By: John M Jerva
When it comes to martial arts prowess on the screen, Chris Collins is the reel deal and then some. The former Marine turned Martial Arts school owner has seen it all and he’s learned from the best including the legendary Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Nicky Li. Collins has parlayed a great career in the Armed Forces into a full fledged movie career and he has taken on the best of the best including Tony Jaa and, of course, Donnie Yen as he stars alongside the martial arts icon in the climatic fourth film in the classic franchise Ip Man 4: The Finale.
In this exclusive interview with Action-Flix.com, Collins talks about his life as a Marine as well as throwing caution to the wind and opening up a martial arts dojo in Hong Kong as an outsider. Collins also talks about being mentored by these great superstars of the martial arts. We also chat about working with action star Scott Adkins who he has now starred twice with in Wolf Warrior and this new sure to be instant classic which opens on Chritmas Day! Chris Collins is as tough as they come and he’s here to stay!
1) Hi Chris! First of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. It truly is an honor. Before we talk Ip Man 4, talk to us about your experiences in the Marines as well as the martial arts. What led you on those paths and how did they shape you for your future in the film industry.
I began boxing at age 5 with my older brother, John at the Ray Mancini boxing gym in Youngstown, Oh. Our dad insisted on us learning to box. I continued when we moved to Pensacola,Fl at the Roy Jones Jr. gym on LaRua into my high school years. At that time I was also wrestling in school. In the early 90’s I took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the bequest of my dad. He was in the Navy and introduced me to an instructor at NAS. The Naval Air Station. While in the USMC I started to find interest in Wing Chun Kung Fu and Filipino KALI. During my time as a Marine, I wanted to become a Scout Sniper. However, I felt strongly about hand to hand combat and CQC. I decided to follow my gut instinct. So I requested to be stationed in South East Asia in order to focus on bringing these systems back to the USMC. I believed it to be a way to improve my MARINE CORPS that I loved so dearly. Granted permission by my C/O, I began my martial arts journey in Asia. I’ve now been training Wing Chun and teaching it for over 20 years, as well as the Pekiti Tirsia Kali. I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Clark Gracie and I continue to run my academy and affiliates around the globe. I met a famous action director in HK, Nicky Li. (Rush Hour-Who am I-White Storm-SPL2) I helped him with the action choreography until one day he introduced me to Paco Wong, my manager. He told me he could make me an action star. Since then, he has helped me build a career in the film industry. I am so grateful and determined to continue my assent in action movies as an actor as well as an action director.
2) Tell us about building your martial arts academies. How was it that you opened it up in Hong Kong and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
I started teaching in HK in the late 90’s. It was very difficult, because I was an outsider. The only foreigner teaching wing Chun at the time. I received many challengers to my academy. Telling me I could not teach Chinese Kung fu. Thankfully, I am still standing and still doing it after 23 years. I’m very proud of that fact. I had to learn Cantonese as well, in order to understand more about what I was teaching as well as my culture. I’m half Chinese and half Caucasian.So it was difficult early on to find where I fit.
3) How did you get involved in the film industry and how did you come under the guidance of such iconic action legends like Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung? How exciting was it to work with these pioneers?
You take it one at a time. It’s a testing ground and a very small circle. Every time I was given an opportunity I saw it as those same challengers to my academy. I had to succeed. Sammo made me fight all his stunt guys before he would allow me to take part in Paradox. He needed to know he could work with me. Afterwards, he welcomed me to his team. Best feeling ever. I’m close with his action guys today. With Donnie it was such a pleasure. He is a Pioneer in the industry and I’ve watched him as a kid. So I’m a huge fan. We’ve now worked on several projects together which is really amazing and a learning experience for me. We have similar thinking and I have a real combat background which adds to his films. Whether it’s my USMC skill sets or my martial arts skill sets. I try to be an asset for him. Of course, I am trying to pave my own way in the industry but we must take time to learn from the best.
4) Now let’s talk Ip Man 4 which is destined to be an instant classic. How did your role come about and how was it to become a part of this iconic franchise?
Wilson, the director and I really got along while filming Paradox. He is a Wing Chun enthusiast and we spoke a lot about my background and my goal of integrating Wing Chun into the USMC. So when I read the script for Ip Man 4, I was so excited to see my life story mixed into the movie. Vaness’s character would have been yours truly. Mine and Scott’s character represented the obstacles I faced in returning to the States to bring the Wing Chun into the program. So, needless to say I’m over joyed and honoured to be a part of this film. Donnie, Sammo and Wilson created a franchise that will be remembered forever as the greatest martial arts franchise.
5) What kind of preparation did you take for the fight sequences in the film. Talk about what went into filming these great scenes.
