Jino Kang Talks with 411 About Fist 2 Fist, Blade Warrior and More
The B- Movie Interview: Jino Kang
Have you ever heard of Jino Kang? If you’re familiar with the world of the martial arts, specifically Hapkido, odds are that you may have heard of him. He’s a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido, has been teaching Hapkido in San Francisco for decades, and was inducted into the Masters Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2009. You can put “Jino Kang” into youtube and find multiple videos of Kang teaching and performing martial arts. When it comes to the martial arts Kang is the real deal.
Kang is also a movie maker, writing, directing, and starring in his own action movies, although he isn’t as well known for that (something that absolutely needs to change). So far Kang has made three movies, Blade Warrior (2001), Fist 2 Fist (2011), and Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice (2014). All three are low budget affairs, but what they lack in budget they make up for it with integrity, heart, an electrifying screen presence, and some of the best movie fighting you’re likely to see anywhere. If you’re a fan of the action movie genre you need to check out, as soon as you can, what Jino Kang is all about. You will not be disappointed (check out my review of Kang’s first movie, Blade Warrior, here).
Kang was nice enough to participate in an interview where he discusses his movie making career, what it takes to make a low budget martial arts movie, and what he has planned for the future.
Bryan Kristopowitz: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Jino Kang: When I truly think about that, it probably was when my father took me to see Yojimbo in Korea and I was mesmerized by the coolness and mischievous intellect of Toshiro Mifune. Then again in the states we went to a drive-in and saw Chinese Connection (originally titled Fist of Fury). I was floored by Bruce Lee’s ultra quiet demeanor that could explode into a rage of power and animosity yet with grace and style when called upon. I followed him religiously until his sudden death.
Around Junior high school times, I had a group of friends and one of us owned super 8mm camera and a projector and we would make our own martial arts movies. We took turns being a hero in our own films. Back then, there was no sound, so I tried to record sound efx on a cassette recorder and try to sync it and play both at the same time. I was not successful. However, I really enjoyed making the movies with my friends. But, we moved so many times in my early years all the footage is lost.
BK: Did you always intend to make action/martial arts movies? And did you always intend to direct and star in your own movies?
JK: Yes. I sincerely don’t have any inkling of being in a romantic comedy or non-action thriller films. However, I don’t have to direct or star in my own movies. If I see someone else who could fit the part better than me then I would relinquish one of those positions. I don’t have any problems with that.
BK: How long did it take you to finish Blade Warrior, your first movie?
JK: It was a long road. I believe it took total of 4 years. I went to College of Marin and took their film courses for 3 years and learned the trade from all aspects of filmmaking. In the last semester, we shot the opening scene of the grocery store. Then it took us one year to finish shooting. It was just about every weekend that we shot. Then another year to edit and cut it on film (it was very painful but most rewarding, splicing and taping/gluing the film). Then, we didn’t have the money to finish on film, so we had to digitize it and that took another year. Add another year to edit on computer (this was in the late nineties, mind you). When we did finish and had something to show, Blade Warrior was picked up right away.
BK: Did Blade Warrior turn out like you expected it to? How much did it change from your first script to the finished movie?
JK: Yes, most of it. We were learning as we went and we got better as we filmed. We would shoot on a weekend, send it to the lab on Monday, watch that daily the following week and so on. Fortunately, we didn’t make too many mistakes. We were very careful because film was so expensive. I believe the dialogue changed the most but the essence of it stayed intact.
BK: Were the sequences where you demonstrate various Hapkido techniques in your studio originally part of the framework for Blade Warrior?
JK: A very good question. After we shot everything, we thought the inner thoughts of the main character were not portrayed enough and we wanted to marry the The Art of War and the conflict that arises out of mayhem, whether invited or not. I didn’t want it to be just another mindless “B” action movie without intelligence. I wanted to put the “Art” in the Martial Arts film (pun intended). They were the last scenes that were shot.
BK: How the heck did you achieve the “knife through the hand and through the board” special effect in Blade Warrior?
JK: Ha. Ha. We did everything, including all the special efx. We couldn’t afford a make-up artist, so we had to come up with our own efx. All of the knives through the body parts were made by balsa replicate or rubber moldings of the weapons that we were using. The blade was attached with a flexible skin tone glue. The under the table shot was a real blade that had blood seeping through. Yeah, the special efx part was really fun to shoot, but it did take us half a day to shoot that scene. I was going for cringe effect. I think it worked.
BK: Why did it take you ten years to make another movie, Fist 2 Fist?
