Marc Cardenas chats with Jino Kang…
Jino Kang is a self made action hero with the martial arts credentials to back it up. A student of martial arts since the age of four, Jino has since grown to become a Masters Hall of Fame martial artist. Well versed in the ways of Hapkido, Tae Kwon Do, Kyokoshin-Kai Karate, and Gracie Jiu-jitsu, Jino blends all these distinct styles on screen to create a fighting style uniquely his own. All three of his films – Blade Warrior (2001), Fist 2 Fist (2011), and Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice – are hand-crafted, self-financed labors of love and writer, director, producer, star Jino Kang is here with Flickering Myth to talk about them.
Talk a little bit about your martial arts history.
My father was a grand master in Hapkido and he had a martial arts studio in Incheon, Korea. This is where he went to teach martial arts before and after he went to work. He would bring me along as early as four years old. I remember fondly waking up on the mats of his studio to the sounds of training and sparing. Martial arts have always been a part of me.
Later, my family immigrated to the states in the early 70’s. Although he never opened his own school in the states, my father continued teaching me Hapkido in the garage until I was 21 years old. It was then that we finally decided to open up our own martial arts school in the bay area and as they say, the rest is history. I’ve since trained in other martial arts: Kyokoshin-Kai Karate (black belt), Tae Kwon Do (black belt), and in the last 12 years I’ve been training in Jiu-jitsu, which I’ve also received a black belt for back in 2014.
When did you discover you wanted to go into film?
In middle school, I was already in the states, my friends (who dabbled in martial arts) and I would run around with a super-8 camera and we made our own short films. Whoever shelled out for the film was called the shots and was the star of the film. That was a lot of fun, unfortunately all the short films we made got lost because we moved around a lot.
In 1988, I entered into a tournament where the winner earned a part in a movie, at the time it was called Weapon of Choice. I always thought it was a cool title. I won the tournament and won the part and while we were shooting something clicked. I enjoyed it and felt like it was something I could do, so I saved up for a couple of years and enrolled at Marin College. They had a great film program there and that’s where I went to learn the art of filmmaking.
Your films take place in San Francisco. From the gritty realism featured in FIST 2 FIST to the breathtaking aerial shots and beautiful locations in FIST 2 FIST 2: WEAPON OF CHOICE, tell me about your relationship with the city and what it means to you.
San Francisco is where we moved when we integrated into the United States. We lived in the Tenderloin district, which is a rough section of San Francisco. There you got your hookers, pimps, drug dealers, you name it. Everything is down there. Because I was a kid at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the goings-on in that world, but I grew up in the streets. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that we lived in a bad area. My father moved the family over to the East Bay area to avoid the crime.
Now, I love the city. I have a school in San Francisco and I travel five-six days a week. I love not only the beauty of the city’s landscape and architecture, but also the diversity of its people. So many cultures living together harmoniously in one community. Of course there’s crime, just like any other huge metropolitan city. So coming up with the idea for my films I didn’t want to go down to LA, I wanted to set the backdrop of my stories in San Francisco because that’s what I know and love.
In both FIST 2 FIST films, you play these deeply flawed anti-heroes working towards redemption by any means necessary. You kick, punch, stab, shoot, shock, and even bite your way through these non-stop high tension fight sequences only to hobble away from them, bloody and exhausted. Talk a little about your philosophy behind creating these no-frills type broken warriors that are firmly grounded in reality.
My philosophy is that I like to make the action, the martial arts, as authentic and realistic as possible. I was offered wire-play for FIST 2 FIST and the stunt player said you can do flips, all kinds of exciting spinning kicks, and crazy stuff in the air. I said “No, no, no.” I really want to bring realism to our fights and that’s exactly what I did. I hate to admit it, but I have been in a lot of street fights growing up. Those fights usually last one or two punches and it’s over; usually thirty seconds tops.
Another part of my philosophy is that I like to be able to see the action. In the last 10 years, Hollywood has incorporated shaky hand-held documentary style filmmaking to action movies. I’m not a fan of that. To me, it’s a cop out to hide the fact that these actors lack real martial arts experience so they shake the camera to help them sell their kicks and punches.
Most importantly, I believe fight choreography should tell a story. When you see my choreography, there’s a story within the fight. Every fight has a little story propelling the action and I try to make it as entertaining as possible.
In FIST 2 FIST 2: WEAPON OF CHOICE, audiences got to see a more comedic side from you as a storyteller and actor. You and your co-star Katherine Celio even did some Salsa dancing. It was a nice little touch to see Jack Lee, this stoic character you play, switching gears and showing a different side at that moment . Do you see yourself combining other genres to your unique brand of action in future films?
Thank you for noticing that. Some people didn’t like it, but I thought it was cool and fun having a little dance scene in a serious action film. It added another side to Jack and I enjoyed filming that portion. And yes, I like comedy. I have a dark sense of humor so the comedy shown in FIST 2 FIST 2: WEAPON OF CHOICE reflected that. (Laughing.)
Lastly, thank you, Jino, for giving your all in the name of Action. What can Action fans expect from you next?
Just last year, I finished a new script. It’s an actual follow up sequel to FIST 2 FIST 2: WEAPON OF CHOICE. It’s about Jack Lee, gifted and retired hit-man, hiding out from his enemies in a small town. There he learns to become a productive member of the community and in doing so becomes humanized. One day he stops a bank robbery and a cell phone video of it goes viral, blowing his cover, and now the Yakuza Boss, Toshiro, from Weapon of Choice, wants Jack dead by unleashing an army of ninja on that small unsuspecting town. Now Jack has to fight with the dilemma of staying to protect the people he’s grown to love or run to protect himself. That’s the story of BLADE FURY and I’m looking to shop that around soon. I’m also working on a TV Pilot based on the first FIST 2 FIST movie, as well.
Looks like you’re going to hit us all with a one-two punch! We’re excited for those future knockout projects. Thank you Jino Kang for this interview! Also, Fist 2 Fist and Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice will soon be making their premier in the UK on the VOD platform on The Fight Channel.