The stresses of cinema have definitely settled in as world tries to pick itself back up from a Coronavirus knockdown blow to nations and industries en masse beginning late last year.
Meanwhile over in San Diego, time would ultimately be of the essence for award-winning filmmaker and Jennifer Linch. Her new film, Kung Fu Ghost, is an independent feature birthed from her own interests in classic kung fu cinema, as well as contemporary wuxia shows and films.
Linch trained exponentially for the role last year, as she’s so documented for her followers on social media. She’s no stranger to cinematic action either, as I’ve covered her long before this project, and have even been in touch with her to exchange opinions on various aspects of film, as well as her own concepts (to date, I am also an associate producer on the film).
For Linch, it’s been a dream to make a feature film of her own, and she often dreams ambitiously. Kung Fu Ghost is but a first step toward that grand climb, having taken to running her own engines last year with her Nameless Studio label, and ultimately convening with a talented stunt team of her own, including actor and stunt industry professional, Jason Truong.
An eighteen-day slate followed suit on Kung Fu Ghost, out of which Truong remained on set for about a week, joining a team that includes Daniel Ford Beavis, Amber Grayson and Whitney Elaine Wegman-Wood, and Shane Alexander who also serves as the projects stunt coordinator. Filming eventually wrapped on March 20, and Truong flew back to his home in the capital city of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Indeed, the stay was short-lived, while the project isn’t without a sense of prospective fortuity. He spoke enthusiastically with Film Combat Syndicate about the project, his profession, his synergy with Linch and the film’s stunt team, and much more.
You’ve worn several hats in more than a decade going into the beginnings of your career. Tell us, what made you get into film and television, and how did that transition into your martial arts and stunt profession?
I had always wanted to be an actor since I was a kid; I was always involved in school plays and drama class. My older brother worked at a video store and I had access to all sorts of movies from a young age, which perpetuated the Hollywood dream.
During university, I heard about a casting call for an episode of a show called Crime Stories for the role of the murderer, Robert Su, which I ended up landing. I decided to get myself an agent afterward and thus started my acting career. Along the way I got cast for a short called Deadboy’s Date, directed by Lowell Dean (Wolfcop).
The role required an action sequence, which I ended up coordinating after Lowell found out I had a martial arts background. This was the start of the stunt side of my career since I would be pulled into pretty much all of the future projects that Lowell produced. I was always good at martial arts and it turns out that translated well onto camera. Over the years I gained more attention for my fight/stunt work and I decided to make that my primary focus. I still act whenever I can but I’m definitely enjoying the stunt side of things.
This is skipping ahead a little bit but apparently you also have a knack for music. I have an informal background in piano myself, so I was delightfully surprised when I saw you in one of Jennifer’s posts. Tell us about that.
I’ve been playing piano since I was nine years old. It was really just something I did because my parents put me in lessons as a kid, and so I took lessons until midway through high school and quit after I got my grade seven.
I always enjoyed playing the piano, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until university, when I used it as a stress reliever. That was also the time I decided to see if I could write my own music. I’ve now written two albums, each dedicated to my first two daughters. Now that I have a third daughter, I’m going to have to write another album to be fair!
I’ve never considered myself a technically strong pianist but I’ve always tried writing music that is appealing to the ear.
Do you take requests?
I’m REALLY bad at ad-libbing! Give me some time to practice a song and I then maybe we’ll talk.
One other thing is you used to be “B-Boy J-Fresh” in a previous life. Tell us about that because I felt this particular find to be extraordinary and I think this would translate well to some of our readers.
Well, I started b-boying in my senior year of high school. At the time I had taken a hiatus from martial arts and I was looking for something to keep up my agility. A friend of mine showed me the Run DMC versus Jason Nevins version of It’s Like That and after that I was hooked!
It started off as just a couple of buddies goofing around at school dances but somehow it snowballed into a passion that would consume over a decade of my life. I formed a crew named SolidStylz and we were one of the top crews in our province. We performed at various hip hops shows and events throughout the city and would even put on a few bboy competitions of our own.
Along the way, I was hired by a dance studio to teach a breakdance class, which I taught for about 10 or so years. Bboying was a really important part of my life and is the reason why I mentioned movement earlier in the interview as opposed to just martial arts. It was through dance that I really learned to fully control my body and, to this day, is still a big influence on my style of choreography.
Of course one of the biggest caveats of being a stunt performer is learning how to choreograph screenfights. Talk about the necessary mechanics and the cogs required to be a good fight choreographer.
I think the misconception people have regarding screen fights is that it’s just a bunch of punches and kicks. In my opinion, a good choreographer is able to tell a story with the movements that connect to the characters and situation. Just like knowing the vocabulary of a language to write a proper screenplay, the choreographer must have a solid vocabulary of movement to draw from.
