Ron Yuan is a pretty prolific dude. He acts, fights, choreographs, voices, and pretty much everything else you can think of. This does a lot of things for him, but it also makes him really interesting to talk to. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a nice guy.
So I had a chance to talk with him, and we spent a little bit of time on The Girl with the Naked Eye, which is the film he was promoting, and then we talked about other things. Some of them movie related, others not so much. Also videogames, because videogames are great, and also because Yuan is voicing characters in a number of upcoming games.
Read on to get the full Ron Yuan experience, and come back tomorrow to read our interview with the film’s star and former world-class martial artist, Jason Yee.
Hello, how are you?
Good. Thank you
How deeply involved were you in the production of The Girl from the Naked Eye?
Pretty deeply, I was one of the leads, was the action director and producer.
What percentage of the action choreography did you do?
All of it.
Awesome. Was there any particular feel that you were going for with the action in the film?
You know what… to rewind on that. There were some pickup shots with stuff that they shot in Providence, Rhode Island, that area, and that stuff I wasn’t there for. But going to your second question. Yeah, we were kind of going for a more realistic, hard-hitting, impactful real fight application kind of feel, to fit with the noir world.
Would you say that the film is a noir plus martial arts?
Yes. It’s definitely film noir with the added bonus of martial arts action.
What do you think of Oldboy?
Loved Oldboy. When it was discussed, [director] David [Ren] and the producers and Jason, they all wanted to pay homage to Oldboy in the final scene, because everyone felt like it was a perfect… Oldboy had kind of the noir tone with the look and the coloring, and we were trying to do something that had more intricate choreography and take it to more of a martial arts sort of thing. Where Oldboy was more boxing and right cross, jab, right cross. We just wanted to get more involved and evolved with the choreography, and pay homage to Oldboy because it’s a fantastic classic.
Were you ever worried that your fight wouldn’t live up to that one?
Oh yeah. Always. For us, the reason that it was why… it was one of Jason’s first films, and you had a very experienced actor in Oldboy, one of the top actors in Korea, so in essence both these fights, especially with Oldboy, it’s not just about the choreography, you know, the acting. It looks great, the lighting is great, but you know all the actors and stunt guys had to pull it off with their acting and emotions, and that’s what really sold it. So with our stuff, the pressure was on for the stunt guys and Jason, we really had to push them. There was a lot more choreography and kicks and involving different kinds of things, so it was more about living up to the emotional impact that would add to the action of that fight sequence.
What is the allure of action to you?
I think action for me is still… in the old days you would read scripts where you’d get the action sequence and it would say, “Action Sequence TBD,” but with the Hong Kong stuff, or even the stuff with James Cameron, the story is always broken down. The action is broken down, and there’s a story where the characters grow within the action, so I’m always… for me, I love films like that, and I was inspired by films like that, so when it comes to action, if something needs to be pulling at our main character’s resilience, it can’t just be action for the sake of action. It’s gotta tell a story, and I feel like the characters always have to grow, and that’s what I respond to. And another layer of that question is the different styles of actions. With The Girl from the Naked Eye, we knew we definitely wanted to stay away from all the wire work, all the stuff that seen in movies with Jet Li or something. We wanted to make something ugly, real. The moves weren’t as pretty or as polished. It was just dirty.
How do you feel about wirework action vs. something that is more grounded in reality?
I’m much more towards the grounded in reality, but with that said, it depends on what kind of piece you’re doing. For films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where everything is sort of fantastic, wire works beautifully and it’s a beautiful compliment. But you put it in a contemporary world and that just kills it for me. I always see Jet Li running around sideways doing flying kicks in what could be LA or NY or wherever I am, and I just can’t flow with that. So for me, right now, as the trend goes, I love real application, gritty fights. Stuff that you know, you feel when some guy gets beat down, it’s only going to take one or two punches. It’s not this dance with these moves where you know off the first hit the guy would be really screwed up.
To follow up how do you feel about comedic action, something like Black Dynamite [which you also worked on]? Do you still enjoy that even if it’s not gritty?
Oh god, that was one of the funnest times I’ve ever had. Black Dynamite was the funniest film I ever worked on. Working with Michael Jai White and the director [Scott Sanders] from the very beginning stages was just… we were trying to make it seem like this was a real film that was made during the times of Shaft and all the other Blaxploitation films that just got lost in the back of an MGM vault. So then you see all the mistakes and you see the filmmakers and you see booms come in. Some actors forget their dialogue or are talking about verbalizing exposition when they shouldn’t. All that stuff that happened, that’s the approach.
