By: John M Jerva
(Original Publication Date: March 26th, 2017) If you are a fan of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Don “The Dragon” Wilson or Jean-Claude Van Damme, then you know who Jino Kang is. A master in the art of Hapkido, Jino Kang is an action star with a difference. He has made only three films so far but each film is a clear study on how to do independent action cinema the right way. He not only stars in the films but he also wrote, produced and directed them and also served as the each film’s fight choreographer. He does it all! Jino’s films bring the audience gritty, brutal, eclectic and authentic martial arts action that is second to none and he’s just getting started. Jino is also the founder of the martial arts discipline of Hapki-Jitsu.
In his first exclusive interview with Action-Flix.com, Jino Kang talks to me about his martial arts history, getting started in the film industry, his high-octane films, how he makes incredible fight scenes on a budget and more and, of course, his latest action offering Fist2Fist: 2- Weapon of Choice!
1) Action-Flix.Com: Since this is your first interview with Action Flix, tell everyone-Who is Jino Kang!? Give us some history about you.
Jino Kang: I am a martial artist and a film maker. I have a successful martial arts school that I run in San Francisco with affiliates around the nation. My school is called Hapkido USA, and we teach 4 different disciplines; Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and Eskrima. I also produce, write, direct and star in my own films. I have completed three films which has been distributed world wide.
2) Action-Flix: How did you get started in the martial arts? What are all the styles you are a master in?
Jino: My father Myng S. Kang was a grand master in Hapkido, so you can say I was born in to it. I started at the age of four and haven’t stopped since. I hold a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kyokoshin-Kai Karate and Tae Kwon Do. I am Currently studying Judo and Eskrima/Kali
3) Action-Flix: You created the system of Hapki-Jitsu . Can you tell us all about that and how did it come about?
Jino) When I was training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I was encouraged by Charles Gracie to incorporate BJJ into Hapkido and I thought it was a great idea since the ground-game of BJJ totally complements mostly the stand up-game of Hapkido. If you think about it, most arts concentrate on one aspect of martial arts such as kicking, striking, or grappling and so on. Hapkido is already ecletic in the sense that it incorporates striking, kicking, weapons, joint locks and throws, so adding grappling aspects completed all aspects of martial arts.
4) Action-Flix: How did you get involved in the film industry?
Jino: When I won the part in a little movie by Leo Fong and Ron Marchini, I thought I could do this and I enrolled in the College of Marin and started the film making process. Three years later, I had finished a script and started shooting my first film, “Blade Warrior”.
5) Action-Flix: You’re a man of many talents. You write, produce and direct besides starring in your films. How is that for you and what’s your favorite part?
Jino: I have to say that it’s grueling to wear so many hats. So often, I do collaborate in writing, producing and directing. My favorite parts are shooting the film because it’s so much fun and you’re making it happen whether its on celluloid or digital and the other part is the editing process because your pieces of visions are stitched together in linear fashion. Your story and visions are coming to life and all yours (and everyone involved) efforts are paid off.
6) Action-Flix: You have done 3 films so far and they are all loaded with intense, spectacular fight sequences. How do you create such excitement on a limited budget?
Jino: Very carefully (laughs). That is challenging as well. I try not to repeat my actions and incorporate everything I know at that time. Working with mostly local stuntmen and fighters and mixed in with my personal stunt teams was the key in creating fun fight scenes. Lots of rehearsals and carefully choreographed fight scenes were essential. Working with no stunts experience was fine as long as they agreed to extensive training. However, I would like more funding so I can have more time to film the fight scenes and if I had that, I believe I can bring even more of a fantastic game to the fight scenes.
7) Action-Flix: Your fight scenes are more realistic and brutal. Is this due to your training in real life? Do you prefer the realistic to the flash of some fights?
Jino: I prefer realistic and brutal fighting to flashy fight scenes. I hope the audience feels the same way but not everyone agrees with that. When and if a situation calls for a flashy scene, I wouldn’t mind fancier techniques to be applied but most of the time it doesn’t fit the character and the realistic scenes that needs to be portrayed.
8) Action-Flix: Before we talk about the new film Weapon of Choice, Can you tell us a little about your first two films-Blade Warrior and Fist2Fist?
Jino: Sure! Blade Warrior is a very personal film about my art of Hapkido and the lineage. We made this film with one of my students and friend Joe Sutton. The script came about when I was attending film classes at the College of Marin. After I learned the production chops at school, we finished the film a few years later. It was shot on 16mm. Shooting on every weekend and sending the film to the lab and watching the dailies every week. Surprisingly we only made a few mistakes for reshoots (every filmmakers nightmare). I still call it my “student film”. 6 years later, when I had a bigger Hapkido school, a pool of talented filmmakers emerged and they encouraged me to make another film. I wanted to make a film about MMA and redemption. So I researched BJJ and Muay Thai and found the right resources in the San Franciso Bay Area. Everything fell in place, the stars were aligned, so to speak. Again, we shot every weekend except for SAG actors scenes when we had to fly the talent out with housing, per diem, etc. It took a year to shoot and another year to edit. However, once it was done, it was picked up right away and it did very well around the world and USA.
