I have no doubt that you have already read (and loved) our interview with Ron Yuan, the action director (among other things) of the upcoming film The Girl from the Naked Eye. And because that couldn’t have been enough for you, here’s another interview. This time with writer/producer/star/badass Jason Yee. For years, Yee was a world-class martial artist, and then gave that up to make movies.
So he’s an interesting guy, and he was fun to talk to. You’ll notice there were a few overlapping questions from the other interview. That wasn’t a matter of laziness. I was curious what the different responses would be. Among other things, we talked about fighting, Chinese immigration in the 1890s, and art school, so that’s cool.
Read on for the full transcript.
How deeply involved were you in the production of The Girl from the Naked Eye?
Very deeply. Right from the inception of finding a project to do along with my partner Henry Mu. So we developed this from almost scratch, from finding the original draft by Larry Madill, who was the original writer.
Your website says that the film was set to be released in 2009. Is that a typo or has film been in some kind of limbo for the past 3 years?
No no [laughs]. That was done a long time ago. That was really ambitious writing back then. I haven’t updated that site. Somebody else was working on that a while back, but yeah. That site needs to be updated.
Was it started three years ago then or?
Yeah, we were in post, and we actually shot over a couple years. It was one of those things where we shot, ran out of funds, started editing, were trying to figure out what we needed and if we had the stuff, and then went back into production. So it was a long journey. It actually started in 2007, believe it or not.
We realized we only had about 60% of our movie at the time, so [laughs].
What do you think of Oldboy?
Stylistically, I love the film. A lot of cool things. I think there’s some… strange things about it. The storytelling, the story, father, daughter, etc., but as far as some of the fight scenes, as you can see at the end of our film that we did like the grittiness, the realism, the one-take thing that was going on there, but we wanted to take it to the next level. And show more skill, so to speak, even though it’s sloppy and real. I mean, we didn’t want to make a fight scene that was like a Jet Li movie where he’s like a superhero who is never cool or out of breath and robotic. The more we got into the super martial artist realm, the more it took away from the story.
How long did it take to set that fight up?
Well, we did ten takes, beginning to end, and we could’ve done more, I think. The fight director wanted more, because we felt like it got better as we got more tired, because that’s more real, and then there was pushing our schedules, and the director wanted to move onto another shot, but as far as setting up… it took about a week and a half of prepping with the stunt guys. You know, they take half the credit too, because timing, reaction is integral to making a good fight scene. If I punch someone, they have to react correctly, etc. etc.
And in that fight scene, we had no cuts, which was sort of our… in the simplicity of the shot, it’s the complexity is really in the choreography. You know, today I wanted to really do something that your average actor couldn’t do. Because today you can just shoot a scene and someone could do two moves and they’ll cut to another angle, then another two moves and cut to another angle and another two movies then cut to another angle, speed it up, chop it up during editing, and he looks like a badass. But doing one whole section like that, it becomes a lot more complicated and takes a lot more skill.
And it looks a lot cooler in the end.
Well of course. I’m glad you liked it.
Yeah, I thought it was awesome.
Half of the credit goes to the stunt guys. They knew how to take punches. Those were some of the best guys in town in LA, that are sort of a circle that work together on a lot of shows and a lot of them have deep martial arts backgrounds, and they knew how to… you know, that last final kick I do to the one guy’s head, and this guy named Mike Wilson, he’s a stunt guy, I do a roundhouse kick to his head, but it looks like it totally folds him over in half and flips his legs up from under him. And he did that.
That was the one. When I saw that kick, it blew my mind. Definitely one of the coolest single strikes I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Do you ever have a stunt guy of your own or do you do all of everything?
I do all my stunts. There were a couple of stunts when Ron Yuan, the action director, wanted a guy there to do some of the falls, because he was worried: what if I do get injured? How do we go on? Etc. etc. So we did have one shot where I get swept onto my back, and I think we used that one take, but every shot is me. I mean, for me, fight choreography is my thing. Doing Jackie Chan stuff, running across buildings and jumping from building to building, I dunno if I’ll be doing that [laughs], but yeah. I don’t know if I’ll be doing those kinds of stunts.
Did anyone get hurt during the action scenes?
