Michael Jai White is no newcomer to the movie business. Standing larger-than-life as one of the most impressive physical actors today, he commands a presence like few others – even holding 26 competition titles, black belts in 7 systems and has racked up a wide range of credits in some of the most well received commercial and genre movies from the past few years. Having recently turned his hand to directing, it’s great to see someone of Michael’s skill and experience creatively steering a project – in this case the much awaited sequel, Never Back Down 2, due for release later in the year.
Still, anyone who has followed the action genre over the past 2 decades will know Michael has been widely involved in cinema for quite some time. Contrary to what some might think, he certainly did not appear out of nowhere to star in Undisputed II or Black Dynamite! With nearly 70 onscreen credits to his name, his career dates right back to the late 1980s and early 1990s where he got his first taste making movies in small roles and even taking up duties as a stunt and wrestling coach! A couple of years on he was landing small action roles in films like Universal Soldier, Ring of Fire, Lionstrike (both with Don “The Dragon” Wilson) and Full Contact (the Rick Jacobson film, not Ringo Lam’s movie). Even making the occasional TV appearence, it wasn’t until Tyson, in 1995, that he landed his first lead. Starring in this HBO movie, he had his first real opportunity to showcase acting ability and deliver some major hits in the fight scenes. He followed this by appearing in bigger budget movies with increasingly impressive Hollywood stars (City of Industry, 2 Days in the Valley) before earning his next lead in Spawn. Gaining the attention of both critics and fans, the movie became a cult hit and remains one of his most memorable titles to this day!
Having made that minor appearence in the original Universal Soldier back in 1992, it was fitting and no doubt a welcome surprise when he was offered the role as lead villain S.E.T.H. in the sequel, Universal Soldier: The Return. Starring opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael was rolling in the major leagues and for those who hadn’t heard – it was time to take note! Appearing in large-scale hits like Exit Wounds and continuing guest roles in popular TV series, Michael’s next big step came in the form of modern Martial Arts classic, Undisputed II. Paired up with Brit action star, Scott Adkins, the two created a climactic onscreen rivalry and delivered some of the most exciting fight action ever seen on film. The movie was a huge credit not just to the actors, or director Isaac Florentine, but to the validity of Martial Arts movies in the west.
Keeping busy with commercial films like Why Did I Get Married? and a memorable role in The Dark Knight, Michael still found time to appear in The Legend of Bruce Lee television series and would move on to star in some of his most popular recent projects, such as Blood and Bone and Black Dynamite. Showcasing his aptitude and razor-sharp timing for both Mixed Martial Arts fight choreography and comedy, respectively, these were vehicles (much like Undisputed II) that finally captured Michael at his very best. With Black Dynamite: The Animated Series lined up, and Mortal Kombat: Legacy proving to be an ongoing hit, there can be no doubt Michael has acquired new fans, as well as delivering something different for long-time followers.
Next up we’ll see Michael starring in Tactical Force (with Steve Austin) and The Philly Kid (directed by Jason Connery) and hopefully much, much more to showcase his unique Martial Arts delivery! On that note, Never Back Down 2 will see the Black Dynamite himself both star and direct – marking the start of his new career as a filmmaker (you can check out the trailer here!). As we wish him luck on his journey as a filmmaker, let’s hope (despite these new pursuits) we continue seeing Michael dominate the screen as an actor and action star long into the future!