In the world of action cinema, far too many performers are lost in the shuffle. Many of them deserve to be seen and Jino Kang isn’t someone who will wait around for someone to find him. This guys goes out on his own to create his own films and carve his own path. Jino is head to toe an action star and his films BLADE WARRIOR (2001), FIST 2 FIST (2011), and WEAPON OF CHOICE (2014) go to show the audience he’s the real deal. It was really exciting for me to get in touch with Jino and talk with him about his humble beginnings and the road to being an action star.
Corey Danna: So tell me a bit about growing up in South Korea in the 60’s.
Jino Kang: From what I remember: dirt roads, open sewer, crowded school rooms, there were eighty students in my classroom and one teacher. It was rapidly changing around those times, buildings were going up but when I went back in 1984, for my third degree black belt test, it was completely a different place. I knew change was taking place but I didn’t realize it was that much. Everything was updated and modern, skyscrapers, it was completely different now.
CD: Your father was a Grand Master, correct?
JK: Yeah, at the time he was a sixth degree black belt in Hapkido, he had his own school and I would wake up in the morning with my gi on then just join in the class, I was four years old, and I would work alongside all the black belts before they all went to work. Good times back then!
CD: When you moved with your family to the United States, how did life change for you?
JK: It was great to be in the United States but it was so different, so huge. Of course, the first obstacle I had to defeat was the English language so thankfully they had tutors at my school and they taught me English. I was ahead in math but I was very slow at English. Growing up in the U.S. I felt as if I was meant to be here and adapted very quickly. I loved the way of freedom here so my father was right when he told us he was going to make a better life for us.
CD: When did your family decide to open their school here?
JK: They waited until I was twenty one and we opened in Concord, Ca. After a few years we realized this wasn’t the best location so we moved the operation to San Francisco and things started to work out pretty well.
CD: Your school has been very successful over the years, what do you think has lead you to that success?
JK: At first it wasn’t very successful because I didn’t know anything about business. You really have to marry the two, you have to know the business part of running a school and you also have to know how to teach. It took me awhile to figure that out but once you figure out the business end of things you can focus on teaching the martial arts, your passion, so right now we’re doing pretty good.
CD: Lets talk about the philosophy behind Hapkido.
JK: Hapkido is a Korean martial art that’s very eclectic, it incorporates Japanese Aikido, Ju Jitsu, Judo as well as the Korean Karate, which is Tae Kwon Do. The Karate aspect of it was all melded together and became one of the most effective forms of self defense because we use the best parts of the martial arts, putting it together, and utilizing it in self defense situations.
CD: What sort of techniques do you use to teach that philosophy to your students?
JK: For beginners, we instill the self defense aspect first, fitness does come with the martial arts but you have to understand the art of self defense first, to protect yourself, protect your family. In Hapkido, we don’t do tournaments, you can, but it’s primarily for self defense. We drill it into our students so they never misuse or abuse it.
CD: What exactly is Hapki-jitsu?
JK: Hapji-jitsu came about when I was researching Brazillian Ju-jitsu for my second film FIST 2 FIST. I was researching it so I could incorporate it into the movie and I realized that the martial arts are either one or the other. What I mean by that is there’s stand-up martial arts with all the kicks and punches or it’s a grappling martial art like Judo, Ju-Jitsu, and so on. With Brazillian Ju-Jitsu, especially Gracie Ju-jitsu, they incorporate grappling on the ground, so 90% of it is self-defense on the ground. I thought it was very useful so once I got involved with it, I realized I was hooked. Twelve years later and I’m still training in it, it’s very addictive. Every day I’m learning something new and it’s an incredible martial art. I incorporated our principle Hapkido and the Brazillian Ju-jitsu into it, so that’s Hapki-jitsu.
CD: You started training at a very young age and I’m in my early forties, is Hapkido something I could still take up or am I too old?