9) Action-Flix: Now lets talk about Weapon of Choice. How did it come about and where did you get the idea for it?
Jino: This time I wanted to get away from the MMA/CAGE fighting which was oversaturated by then, but incorporte everything from MMA to Kung Fu moves and represent all martial arts with a theme of a hitman who wants to live a normal life and protect his niece (“Taken” didn’t come out until after I’ve written the first draft). I was helping out with choregraphy for Kenny Leu and Albert Lopez (Director) on a short film, “Love Hurts” and there I met Doug Olsson who wanted to get involved in filmmaking, producing, acting, etc. And other people came into my life like Tony Urgo who was the editor of Fist 2 Fist and wanted to make more films. So I wrote the first draft and Tony polished and finished the script. I also wrote the “Banducci” character with Doug Olsson in mind since he had that Italian Mobster charisma, he came on board. Again, cast and crew came together and we shot it out in 30 days this time.
10) Action-Flix; Describe your character of Jack Lee. Who is he and how does he differ from other action film heroes?
Jino: I wanted to create a hitman character that does not rely on his own weaponry to take out his enemies. Instead he takes away the enemies own weapons and turn it against them, hence the title “Weapon of Choice”. Jack is also different in that he used to be a bad guy, a real anti-hero but he changes his ways when he is entrusted upon to take care of his niece but when she is kidnapped for nefarious purposes by the antagonist, he must return to his old self to rescue his niece.
11) Action-Flix: The idea that Jack doesn’t use his own weapons but he takes them off his opponents and uses them against them when fighting is an awesome idea. How did you think of that?
Jino: When you study arts that utilize weaponry like Hapkido, there are many take-away techniques to each weapon like guns, knives, swords and such. I thought it would be very cool to use that as a character’s modus operandi and theme. I believed it worked out very well for the film.
12) Action-Flix: The film has some strong female leads in Kelly Lou Dennis who plays your niece and Katherine Celio who plays your partner. Like I said in my review, they’re no damsels in distress. It seems that Hollywood is gravitating more towards strong female action leads. How important is it to you that your female roles are strong and independent?
Jino: Very important! In the male dominated world of film, I believe female characters should be strong and wise. I believe that in real life too. In my school, half of my students are females too and I think that is great. Way back, parents would say “No” – girls can’t train in martial arts, but it has come a long way since then. I know it’s great for self-esteem and confidence building and ability to “fight back” and I wanted to translate that aspect into my film. And, there’s no way Jack could have done it without his strong female characters help.
13) Action-Flix: Weapon of Choice has some exciting fights throughout but the final is the real showstopper! Can you give us some history on how the finale came together and how did you go about choreographing it?
Jino: Right. So, I wanted to create a gauntlet of warriors and representing different styles of martial artists too. We have MMA fighters, Muay Thai fighters, Katana Fighters, BJJ fighters, Gun play and one versus many and so on. Each time Jack defeats his opponent and thinking he’s done, there’s more and more difficult opponents he has to defeat to get to his objective. This way the audience would root for the hero.
14) Action-Flix: All your characters have a strong moral code just like you in real life. Talk to us about how important it is that the audience sees that in your heroes.
Jino: It is so important to have that code otherwise we just have a fighting film that no one cares about. When I create characters, they need to have that belief in themselves to finish that task at hand or work towards that goal whatever that may be. Equal codes for the good or evil. So in my films, I don’t care if people don’t like that part of it but I make sure I take the time to develop characters and what motivates them to do what they do. I believe this engages the audience and care for the characters, good or evil.
15) Action-Flix: Can you tell us what can we expect from you in the future? What kind of action films are on the horizon and what is next for Jino Kang!
Jino: Yes, I have several projects in development. I have a true follow up to Weapon of Choice called “Blade Fury.” Jack, the hit man is hiding out in a sleepy little town and he gets his cover blown when he thwarts a bank robbery and a vengeful Yakuza mob boss unleashes an army of ninjas to get to Jack. Jack must now fight for his life and the people he has come to know and love. This one may take a little while since I’m looking for financing perhaps towards the end of the year. In the mean time we have a spec pilot in development called “Wages of Sin.” It’s about a martial arts master and his protege that are drawn back into the violence and tragedy of a ruthless criminal world he thought he left behind. We should be able to shoot this summer. Also, I am trying to finish my book “Secrets of Hapkido” sometime this summer too.
Action-Flix: Thank you so much Jino for a great interview! Talk to you soon!
Jino: Thank you, John!
According to Jino’s website, Blade Warrior is unavailable at the moment so they can work on the sound design but his other two films Fist2Fist and Fist2Fist: 2- Weapon of choice are available on DVD and Digital Download. Weapon of Choice is also set to premiere this summer in the UK on the Fight Channel!
For more Jino Kang action, watch his awesome Action Demo Reel