JK: Life happened. We were green lit for another film by the Blade Warrior distributor, but then the company went bankrupt. When have you heard that before? I concentrated on my Hapkido studio and things really took off, so I focused on that while writing two more scripts. Eight years later, everything aligned and we made Fist 2 Fist. It took us one year to shoot it, shooting every weekend (I’ll never do that again). Six months later, we had something to show and we had multiple offers.
BK: What changed about the filmmaking process/did anything change about the filmmaking process for you, personally, between Blade Warrior and Fist 2 Fist?
JK: I consider my first film Blade Warrior my practice film as Robert Rodriguez calls his film El Mariachi. Blade Warrior taught me so much, because we were shooting on 16mm film, 400ft film mags. That’s 10 minutes of shot film and we shot 22,000ft of it. We were very careful with everything in the frame. Most shots were one takes, except fight scenes were a 6 -10 ratio to 1. You can tell there was a lot more latitude with fight scenes. The last two of my films Fist 2 Fist and Weapon of Choice were shot digitally. It was a game changer. We were able to shoot more takes if we didn’t like the scene until we were satisfied especially dramatic scenes. However, on the fight scenes, I always wish I had more shoot days for it. But time is money especially on a film set.
BK: How does your Hapkido training inform your filmmaking process/does it inform it all?
JK: I believe my Hapkido training made me a resilient person. The filmmaking process is very tough and when the pressure is on from all sides, you need to stay calm and lead and your crew will follow. I have seen people crack under pressure and they blame others and that disrupts the whole flow. You can’t do that when you’re working with hundreds of people on the set. You need to keep your center and focus on the important things and get it done.
BK: How long does it take to choreograph a fight scene in one of your movies? Did your choreography process change at all from Blade Warrior to Fist 2 Fist?
JK: If it’s a 1-2 minute fight scene, about a week to choreograph. Anything longer it takes a lot more time. For instance, for the ladies fight scenes in Weapon of Choice Kelly Lou Dennis and Katherine Celio came in twice per week for four months to get it down and they were not martial artists. They did an excellent job. For my opening scene in Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice, it took 2 weeks to choreograph and rehearse and 3 days to shoot. I wanted 6 days to shoot that scene but couldn’t afford it. Blade Warrior was pure Hapkido. For Fist 2 Fist, I incorporated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and my own style of blade work. You can probably tell the difference when you watch all the films.
BK: What sort of firearms training do you have?
JK: Just some personal fire range shooting that I used to do and that’s it. But, Hapkido has extensive gun disarming and retention techniques that I incorporated into my films. These esoteric techniques are usually not taught until my students reach Black Belt rankings.
BK: What is the hardest part of making a movie?
JK: Besides writing and financing, for me it’s securing locations to shoot. You need to have locations so you can write and choreograph the action scenes. As soon as you mention that you’re making a film, the location fees skyrocket. Go figure. You also need the right locations for the look of film. When you can’t find the location that you want, you end up building a set, which means the cost rises again. I am fortunate enough to have many talents and crew in San Francisco.
BK: Who are your filmmaking heroes? (Actors? Directors?)
JK: My favorite directors are Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and High and Low) for his cerebral action films. Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West) for his mind-blowing cinematography and attention to details. Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, and Gladiator) for his action maestro abilities. Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and The Professional) for his angst-ridden characters and brilliant story lines. Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) for his uncanny character study films. My favorite actors are Toshiro Mifune, Bruce Lee and Charles Bronson for their no-nonsense, bullshit free and innate ultra coolness.
BK: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about making his or her own low budget, independent movie?
JK: “No!” “Don’t do it!” “What are you thinking?” I say this every time I’m in the thick of it, then I finish it and say “Now I know why”. It’s love and true focused passion. You need to have GRIT! Finish what you start and stick to it and get it done. If you have that, you can go out and make any movie.
BK: Any new movies in the pipeline?
JK: Yes, we just finished a new script called Blades of Fury. It’s a true follow up to Weapon of Choice. When he is tracked down by a vengeful Yakuza mob boss and his army of ninjas, Jack, a former hitman in hiding, finds himself forced into an all-out war for his life and the lives of the people he loves.
We’re also working on a spec TV/Web Pilot series. This one is a comeback of Ken Min from Fist 2 Fist. Unable to outrun his crusader past, when his friend’s child is kidnapped, Ken reluctantly dives into the belly of the beast of the criminal underground to rescue the child. This act of kindness unleashes a Pandora’s Box of evil that afflicts Ken and his new peaceful life.