I specifically say movement, as opposed to martial arts, because I feel it is important to able to draw on more than just martial arts for inspiration. Just like dialogue, action sequences have phrases and breaths, a choreographer’s understanding of when to go big, when to pause and let things simmer, can mean the difference between a good and bad sequence.
I’ve engaged with a lot of fanboys over the years, and it sounds silly, but there seemed to be a mindset among fanboys that a movie of this genre was only as good as it’s fight choreographer. That was my own mindset about twenty five years ago going forward when names like Corey Yuen and Yuen Woo Ping were just legendary, and I’ve grown from that perspective long since then. My question to you is, and I guess when it comes to labels, is it more beneficial to a film that there’s one “action director”, or moreso when there’s a functioning team coordinating different things?
I would say it really comes down to the size and-or type of production. You might have a movie that is stunt heavy and the fights are fairly minimal (or vice versa) so splitting up the action director and stunt coordinator might not be necessary.
That being said, movies nowadays are constantly pushing the envelope, which means big stunts AND big action. Therefore, I feel that having a functioning team coordinating different things allows everyone to focus on their specialty.
This was the case with Kung Fu Ghost; we all had our specific roles and were able to just focus on that. I do not feel we would have been anywhere near as successful if we had a single “action director” running the whole show.
With Kung Fu Ghost, you’re on both sides of the lens, and it’s got Jennifer Linch who you fight on screen. Part of the genesis of this production comes from Jen’s own taste in classic kung fu cinema from the last four decades, and I desperately want to hunt down which film it was that inspired her. I guess in terms of influences on fight choreography, was there any particular research you and needed to do for this kind of project? Or were you allowed to basically go in with Shane and take it on?
I grew up watching a lot of old kung fu movies as well so when she explained the project to me, I already had a sense of what style she was looking for. She was good with providing video samples of fight scenes she really liked so that helped with things. I did my own research in terms of styles that would align with Jennifer’s vision so that I had different options to play with and between that and what I was given, I was able to create the style she was looking for.
Of course, Jennifer makes her directorial feature debut in addition to starring, and even does her own action scenes. Talk about the work it took to bring that aspect of her character to life here, because there’s a certain plot pivot I don’t want to give away here, but I want to give you the floor to share a little about designing the “action look” for the role of “Daisy”, prior to some of her own preparation last year.
Jennifer gave me a high level breakdown of the types of fights that I were involved in this project early which allowed me to piece together a few high level ideas. However, it wasn’t until I received the full script that was able to bring the choreography to life and tie it to something more than just a few random moves. I finally had an understanding of who Daisy was and what her motivations were which allowed me to layer it into her moves.
It was a bit interesting trying to design the action without meeting Jennifer to get an idea of what moves she would or would not be comfortable with. What I ended up doing was choreographing to align who I felt Daisy was as a character with the understanding that I will need to adapt some of the movements upon my arrival in San Diego.
This was a pretty brisk production schedule like a lot of independent productions on low budgets. You worked together with Shane Alexander who coordinates and also does stunts on this, so how much of a factor did time have for you guys in rehearsing the action, coordinating it, assessing all the shots and angles with your DP, Jérome Dolbert, and getting Jen’s vision right? Because a lot of work is required just for, like, even one small but quality fight scene, right?
I had worked with Shane previously so I knew knew what he was capable of. I utilized my stunt team in Regina to help me film the choreography so that I could send to the team in San Diego for rehearsals. That way they were able to rehearse on their own and I would only have to do clean up when I got to town. Jennifer and I would send clips and pictures of fight scenes that utilized some of the angles we wanted for the fight scenes. With me only being there for seven (7) days, it was critical we could all hit the ground running. Even with our preparation in advance, there were a lot of adjustments on the fly because we had to adapt things to the space we had to film along with adapting the choreography to showcase Jennifer’s strengths.
Now I know the Coronavirus has had a pretty chilling impact on the industry with some productions that were either shelved or untouched altogether due to this crazy pandemic. Did this have any affect at all on the production? What are your thoughts, if any?
The Coronavirus was just starting to gain momentum when I arrived on set. I believe there were ten cases in San Diego at the time, so I was getting a bit nervous but it wasn’t a huge pandemic like it is now. After I got back to Canada is when things escalated with Covid-19 so realistically we just missed the mayhem (at least when it came to the action related parts of the movie). I’d say if we stayed out there one week longer, we would’ve had a lot of trouble getting back into Canada.
How is life for you and your family up there in the wake of all this?
