A few weeks ago, I reviewed the entertaining martial arts actioner “Weapon of Choice,” an in-name only sequel to “Fist 2 Fist.” Recently, I’ve had the pleasure to talk to the writer, director, producer, and star of the film, Mr. Jino Kang, on not just the film, but a wide variety of topics. We discuss his passion for filmmaking, his affinity for mixed martial arts, training with Charles Gracie, his personal martial arts style in Hapkido, and his martial arts school, Hapkido USA.
Justin Oberholtzer: What drew you to making movies?
Jino Kang: When I was a child, my father used to take me to Samurai films in S. Korea. At the theaters we saw many period films, but what stood out for me was Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” and “Seven Samurai.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was enamored with Toshiro Mifune’s style of ultra cool demeanor yet cerebral wit; same for Bruce Lee’s quiet presence. Yet, both men were tigers that could be unleashed at any moment.
I didn’t have that “I wanna do that!” moment until I was cast in an ultra no-budget Leo Fong film (“Weapon of Choice,” but never released and different movie) in the late eighties. So I enrolled in College of Marin’s film department and learned the chops. While there, using their equipment in the last of 3rd year, I finished shooting the opening scene of my student film “Blade Warrior”.
JO: You’ve only made three films since 2001. Why the long wait to start making films?
JK: I didn’t want to be waiting tables like other starving actors. I wanted to have a career as a Martial Arts teacher first so I can have an active livelihood and make martial arts films as I pleased. My martial arts school, Hapkido USA, is still thriving until this day. However, back then, I did finish three other scripts other than “Fist 2 Fist” and “Weapon of Choice.” Hopefully, someday I can make those as well. This is why there’s such a gap in between films.
JO: Mixed Martial Arts plays a big part in both “Fist 2 Fist” films. Is it something you’ve been doing for long?
JK: I was very much interested in MMA and I wanted to incorporate that into my Hapkido and expand my knowledge. I also thought it would be very cool to showcase MMA in films. At the time, there weren’t many such films. Upon research, I found Charles Gracie, who was teaching in Daly City, and I enrolled as a white belt. I was instantly hooked. It was the missing ingredient in my style and I gobbled it up. Twelve years later (received my black belt in 2014), I’m still at it.
JO: What are your plans for the third “Fist 2 Fist” film?
JK: I am following up on “F2F2: Weapon of Choice” called “Blade Fury”. The film takes place a few years later, when Jack is hiding out in a sleepy little town and has become part of the community and built relationships; given a new life. However, this second chance doesn’t last too long when Jack accidentally thwarts a bank robbery and a bystander films it and it goes viral. Toshiro, a Yakuza mob boss who lost millions on a deal because of Jack in “Weapon of Choice,” unleashes an army of Ninjas to get to Jack. Now, Jack has to fight for his life and others who he has come to know and love.
JO: You worked alongside Tony Urgo as a writer and director on “Weapon of Choice.” What did he help bring to the table?
JK: Tony brought the searing dialogue to the table and I absolutely enjoyed the process. Especially the sarcastic dialogue dual between Banducci and Don. The directing was sharply divided: I directed all the action scenes and Tony directed all the dramatic scenes. That worked for us.
JO: How involved were you with casting? Did you assist Hester Schell or let her use her instincts?
JK: Good question. Hester was great at gathering the actors but ultimately Tony and I made all the final decisions on key players and including day players.
JO: How hard was it to find the right person to play your niece, Jaime? Kelly Lou Dennis was excellent in the role, exuding confidence and feistiness! Did she take to this immediately or did it gradually come about?
JK: When I was writing her character, I wanted her to have that “smartness yet the fight ability” and at the audition, she nailed it. Well-trained actors tend to understand the subtext and character. Also, her willingness to come to my school and train for 4 months during the pre-production phase. She was a dancer and had no martial arts experience. She was a tough cookie and trained very hard for those fight scenes. We lucked out.
JO: As for yourself, how do you get into the role of Jack Lee? Is it easy or hard?
JK: It’s pretty much what you see on the screen. However, anytime I write out my character I do hire a private acting coach (Bobby Weinapple) and go over all the scenes to get into it.
JO: You write, direct, act, and produce. Of the four, which do you like the most or do all four present an equally worthy challenge?
JK: I believe writing is the hardest part. It all starts with writing, so if you have a crappy script, why bother filming it? So, it may take some time to get it right. I don’t like to produce, but if I don’t do it, it won’t get done. So, I produce. Directing and acting seem to have equal challenges. They both have their ups and downs. I stick to the motto “One step at a time.”
JO: You were a choreographer for the short “Love Hurts.” Have you considered and/or been offered more choreography positions?
JK: I have not actively pursued it. Perhaps in the future. I’m so damn busy all the time. Maybe when I retire; sounds about right. For “Love Hurts,” it was as a favor for Kenny Leu who helped me out in “Fist 2 Fist.”
JO: How have crowd-funded sites such as Indiegogo helped in financing your films? Do you plan on using the service for future projects?
JK: No. It didn’t work out for us and failed miserably. To my keen insight (in hindsight), it looks like you need to have a good cause, a massive marketing/social media technique guru, or a name actor attached to it to be successful. Of course, this is my opinion only.
JO: You have a short by the name of “Kid Fury” coming out soon. What’s that about?
JK: So, again this was a favor for a friend, Dave Fong. He wanted to shoot a short, so I wrote and acted in it. Dave produced and directed it. It was more for fun and nothing serious.
JO: You have a book on martial arts, “Secrets of Hapkido,” coming out soon? What’s that about and when should we expect a release?
JK: During my filming gap, I also wrote this Hapkido book, it’s being digitized and edited as we speak. I’m hoping the illustrator finishes it by end of this year, 2016.
JO: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
JK: If I may, I’m going to say all the affirmation cliches. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Do your best. Finish what you started. Be so good at what you do, your product speaks for itself. Ignore the haters and naysayers: they’re out there like infectious tumors, trying to put doubts in your mind and be like them. I know it’s hard, but be happy that you don’t have their lives.
“Weapon of Choice” is available to rent and/or purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Fist-Weapon-Choice-Jino-Kang/dp/B00QYKFQOK
Information on Jino Kang, his films, books, Hapkido, and Hapkido USA can be found on his website: http://jinokang.com/
I’d like to thank Mr. Jino Kang for taking the time out of his day to conduct this interview! It was a pleasure!