Right near the launch of this news site, I had every intention of covering action cinema as closely and socially as I could with respect to the craft. For me, the work therein points straight to the people behind the magic – the very stunt professionals in the field shared by the likes of debut filmmaker James Mark in recent memory.
Accordingly, was in 2013 that I first learned of Team 2X with respect to my own coverage. A look on their fanpage almost immediately revealed a crowdfunding campaign for an independent feature film stylized as a genuine sci-fi axtioner tweaked to echo the glory of films like The Raid and its sequel. Ambitious indeed, but provenly difficult as I learned in parallel with my own work in how to cover these kinds of projects and the tediousness and care it takes to do so.
Any kind of reporting on the film thereafter was almost instantly a challenge as much as James and I rarely spoke, although I did attempt to break the ice with his equally skilled brother, actor and martial artist Chris Mark who stars in the film. That was about more than two years ago in the wake of a private screening in which I also attempted an e-mail interview with the young star about the film and then had second thoughts before decideding to scrap it for want of more convenient press prospects with James and Chris since the film was just entering the post-production and market phase.
Things eventually took an upward turn in the months that followed as artwork began stirring about, as well as news of its title making the rounds… the latest being Kill Order which, hereto, hails James’s first feature film completion with a release process in tow now set for next month from RLJE Films. That news came late last year and gladly as I had the opportunity to screen the film for a review during its festival run in Canada, and in New York City where under its previous title, Meza, the film won Bests in Martial Arts, Visual FX and Weapons at the Urban Action Showcase & Expo.
I actually tried breaking the news to James and he apparently already knew at the time, and he was humbled by it – albeit moreso quiet and preoccupied with other things and particularly with another feature film on the way amid the Holidays and such. For this, getting James to answer questions was another one of those miracles for me, and one I now get to share in our latest interview, and in the hopes of making it up to Chris someday as he himself stays the course.
His debut role in Kill Order was an impressive one for his first outing amid a production with its fair share of challenges. Rest assured, James and I got around to discussing some of these and much more in the exchange below. Please, enjoy!
Greetings James, how has the year been for you thusfar?
Hey Lee. The year is off to a nice start as we prepare for the release of Kill Order on February 6th.
I come from a background in gymnastics and martial arts which led me to a career in live stage performing. I spent many years performing with my company Team 2X around the world until we naturally progressed into stunt performing for film and television. As a stunt performer and fight coordinator I worked a 12 year career and during that time began to take an interest in directing. Team 2X and I had been creating many digital videos and shorts over the years, many of which landing millions of views (including Jedi Ninjas). This led to a contract to produce/direct 6 video episodes of Ultimate Fan Fights for IGN. After doing that I decided I wanted to take a chance at directing my first feature length film and that is when Kill Order (at the time titled Meza) was born.
It’s tough to answer but I would have to say Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. The 2nd Unit director of the film was Brad Allan of the Jackie Chan stunt team and the experience of working with him was invaluable. I learned many things about action and action directing by watching him work. He truly is a genius when it comes to that. This was probably my most challenging job as a stunt performer as their core team of martial arts performers from around the world are some of the best I’ve ever seen and often times it was difficult to keep up. But we worked hard throughout the duration of the project and learned a tremendous amount.
Kill Order evolved over the years from being a small in-house project that we intended to produce with the same approach we used with our other short videos to an overly ambitious film that really was beyond the scope of our immediate skill set and resources. Originally we tried to raise financing with a crowdfunding campaign but that fell short. The money was then later acquired through private investors, but it wasn’t enough and due to some unforeseen circumstances our budget increased as we were shooting. This required us to raise additional capital while shooting in order to complete the project. It also lengthened the time it took to complete. I do not recommend this method! [laughs]
It’s always hard making difficult changes especially when you are attached emotionally or envision something a certain way. However many changes had to be made over the years due to a number of reasons, budgets, actor availability, shooting time, locations etc. We had to remind ourselves that this is a first film and also a dream that I had been chasing for a long time. Completion was the number one priority and if changes had to be made then I could live with that.
Chris is extremely talented in regards to martial arts and stunts. I think I’m probably his biggest fan even though I’m his older brother. He has a way about him where if he sets his mind to something he commits and works at it until he has accomplished it. After much success in the stunt world he decided to put equal effort into building an acting career. I respect that and want to support that. I believe he has tremendous capability as an actor and him being blood isn’t what convinced me of this, just him being him.
Fortunately Team 2X has been together for quite some time and we have a way of working with one another that just works. We are like-minded so creating choreography is fast and efficient. Of course coming from the stunt world this was my favourite part of the process and the majority of the effort was spent here. For better or for worse.
It’s hard to say because independent film making in general is difficult. This was the most challenging undertaking of my life to date. If I had to narrow it down I would say that “wearing too many hats” would be it. I produced, wrote, directed, edited, co-stunt coordinated and even acted in it. Many of these things being my first time… so as a result I feel many things suffered and my focus was constantly being challenged.
There are plans for a sequel. We will have to see how people react to this first. Kill Order was always supposed to act as a prequel to a larger story and an introduction to David’s character. Almost an extended short film. We make mention of the mythology but don’t go into detail and that was deliberate. If we have the time, money and resources in the future we would definitely like to explore this world some more and the characters with in it.
I think they already are. Action seems to be back in full force and broader audiences seems to be embracing it. Maybe not in the sense of “kung-fu” movie classics but there are many throw backs to this genre of film in Hollywood blockbusters today I think.
I think the industry is constantly changing and evolving for the better naturally. I just hope to be able to continue being a part of that change.
I met the Reel Deal Action boys when working on the Netflix show Marco Polo and we all just clicked. While working on the show we decided that we have to make a film together. After coming home from working together for 7 months we spent 2 months developing and next thing you know we were shooting On The Ropes. Currently it is just finishing post-production and we are hoping for a late 2018 release.
They are two very different films and as a director I had two different focuses. On Kill Order I was focused on the action. When filming On The Ropes I wanted to create something traditional and simple with an emphasis on Reel Deal’s skills while at the same time working on my craft as a director. In retrospect I look at these two films as our own film school and am ready to graduate and make another.
Thank you. Very good he is nearly 2 and already punching and kicking. Hoping to start him early in martial arts! ☺ He also has great role models as our two older boys who study TaeKwonDo try and teach him whenever they can.
Only that for me making film isn’t about impressing an audience, receiving accolades or one day becoming famous. I do it because I’m passionate about film and it makes me feel good. If the bi-product of that is able to provide entertainment for audience members then even better. Do what you love and love what you do.