INTERVIEW: Jino Kang on Martial Arts, Action Cinema and Independent Filmmaking Part 1

Jino Kang is an accomplished martial artist, writer, director and actor. He has combined his passions for martial arts and filmmaking in his three independent features, Blade Warrior, Fist 2 Fist and Weapon of Choice. Midnite Ticket recently spoke with Jino on martial arts, action cinema and independent filmmaking:

Midnite Ticket: How did you begin your career in martial arts?

Jino Kang: I was pretty much born into martial arts, and it all started with Hapkido. My father was a grandmaster in Hapkido, so at age four, I began training in school in South Korea. We immigrated to the states back in the 70s, but he didn't open up the school until I was old enough. From then on we ran the school and also went to learn other arts as well. I went out on my own and learned Kyokushin-Kai Karate, and I got a black belt in that. I learned Tae kwon do, got a black belt in that. I have also trained in Brazilian jiu jitsu for the last 13 years. That one I got into before we started researching Fist 2 Fist. I wanted to incorporate that aspect into martial arts films and thought it would be cool to learn it. I just got hooked on it, because it's such an interesting martial art, and it really ties into what we do in Hapkido, because Hapkido is primarily stand-upish, eighty to ninety percent stand-up with kicks and strikes and joint locks and throws of judo and jiu jitsu. There's no follow-up to the ground, and so if you were taken to the ground, there's no way to defend yourself, and I found that out immediately when I walked into a jiu jitsu school, and I said, "Okay, I need to learn this", and at the same time, extract the pretty part of it and incorporate that into the films. Anyway, ever since then, I still train, I still teach, I have an Hapkido school in San Francisco. I’ve been there since '87, '88. It's doing really well. We have an association with Charles Gracie so we have a Gracie school downstairs and we also do Muay Thai kickboxing.

MT: In your film Fist 2 Fist, the protagonists are fighting to keep a youth center from closing. What inspired you to include this aspect in the film?

JK: At that time, there was a downwards spiral of people losing jobs, all the centers were getting shut down. It was a really bad time, around 2008, 2009. I wanted to reflect what was going on in the environment and show the hostility that spilled all over San Francisco. I'm sure it was happening all over the states as well, but I thought that bringing that dramatic element into the film, speaking and voicing our opinions on it, that would help create drama in our film.

MT: What big screen martial artists had the greatest impact on you growing up?

JK: My father used to take me, this was when we were in Korea, to all the samurai films. Toshiro Mifune's character, the Yojimbo character, really resonated with me. I was in awe with all those samurai films from Kurosawa. I was always practicing with wooden sticks and swords and playing around with that all the time. Once we came to the States, I was completely mesmerized by Bruce Lee and the kind of character that he played. The man really had talent and charisma. Anytime, he could explode into a rage and show his skill, and those films endured. It gave me some steps. I could now reach towards that kind of a greatness if I could, and I started to do my best in that sense.

MT: How did you begin your filmmaking career?

JK: I won a tournament in the 80s and during the tournament, you could win a part in a movie. I won the tournament, and they gave me a part in a low budget martial arts film. Once I really got involved, I said, "Oh, you know what? I could really do this. This is something that I could really enjoy." I enrolled into college, and I went for three years. I learned how to write, how to edit, how to shoot, learned how to crew, full-on production. That's when I made my first student film / experimental film, Blade Warrior.

MT: What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as an independent filmmaker?

JK: I would say two things. One is financing, and that's always a problem, because obviously if you max out your own credit cards, you're going to get in trouble, right? You know a lot of filmmakers do that, especially for their own pet projects and so on. The second thing is getting distribution and getting into the right channels so a lot of people could see it, and generally, that's really tough. Independent obscurity is pretty much your enemy, because you want people to see your film. “Hey, look what I did.” That's really tough, and a lot of films don't get to that point, getting it sold, getting it distributed. That's the second part, once you get your film in the can, somebody had to distribute it. I find that always to be a challenge.

MT: You have mentioned that you work to include aspects of Sun Tsu’s Art of War in your films. What is your approach to this?

JK: Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, I used to read those all the time. Some of the aphorisms that come from there really resonated with me. What I understood, what I interpreted, I tried to put that onto the screen. That was always a challenge. Some people get it, some people don't. I try to do my best and say, "Hey, this is what I believe.” I try to show that what is part of my film is part of that strategy.

Check back for Part 2 of Midnite Ticket's interview with Jino Kang where we discuss fight choreography, creating villains and more!

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