I had to train some kicking and adapt to being a Karate master. I’m not a big kicker so I had to practice more on that. I train way too much in JiuJitsu nowadays so my hips are twice my age. Then I just watched some footage of Karate masters and tried to change my otherwise fluid style into a more rigid style. That’s difficult to do when trying to fully express yourself on screen. The action scenes are more or less created on the days of filming. We do a basic choreography that highlights a few of the key junctions in the sequence. But it’s all about feel once we are on set. Yuen Woo Ping will make last minute changes and we will make suggestions or adjustments. Then it just becomes the scene. It a collaboration between everyone.
6) Donnie is such a master in his craft. What did you take away from working with him and how did he make you a better on screen fighter?
Donnie is like a Composer of an orchestra. He is paying attention to every piece. He knows what the camera wants and how to feed that. Working with Donnie gives me so much on screen knowledge it’s like an education. I learn so much from him, it’s ridiculous. I can’t wait to put it into my next project.
7) Give us some details about your fight with Donnie. What can the fans expect and what went into making it happen? It’s great to see the differences of styles clash on screen.
The actual fight was a lot of fun. I hope it’ll be exciting for the audience. I really enjoyed the Mid Autumn Festival scene. No spoilers. Hahaha
8) Talk about the great Scott Adkins. This is the second time you’ve worked with him with the other film being Wolf Warrior. What does he bring to the table and how is it to work with him. Any good stories to share?
It’s cool to work with Scott. He’s a professional and very good at his craft. His kicks are one of a kind. I was on set during his scene with Donnie and helped translate and get him into a HK style action mindset. It’s very different than western fight scenes. The rhythm and tempo are unlike any other. So I tried to get him the quick feedback for the follow up action sequences. I really hope we get more opportunities to work together. He’s a great guy.
9) In terms of action and filmmaking, the West is very different from the East. What are you’re thoughts on action films here in the West as opposed to the East. What are some pros and cons. Do you prefer one to the other?
Absolutely, but the west is catching up. The planning is different. We really kind of make a lot of the calls on the day. Which is at times frustrating but that’s what masked it artisticly. Not so much CG so we have to perform the action ourselves. I for instance never use a double. I like the authenticity and knowing I performed all of the action myself. I hope one day to join Hollywood productions. My dream is only just starting to be realised in this industry. China and the US markets is my goal.
10) Now the latest entry in the Ip Man franchise depicts the clash of cultures. Even though it takes place in the 60’s, talk about how relevant it is in today’s world and what you think the overall message is for the film amidst all the martial arts action on screen.
We can all be over protective when it comes to those we love. We want to protect our children, our service men and women, our country. It can sometimes cause us to be very stubborn and closed minded. We must all learn to be more open, open minded and allow ourselves to see from someone else’s perspective. This allows us to grow as individuals, as parents, as colleagues, as a country. On the surface, people may look different but we are all the same. We can learn from each other and grow. Bruce Lee experienced this in life and expressed it through his martial art. As a mixed race, I’ve lived with is all my life and continue to grow and find my expression through this.
11) You also starred in Paradox with the one and only Tony Jaa. How was it to throwdown with him on film and how was it to film that?
Tony Jaa is such a lovely guy. So genuine and kind. His kicks and his movements are so impressive. He floats in the air like Micheal Jordon. We shared many meals during Paradox and we speak often since filming. I hope to fight him onscreen again in the future. Working on Paradox was so memorable and I’ve made so many friends from that project. I’m very grateful for that opportunity.
12) The IMDb mentioned that you are working on a film called Ruckus Factor about your experiences in Hong Kong. Is that still in the cards and talk about what we can expect. Any other future projects you can discuss with us?
Yes, RUCKUS FACTOR. We will begin filming after the new year. I’m so amped for this and have been visualising it for some time now. Paco and I have been planning this project since the beginning of the year. I’m going to take all the patience and knowledge gained from the likes of Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen into my own action movie based on my life in Hong Kong from the early days of opening my academy. Expect a lot of fisticuffs and some weapons and many different fighting styles. I’ve also just wrapped on Raging Fire with director Benny Chan and actor/producer Donnie Yen. I’m behind the scenes assisting with the action. It’s going to be a big time action movie. Keep your eye out for it. Modern fast paced action. Then it was , Back to the Past with Louis Koo. Time travel, mercenaries, emperors and more. I had a lot of fun playing my character on this one.
Chris, thank you so much again for the interview. It was a real eye opening experience talking about your career and working with sucg legends of action and martial arts cinema. All the best in the future!
Thank you so much for the interview John. Happy Holidays!
Watch Chris tear it up onscreen when Ip Man 4: The Finale Opens in China on December 20th and the U.S. on December 25th from Well Go USA!!!