I recently discovered the work of martial artist, actor and filmmaker Jino Kang and wanted to share some thoughts. If you’re an old time fan of 1970’s and 80’s Kung Fu flicks, his work is a fun throwback, particularly for nostalgic nuts like me.
Kang was born in South Korea and immigrated to San Francisco with his parents during the 1970’s. As I’ve discovered SF now plays a major backdrop in his films, evidently close to his heart. Today he runs a Hapkido school (his father was a Grand Master) while pursuing writing, producing, directing and starring in his own indie film projects. In addition to Hapkido, his martial arts credentials span Tae Kwon Do, Kyokoshin-Kai Karate and BJJ, so he’s well versed in the arts. This is also a nod to that 70’s and 80’s vibe, martial arts masters fronting their own movies.
After earning a small film role in the late 1980’s, he caught the acting bug and enrolled in film school. His debut feature Blade Warrior came after much planning and prep. In the end it took four years to complete, a real passion project partly shot while still a student, and his team even transitioned from shooting on 16mm to digital as technology progressed in that time.
His next movies, Fist 2 Fist and Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice, raised the stakes in both action and drama and even threw some comedy into the mix for the sequel, keeping things fresh and also changing up the tone. But there can be no doubt that martial arts and genre buffs are the prime target. They also feature cameos from names like Eddie Bravo, Charles Gracie and Gene Lebell, an obvious sign of respect for Kang’s efforts.
One of my favourite aspects of his work is a natural likability. His characters come across well and, while he never goes for big, bold performances, one gets a sense that we’re seeing the real man on screen. He is honourable, humble, reserved, but deadly when the situation calls for it.
The films have a charming homemade feel, real grassroots moviemaking, but with plenty of action and ambition to elevate it. Being such a proficient martial artist, his fight scenes are very diverse and entertaining. However, when he battles his more skilled stunt players, the calibre of action clearly cranks up a notch. I’d love to see him surrounded by a kickass stunt ensemble moving forward and take them all down.
Another interesting note is how he blends his own sensibilities and philosophies into the stories, as well as ideas from literary works like of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, pretty unique in itself and a nice added ingredient.
All in all, for martial arts fans and especially lovers of grassroots indie style filmmaking, Kang is one to watch and I look forward to checking out his future movies. Anyone who goes out and digs their heels in for the tough task of making movies gets respect from me.
Fist 2 Fist and Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice are out now on DVD.