
BK: How did you get involved with Savage Dog?
JC: I met the director, Jesse Johnson, in March 2016. He was introduced to me by a common friend. We had a great chat about films and our previous work, and Jesse then mentioned that there’s a role in his upcoming film that he wanted me to consider. The rest is history.
BK: What can you tell us about your character Isabelle?
JC: I play Isabelle in this film, the love interest of Scott Adkin’s character, Martin. She is the stronger willed of Martin and her. Isabelle is an interesting character, strong, resilient, but most of all she is a believer in the good within the souls of men.
Isabelle is an optimist, focused, and is determined to win over and influence the man she believes to be her father (Steiner, played by Vladimir Kulich). Even though every sign on earth points to him being a terrible person, Isabelle is set on proving otherwise.
In movie terms she is innocent, and seemingly naive, but she is no fool. Her obvious upbringing in the midst of war makes her quite complex. She is a fighter, except that her fighting is done by her patience.
BK: Was Savage Dog a tough shoot? Do you enjoy filming on location?
JC: Overall, it’s a fun shoot for me, though there were scenes that I was in that were tough to shoot, like the scene where Scott and I were being buried under the mud in the rain. We were shooting that scene at 4am in the morning. It was under 50 degrees in the woods, so we were all shivering from the cold. Scott and I were wearing very little and needed to be buried under the mud in the rain. We had sand and mud in our eyes, and we could feel each other shaking under the mud. So we tried to do it in one take, so we wouldn’t have to suffer longer. When the director called action, we both calm down and didn’t even move or breathe. Scott needed to slowly crawl out from the mud and dig me out as well. He carried me in the heavy rain to find shelter. We did it all in one take, and the director loved the performance.
BK: Savage Dog has a top notch cast, with martial arts stars Scott Adkins, Cung Le, and Marko Zaror and well known character actors like Keith David and Vladimir Kulich. What was it like working with some many talented actors and performers?
JC: I feel so privileged for having the chance to work with all the wonderful cast members. We all became good friends after the shoot and we still get together for dinners, and since Marko and Cung are both often in LA we do go to the gym and train together sometimes.
Most of my scenes were with Scott. Working with him was fun and wonderful! He is great in both action and dramatic scenes! It was very easy to get into character and emotion with him when we were doing our dramatic scenes.
I’ve actually known Cung Le for a couple of years, meeting him when we were both attending a UFC event in Macau, as guests of the event. It was great to see him again, especially as this time we were actually working together on a film.
I’ve only shared one scene with Marko, but we’ve got to interact a lot behind the scenes, and became good friends. He is a very disciplined person, not only in his training but also with his diet. I’ve learned a lot from him!
Keith is playing Valentine in the film, who is Isabelle’s guardian. He treats and loves my character like his daughter. It’s a great pleasure working with Keith. He is a super warm person, professional and friendly.
BK: What is your martial arts background? Did you always want to be a martial arts actor?
JC: While young, I got into martial arts because of my love with action film. It’s obviously because my dad loves action films. He would put on an action movie on TV at home almost every night, and when I was a kid I loved to copy what was on TV. But of course it can be quite dangerous for a kid to just copy martial art moves without any training. I remember there was one time I was copying a stunt that Jackie Chan was doing in Rush Hour, and I broke the glass of the coffee table at home. After that my parents sent me to learn martial arts. I started with Judo because that’s the closest martial arts thing from my home. As I grew up, I also started learning Shotokan, Chinese kung fu, Taekwon-Do, boxing, and Thai boxing. After I got my Taekwon-Do black belt, I also got selected into the Hong Kong Team and started competing in Taekwon-Do, and not long after, got scouted by a Muay Thai school to join their club and to fight for them in Muay Thai Championships.
When I was a kid I had a lot of dreams and wanted to be in so many professions. And as I grew up, I knew the only way I could have a chance to be in different professions, and live different lives, would be as an actor. I had always wanted to act but, in the beginning, I didn’t think of combining my martial arts skills with my acting skill, not until I graduated from NYU and returned to Hong Kong to pursue my career in entertainment. I started showcasing my action skills in shows and even got a lot of acting roles. And at that moment, I knew I had found my career path and passion.
BK: How is the movie business, especially the action movie business, different in Asia as opposed to America?
JC: Specifically it would be the way a set is run. Working in Asia is much longer hours. Also I can be doing several different projects at the same time. With US productions my time is given entirely to the production.
In terms of action, in Asia they are very creative with action. It’s all about trying new ideas out, and always giving it everything. They encourage the actor to be involved in the action as much as possible.
US films tend to be much more concerned about safety. This is of course a very good thing, but it also can hinder an actor being allowed to do their own action.
BK: Is it harder for female martial artists to break into the movie business than male martial artists?
JC: Yes, because there aren’t that many action roles for females in movies. A war film and an action film usually have many male fighting roles, but only less than a handful or in many cases no female action roles at all.
BK: In your opinion, what is the current state of the martial arts action movie? Is it in a good position or do changes need to be made?
JC: Martial art action has become more and more international. Look at Tony Jaa from Thailand, then there was The Raid from Indonesia, and most recently even Cambodia has produced a strong martial art action film. Certainly the standard of martial art films coming out of the US has increased, too. So, all in all, I think the current state of martial art films is very positive.
BK: Outside of Savage Dog, do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
JC: My other upcoming films includes: the Sci-Fi film V-Force: New Dawn of V.I.C.T.O.R.Y., co-starring with Billy Zane and Bruce Dern, Made in Kowloon co-starring with Max Zhang and UFC star Anderson Silva, and Hong Kong thriller Xi Nu Aiyue directed by Teddy Robin.
BK: In terms of your career, what haven’t you had a chance to do yet that you would really like to do?
JC: Play a superhero character. That would be fun!
BK: What is your favorite movie?
JC: My favorite action films include: The 36 Chambers of Shaolin, La Femme Nikita, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Raid to name a few off hand. There are so many!!!
BK: How long does it take for someone to truly master the nunchucks? And what does it mean to “master” them?
JC: It really depends on the practitioner. It’s all about how much time you put into perfecting each move. Some people can learn and be comfortable with a trick in a couple of hours, some people might need weeks. To master means you can use the nunchucks fluently with any combo and tricks, single hand, double hand. The nunchucks is like a natural instinct.
Again, a very special thanks to Juju Chan for participating in this interview and for david j. moore for helping set it up.
Savage Dog is set to appear in theaters and on all Video On Demand platforms in summer of 2017 via XLRator Media.
(images courtesy of david j. moore)