JK: (laughs) You’re never too old. With Hapkido, we have cane stuff we can teach you. Anyways, with older adults we just modify their training. We don’t teach them jumps kicks or flying kicks because most likely you’ll get hurt. We keep that for the younger students. We work with you so we can understand your lifestyle and make sure you’re able to work the next day. We will teach you valuable self defense too.
CD: In 2009, you were inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame, can you tell me a bit about that experience?
JK: I was invited for the induction by Master Robert Parham, he was a kickboxing champion and in two of my films FIST 2 FIST and WEAPON OF CHOICE. There was a hige gathering of masters like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Master Eric Lee, and some other really well known masters were inducted at that time. I was very honored to be there it was a very proud moment.
CD: Haven’t you been working on a book?
JK: Yes, it’s “Secrets of Hapkido”. I’ve been writing it on and off for the last twenty years. It was sidelined when I was starting my first feature film, BLADE WARRIOR. Now, we are very close, we just finished the first draft and it looks really good. We’re starting the second revision now and it should be ready for launch by the end of summer. It’s going to be an e-book so you can find it on Amazon and few others. It’s strictly about Hapkido.
CD: So what sparked your interest in film?
JK: That’s a good question! Just like anyone else, when Bruce Lee came on the screen in the early seventies and the late sixties, I was enamored by him. I really wanted t be like him and make movies like him. By the time I was in junior high school, I had a bunch of friends and we would run around and make martial art movies. We were shooting on Super 8 and I really wish I could find that footage but I haven’t been able to. After that I never really did anything about it except for making a few clumsy videos, just having fun. There was a martial arts tournament put on by Leo Fong and Ron Marchini and they were advertising that you could get a part in their movie if you won the tournament. Well, I won! The movie was ultra-low budget and it was called WEAPON OF CHOICE. It was such a good name that I wanted to use it one day. Anyway, we shot it, I know the film was finished but I don’t think it ever was released. After that I decided that I could do this so I went to college and took some really great film classes. I went there for two and a half, almost three, years and learned the production side. I learned how to shoot, to crew, film, everything. It’s so different now since everything is video but I was lucky enough to learn editing on a Steenbeck editor. Back then you actually had to physically chop the film and put it in the bin and this is where BLADE WARRIOR was born. I finished the script and shot the first ten minutes of it then decided to continue it and here we are, twenty years later.
CD: Being a first-time filmmaker with BLADE WARRIOR, you were in front of and behind the camera. What were some of the difficulties you faced?
JK: That is a challenge and it’s always a challenge. A lot of the time I rely on a co-director, a second eye, so to speak. I can’t always see what other people are doing when I’m acting, fighting, or choreographing a scene. I trust my partners to keep an eye on things and help me to get things right. We would shoot a role of film then send it off, a week later we would get the film back. We would then watch the workprint and most the time we were correct but not always. Now everything is instant when you shoot in HD. It only takes a minute to jump back and review the footage.
CD: How was it choreographing the fight scenes for your first feature?
JK: I wanted to put Hapkido on the map so everything Hapkido has to offer, I tried putting on the screen. Hapkido was very well known for its specialty kicks at the time and I wanted to be able to display that to the world. That was my thought when I began to choreograph and everything else came from there.
CD: I’ve watched probably hundreds of low budget action/martial arts movies in my lifetime and I don’t think I’ve every seen them done as well as they were in BLADE WARRIOR.
JK: Oh wow! Thank you so much. I almost feel embarrassed by it. It was my first film, my practice film, you know what I mean.
CD: After BLADE WARRIOR, you had to wait almost a decade before you were able to tackle another film.