Things are dramatically different now; Schools have shut down and everyone is working from home. Kids have been at home and we’ve really focused on self isolating as much as possible. The only place I go is the grocery store once every couple of weeks to restock on essentials. We really want to make sure we do our part to minimize the spread.
Aside from the the whole pandemic thing, being home has been really great. The world is such a busy place now that often times there isn’t enough time given to the kids as we deal with life. Now that everything has been shut down, it’s been great to reconnect to the little turds. On the lighter side of things, my friends and I are having a bit of a contest to see who can go the longest without shaving since we all work from home now. Keep in mind, I have the facial hair of a 14 year old boy so you could imagine how terrible this is turning out. I feel like I’m homeless with my sad attempt at a mustache or beard.
What are some things you enjoyed the most about doing Kung Fu Ghost? Do you have any on-set or off-set stories for us?
I had a blast on the set of Kung Fu Ghost. Everyone that was part of the project was awesome in their own little way. There were awesome highs, stressful lows and everything in between but we all had a blast. It was especially great to work with Shane and Daniel. Daniel and I work together lots in Saskatchewan but it was amazing to finally have all three of us on the same project.
An interesting story that happened off set…keep in mind that when stuntmen get together, we find any way of filming each other get beat up. So after a long day of shooting we pulled together one of the cameramen and decided to film a few random fights between the three of us by the port. After we finished filming, we went downtown for a couple drinks at which point Shane realized he forgot his phone at the port. We thought for sure his phone was gone; I mean there’s no way a phone left at a port will be there by the time we got back. Turns out there are still good people in the world. The person who found it, used google assistant to dial the last number he called to tell Shane’s friend that they found Shane’s phone. Long story short, the lucky bastard managed to get his phone back!
Going back to fight choreographers and action directors for a bit, I wanna pick your brain and maybe list some recommendations of your own favorites in martial arts action, like maybe a top five or top three – like, I love Yuen Woo Ping and the first film that comes to mind for me is Fist Of Legend, and with Corey Yuen it’s the Fong Sai Yuk movies. So maybe give us your list if possible, no specific order needed.
So there are so many! I don’t even know where to begin. Ok let’s see here:
Once Upon a Time in China – This is classic old-school kung fu. In fact this was the first time I had been introduced to Jet Li. I was an instant fan!
Ong Bak – This movie was just plain fun. The hits were so brutal in a realistic cartoonish way (if that even makes sense). This one put Tony Jaa on the map. I had never been so motivated to knee my friends though a window as I was after watching Ong Bak.
The Raid: Redemption – Loved this movie. Brutally dark action but it was super slick at the same time. Iko Uwais is a beast!
John Wick 2 – The John Wick series is one of my favourite modern action series. It’s a great example how to incorporate guns with hand to hand combat.
Jackie Chan Police Story (aka Police Force). This is my absolute favourite action movie. Jackie Chan is my all time hero and this is the pinnacle of Jackie Chan! The fights were on point and the stunts were ridiculous. If anyone hasn’t seen this one, it’s a travesty!
What should martial arts cinema fans expect from Kung Fu Ghost?
Kung Fu Ghost is a supernatural, romantic, martial arts, comedy. It’s going to be an action packed, kung fu movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’ll be a movie that you and a few close buddies can watch while having a few drinks. It’s going to be a lot of fun! If you’re a fan of old school kung fu movies, you won’t want to miss this one.
You have Cagefighter coming up from director Jesse Quiñones and you’ll have a small fighting role in that one too, right?
Yes, I play the role of Stefan Anderson, an MMA fighter who is one of the opponents that Alex Montagnani’s character faces in the movie. You’ll get to see me in the cage, throwing down! I’m really excited to have been a part of that project.
Jesse is a dedicated martial artist himself so he brings in the perspective of someone who truly understands the MMA world. The passion he has for this project is absolutely undeniable and I’m stoked to see what the finish product will look like.
Tell us what’s next for Jason Truong after this crisis is over. Do you plan on dabbling in the director’s chair anytime soon?
I have a few ideas for a couple of shorts that I plan on filming once things settle down. I’m also working on a couple of feature length scripts that I hope to get off the ground in the future. But my main focus is on keeping my skills sharp so that I’m ready for any opportunities that come my way. Directing is fun, but I prefer being in front of the camera.
Any chance you’ll be back with Jen for her next project?
Jennifer and I have already been in talks for her next endeavor so I definitely hope it all works out and we’ll be able to work together again. Jennifer is someone who is really passionate about her craft and has the skills and dedication to achieve her goals. I really enjoy working with that type of person because they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is and you know if they say they will do something, they will.
Lead photo and final pic credit: Aaron Fong Photography (@airinfong)
Follow Jason on Instagram: (@jason.q.truong)