Exclusive Interview: Directing a New Breed of Action- A Conversation with INSIGHT Helmer Livi Zheng!

By: david j. moore

Combining slight supernatural elements with the martial arts, the new action film Insight (out March 12th from Gravitas Ventures) pairs up and coming martial arts action star Ken Zheng with his sister Livi Zheng, who directs the film from a script she worked on with Ken. Both Ken and Livi are martial artists themselves and previously collaborated on the independent action film Brush With Danger (2015), and their latest effort appears to be a fun and exciting film for fans of the genre and beyond.

Several summers ago, freelance film journalist david j. moore was invited to the Los Angeles set of Insight, and he observed director Livi Zheng calling the shots and working closely with her brother, who is also one of the film’s fight choreographers. During lunch break, Livi sat down with david to discuss the action of the film, and working with her brother, whom she hopes has the fighting spirit to become a verifiable action star breakout with Insight.

Director Livi Zheng directs a scene with star Madeline Zima

1) How cool is it to be making action adventure movies with your brother?

We started doing martial arts since we were young, and I started doing stunt work in Indonesia, and later on I started producing, and then later on I got into directing. I directed Brush With Danger with Ken, and now we’re doing this one together. Me and my brother really like martial arts, and we’ve grown with it and are really passionate about it. We wanted to make really good martial arts films with really good stories, and so here we are.

2) Talk about your brother a little bit. What makes him different than anybody else in terms of his screen presence and his personality? How does that translate to the screen?

He’s very dedicated and he’s very willing to learn. He works very hard and he has a lot of potential. What makes my brother different is that he really understands choreography really well. In our last feature, he seemed to understand every aspect of the story really well. He had a connection to it. Same thing here. He’s great with the drama and also with the fight scenes. Working with my brother is the easiest part of making these movies.

Director Livi Zheng oversees a fight scene

3) Talk a little bit about the bad guys in the film. I know what the story is a little bit. Say something about the relationship between the good guy and bad guy.

In the film, the bad guy is a very well educated guy. He is a really smart person, and the good guy is also very smart, but he’s clairvoyant. The antagonist wants him for this ability he has, and because the good guy’s brother worked for the bad guy and died, that sets the story in motion. Sean Patrick Flannery is a real martial artist, and that helps the movie’s fight scenes a lot. In the film, we see him training in the dojo.

Director Livi Zheng with Tony Todd on set

4) You’re a martial artist yourself. How are you using your martial arts knowledge as a director? How do you see directing something like this differently than a non-martial artist would? You’re seeing this process with different eyes.

I know Ken’s style really well and I can get the best of him in every scene, especially with the action. I really understand action scenes. I used to compete. I have fought before. I really know how to move with the camera if I have to. I started really young as a martial artist. My family would take us on the weekends, and I started with kendo, and then Wushu, and then when I moved to Seattle when I was in college, I did karate. I was on a karate team for two years, I competed in regional and national championships. I won medals for karate.

Director Livi Zheng with brother Ken Zheng on set

5) It sounds like you should be the action star!


6) I’m just throwing it out there! Tell me a little bit about Insight.

We really wanted to do an action movie that was unique. Fresh from other movies. I think this movie’s fighting styles mixes styles. UFC is popular, and I love UFC, and so I want this movie to have a mix of martial arts and UFC. Sometimes the groundwork in UFC isn’t dynamic enough. So we have combined a lot of martial arts for this movie.

Director Livi Zheng directs a scene with Tony Todd and Ken Zheng

7) I had a conversation about UFC and how it’s changed how we see martial arts. When you watch a UFC fight, it’s all one take. It’s basically one master shot, not lots of cut up takes and different angles. It’s one long take. Are you guys doing that? I’ve been watching the filming today during that chase scene where Ken fights a bunch of guys at once, and you’re doing master takes, not cutting it up to shreds.

Yeah! We always try for the master take to see if we can get it in one take, but of course you do some pick-ups and inserts, but we generally like to do one long take with a steadycam.

8) What is it like for you to watch a fight scene in a movie where it’s all broken up into little bits and pieces? Is that weird for you as a martial artist?

Yeah, it is. In a fight, you try to beat the other guy, and there’s a dynamic to it, but when in terms of fighting in films, there’s a different spirit to it. It’s not like a real fight.

Director Livi Zheng on the set of Insight

9) Does Ken have the fighting spirit?

I hope so!

10) I hope this movie is a great success for you both, and I hope you can do more of them together.

Thank you!

Insight is now playing in select cinemas and VOD courtesy of Gravitas Ventures



About the author: david j. moore is the author of The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars” and a contributing writer to Action-Flix.com

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