So with the fighting, we were more like that, because Michael was such a fantastic martial artist. A lot of the old films, if you look at them, they were really weak. There were a lot of wide angles, not a lot of coverage, so it was still for our own entertainment, so we wanted to cover it like it was coming from Enter the Dragon or Way of the Dragon with Bruce Lee. So the 1970s style action that audiences loved back then which was Way of the Dragon. So that’s where we went from with the camera angles and the choreography. The choreography was a lot simpler, but we got to add the whole comedic -element to it, and that was the approach.
How would you fare in a fight against Jason Yee?[laughs]. For me, it’s been more about film. If I was younger, I’d probably be able to sneak in a hit on anyone, but the thing is, there’s just great fighters everywhere, so I couldn’t really answer that. I think Jason did a lot when he was younger, going over to China, and it’s a different time now where we’re all going towards using what we did and what we used as fighters or in competition. And using that skill towards film. If we do start sparring again, though, I’ll let you know. [laughs] You know sometimes, me and my friends do spar and my brother too, and we do light jabs and light contact. That way, you throw the technique out, but no one gets hurt, so that’s not really real fighting.
I talked to Jason yesterday, and he said that there were a couple of times you made him use a stunt guy. Is that true?
Yes. During the initial shoot, when the lead is taking big falls, I’d rather have a stunt guy take that, because it doesn’t matter if it’s the real actor, especially if it’s from a camera angle where I know I’m only going to see his back. I’d just rather not have the lead actor have a chance of getting hurt. And sometimes on a wide master shot, so we tire out our leads, even though Jason or Mike White or Zoe Bell are capable of it, we’ll shoot one with the double just to get the camera crew going, so we’re not getting our lead actor tired, but we’ll have everyone on the same page.
When doing choreography, do you have a preference of Weapons vs. hand to hand?
I love both, and I love mixing both up.
Is there a particular weapon you like working with?
Anything that works with the environment that the scene of the film is shooting in. You know, it’d be hard to… that’s why it’s funny when you see a movie and it’s like, all of a sudden Kali sticks show up. You don’t want to be forced like that. You see security guards, so of course they have batons. We have the alley fight scene, so someone pulls out a knife or a gun. It’s all about what’s natural. It could be a knife, gun, sticks, bats, swords, or anything, as long as it fits within the frame of the story.
Do you choreograph gun fights, when people aren’t really in contact?
Oh yeah, totally.
Cool. On a different track, IMDb says that you act in TV and movies as well as doing voices for videogames. If you could only do one, is there one that you would choose?
Hmmm… wow. I kinda love it all. I mean, I started out doing theater in New York, so I was acting by the time I was in second grade. So I do a lot of acting, and that was my love. I actually veered away from acting for a while, because when I first got into the business out here, Jimmy Nickerson, who did Raging Bull, taught me the ropes and brought me into his system, so he got me my SAG part, but I wanted to act. So I actually turned down a lot of action gigs. But times are rough in this business, so some producers I worked with as an actor came to me knowing that I had the physicality background, so that’s how I got back into the choreography. I love it all though. I love acting. I love doing action. I love doing voiceovers on videogames, because I was a gamer, and I spent way too many hours playing videogames, and now it’s kinda cool, because I’m actually working Call of Duty right now. Halo, the new Resident Evil, World of Warcraft. It’s great putting a voice and giving life to those characters. So I love that, and I love acting for TV and film, and I love action. They’re all part of doing the first unit directing. It’s all part of the package.
You’re doing a voice in the next Halo?
Yeah. And Call of Duty.
How are those going?
They’re great. They’re going great. They’re great guys, great people. That whole world is a really small world, but they’re really, really good people.
Who are you in either of them, can you tell me?
I can’t. [laughs]
I probably shouldn’t have even said that. Let’s just say they’re great gaming campaigns. I had to sign a lot of NDAs, and when we get closer.
I love videogames too. What’s your videogame that you’ve done voices for (not the best performance, the game itself)?
Oh man… I would say, yeah I’m having the damndest time on Call of Duty. True Crime, man there are so many of them. I did Medal of Honor, and that was great. Old Republic too, that just came out. That was a big one, and I played a character called Sergeant Russ. I think Guild Wars, which is coming out soon too, I play this big blue animal thing, it’s one of… there are so many games man.
Okay. So, aside from videogames, what are you working on next?
Well, I might be… I’m not sure if I can… I’m discussing doing The Aztec Warrior, which is a film that’s going to be shot in Louisiana, which is an over the top comedy with Luis Guzman. It’s with Pantelion pictures and Lionsgate. Kind of like a Latino Black Dynamite, but all built around Mexican wrestling. So that’s a possibility. And then I’m up for the Marco Polo series. I just did a pilot in New York as an actor for CBS which is based around New York City cops called Golden Boys. It just got picked up, so I’ll be going back to New York a couple of times. There’s some other stuff that I can’t really talk about that I have in the works right now, but once it’s official I’ll let you know.
Awesome. Thanks so much for talking with me.