JK: It was really interesting, once we finished BLADE WARRIOR I had another script with a much higher budget. We had a green light to go with it so I was excited to be continuing right away. The company came in, they were ready to go, then they disappeared. The parent company in Japan had shut them down. So the film basically went under before we even started. I continued to write scripts but my martial arts studio was beginning to take off around the same time so I was concentrating on that and I would work on the book. So, yes there was a huge time lapse but when the stars aligned, I found someone at my school who was an experienced DP (director of photography) and he had seen my film. Then we met an experienced project manager, line producer, and he just said “Hey, lets make this movie!”. I had just was the script and things progressed from there. Originally FIST 2 FIST was called HAND 2 HAND and that’s how we started up again and FIST 2 FIST was born.
CD: You could immediately tell there was a huge progression from BLADE WARRIOR to FIST 2 FIST in your abilities as a filmmaker and a performer. I was taken aback by how the film played out as a “slow burn”. You could have easily just taken a non-stop action route but you chose to pace it differently. Could you tell me what led you to that decision?
JK: You’re the first person to ever ask me that, that’s great! I really like to pay attention to plot, story, and developing the characters. I wanted to build up the tension when I knew there was going to be this huge final showdown at the end. I made sure to throw plenty of wrenches in the way of the protagonist and yes the slow burn was there keeping the tension. It wasn’t just about my character Ken, it was about the other characters as well. We tried bringing all the elements together so it would be tied up nicely in the end. I hope we had an explosive enough finale but I’m pretty happy with all the positive feedback we’ve received.
CD: In FIST 2 FIST the action scenes were felt far more realistic. Why did you choose to go that route over the more stylized, Hollywood type of action scenes?
JK: I was never really a fan of the “wire-fu” so I like to keep things real. If you look at the really great martial artists like Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, they always kept it real. It has to all look real so these down to earth fight scenes have to be really well choreographed. Being able to take all your skills and put them together is the right step to take in showing your audience you’re not insulting them.
CD: There was a much quicker turnaround between FIST 2 FIST and WEAPON OF CHOICE, was it the success of F2F that allowed this to happen?
JK: With WEAPON OF CHOICE, we had investors line up rather quickly so things moved rather quickly. We did work on the script for almost a year before we went into pre-production. We really put a lot of thought into the film before we moved ahead.
CD: I really appreciated just how different each of the fight scenes are in all three films. There’s nothing wrong with guys like Van Damme or Seagal but in their films you know what to expect in their action scenes. With your films, the style in each one is completely different.
JK: Thank you for noticing that. I try not to repeat myself and I think that’s my thing. I don’t know if you noticed this or not but I like to tell stories within the fight scenes and I hope people are entertained by them.
CD: You had a directing partner for WOC with Tony Urgo. How did this help to relieve some of the pressure you experienced?
JK: I can’t catch everything and that second set of eyes becomes invaluable in the process, seeing things you might have missed. Having a partner helps!
CD: What can you tell me about KID FURY?
JK: KID FURY is a Dave Fong production, a friend who wanted to shoot a short so I helped him with it. It’s an eight minute piece I help write the script for it and I act a bit. It’s about a kid who gets his property stolen and he wants to get it back. I play a gangster who has come into possession of this prized box and the kid will do what he has to in order to get it back. It’s in post-production now.
CD: Do you have any new projects in the works?
JK: Yes, we just finished the script for a higher production film and I need to go get this pitched, hopefully we will get the financial backing. It’s called BLADES OF FURY and it’s a direct sequel to WEAPON OF CHOICE. This time Jack goes into hiding and gets discovered when a video goes viral and the Yakuza boss he screwed over comes after him. The boss terrorizes the small town until Jack has no choice but to come out and fight an army of ninjas. Next month we’re going to shoot a web series pilot and this is a direct sequel to FIST 2 FIST and Ken Min has to rescue his friends child who was kidnapped setting off a chain of crazy events.
CD: I admire the fact you just go out and create your own projects instead of waiting for them to come to you.
JK: There’s nothing wrong with people coming to you but sitting around waiting for projects to come to me just isn’t my style . If we do them well the rewards will be great and I have so much fun doing it.
You can learn even more about Jino Kang by visiting his OFFICIAL SITE!!