No. Nobody got any bad injuries. You know, we all have our little bumps and bruises here and there, of course, that just comes with the territory, but no. No serious injuries.
Do you know what the Foley directors used to make the sounds of the hits?
I know the sound designer created them hitting various thing, that’s his proprietary thing. I know that there was some layering of sounds. A sound on top of a sound layered over in a way that… I guess we were going for a balance between realism and hyperrealism, and Ron Yuan wanted to push it a little bit more, he didn’t think it was enough. I don’t know. It’s a subjective sort of thing.
Are you still involved in martial arts, outside of being in action movies?
Well, I don’t know if you saw it on my website, but I was extensively involved in kickboxing and Kung Fu for most of my life, until I decided to give it all up and turn over my gym to my students and move out to Los Angeles in 2005.
The site cuts off at 1999, so I was curious if you were still involved.
I kept training fighters, and then I got involved in my first movie, which I shot in 2001-2002, and I did everything on that movie. I directed, acted, it was pretty much my film school. And [laughs] I directed, acted, and wrote the whole thing. Did the whole nine yards. Shot it on Super 16, this was before the whole digital revolution. It was a lot more complicated back then to make a movie. But it probably shouldn’t have gone anywhere, but it got picked up by Blockbuster, and was doing pretty well for a little $70,000 movie.
At that time it was before MMA blew up, so there wasn’t much money in coaching, so I just wanted to use my mind and creativity. I went to art school before I became a professional martial artist, and martial arts kind of took over my life, because I got a person that gave me positive feedback, direct route of competing and training people and making money. So it kind of took over, and on the side while I was running my gym, I bought a little film camera and I was shooting my own little shorts, and I got into acting and taking classes and screenwriting. Doing everything I could do to study film and filmmaking. I bought every book on filmmaking throughout the 90s, and that led up to me making my first movie.
IMDb says you play a mercenary in The Dark Knight Rises. Is that true?
Yeah. Actually, it was an opportunity that came up, and I really just did it because I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan. [laughs] After Inception, I was just like, “I have to go see this guy work,” so I didn’t care if I was in the background doing whatever. I just wanted to be on the set. It would be really cool just to be there.
And I did it. So hey. [laughs]
Did you get to do some super cool action stuff?
No, actually I avoided the camera, to tell you the truth. I just kind of stayed away. I just stayed back and watched. I wasn’t trying to get any camera time.
Well, I have a couple projects in development. I’m working on a Western, which takes place in 1890s Chinatown. It has to do with anti-Chinese immigration, which is similar to Mexican immigration today. The Irish moved in and felt like the Chinese were taking all of the jobs, there was conflict, but the story centers around a female protagonist who basically saves little Chinese girls from the brothels. She’s an American lady. It’s based on historical stuff, and I’ve been working on that a couple of years.
Also I’ve got a little gangster film I’m trying to do which is set in the early 1980s Chinatown, between New York and Boston. Kind of a Scarface story.
How are you involved in those? Just as an actor or?
Nah, I’m involved as a producer and then get them off the ground and of course as an actor. These are the things that are in my control, and what I can try to do is make movies, as far as going out there and getting in and getting noticed and the right opportunity at the right time… we’ll see what happens. I do have other producers that I am talking to that. I don’t want to drop any names, but we’ll see what happens.
Are you looking to get into directing some more on features?
One of my idols is Clint Eastwood, so I figure I’m just getting into the Sergio Leone phase right now, so while I still can, be in front of the camera, kick some butt, do whatever, see where it takes me. And then I do want to director. I actually just directed a music video for a rap artist, The Game last month, and it should have premiered recently. So that one has a little narrative to it. It’s not a typical music video. It’s got a little story going on. But yeah, directing is my long term thing. Initially I’m really just focusing on acting and developing projects and producing.
Like Clint Eastwood, do you see yourself making movies when you’re 80?
Yeah, I do. Sure [laughs].
That’s all my questions. Anything else you want to say?[laughs] I just want people to know that when it comes back to that Oldboy scene, we were going for that sloppy, ugly look. That’s where it’s really at. It’s really about keeping in character, but having to kick ass action. I’m hoping that people can see that.
Thanks so much for talking with me!