[UPDATE: 10/14/14] – The crowdfunding campaign for Iron Monk has officially transferred over to Indiegogo. As such, also links below have been re-edited to link to the Indiegogo campaign page for Iron Monk. The respective answers to the interview questions themselves have not been changed. CLICK HERE and visit the page.
|Shifu Yanzi Shi stands at the center of the stage with Shaolin Abbott Shi Yongxin and the monks to host this year’s Shaolin Cultural Festival|
London became a Mecca this month for all things Shaolin in lieu of this year’s 3rd-Annual Shaolin Cultural Festival Chinese Zodiac & Treasure Exhibition. The event kicked off on Wednesday with high-profile guests in VIP attendance for the first few days before its public opening this weekend, with special lectures, kung fu competitions, award ceremonies, exclusive presentations of special projects and much more.
That said, pan over actor and producer Jason Ninh Cao (Snatch. (2000), Balas & Bolinhos: O Ultimo Capitulo (2012), Once Upon A Time In Vietnam (2013)) who attended this year’s celebration to formally announce the INDIEGOGO campaign for his latest labor of love, Iron Monk. The project has been on-going for Cao, whose core vision centers around extraordinary martial artist and Shaolin Grandmaster, Sifu Shi Yanzi. Cao‘s vision is succinctly declared here with the goal of fusing all of his passions to off-set a spectacular martial arts action franchise, and he recently sat down with Film Combat Syndicate for an exclusive chat about his endeavors.
Jason Ninh Cao: I was born in Saigon, Vietnam and moved to London, England in 1986. I love all movie genres, but most of all, I love action/martial arts movies. I mostly look up to actors like Robert De Nero, Johnny Depp and Denzel Washington, although my hero is Bruce Lee. His films, Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss are what inspired me begin the process of creating and producing my upcoming project, Iron Monk.
JNC: Iron Monk is a story about a monk who is forced to do things against his own beliefs. He is a man of peace and lives to help others. His life is primarily about teaching the Buddhist philosophy.
On top of this, the film would also deliver an authentic back-to-basics Kung Fu movie in the vein of Bruce Lee classics with no CGI-enhancements. All the actors would do their own fighting with my long-time friend and fellow collaborator, stuntman Vincent Wang (Edge Of Tomorrow, Shanghai Knights) directing the fight sequences.
JNC: I met Yanzi Shi in 1999 and we became good friends and remained in touch.
I was amazed by him. He’s a wonderful person with a kind heart and incredible Kung Fu skills. Eventually, I told him I wanted to make a film with him one day, though I think he must have felt I was kidding at the time [laughs].
In 2010, I approached him with the idea for Iron Monk and told him I wanted him to play the lead. He didn’t want it at first, stating to me that he’s not an actor by trade, so it took me sometime to convince him that he was the perfect choice; Yanzi is not a man who is motivated by fame, money or celebrity status. So to bring him on board, I assured him that I would make an action movie that would not ignore his Buddhist message.
Writer Mark Pallis and I worked closely with Yanzi to get the Buddhist philosophy right for the film, while adhering to one specific goal: Neither a straightforward action spectacle, nor a religious film, but an entertaining martial arts action drama with a Karmic message.
FCSyndicate: How instrumental has your writer Mark Pallis been in this regard?
JNC: Mark has a real passion for stories with meaning. Whilst Iron Monk is the first kung fu film he has written, I was impressed by his take on the genre. He believes that kung fu movies carry the same similarities as musicals. He told this to me one time and I asked him to explain what he meant. I was pretty intrigued.
Mark basically said that just like in a musical where every song tells a story and moves either the plot or the characterisation forward, in a Kung Fu film, every fight needs to do that same. We’re not just fighting for fighting’s sake, it is all part of the story.
JNC: We filmed the Iron Monk trailer for two days back in December 2010 with our choreographer, Vincent Wang, and Mat Sunderland who is making this film his directorial feature debut. It was released on YouTube the following summer in August 2011, and I have since tried to raise funding to produce the full film starring Yanzi Shi who happens to be a genuine, real-life 34th generation Shaolin master. Unfortunately, investors remained held back on funding because they wanted a bigger-name actor attached. So, after a long, slow and difficult journey, I have decided to bring Iron Monk to Indiegogo.
FCSyndicate: Who are some of the other martial arts talents you plan to bring on-board this epic martial arts drama?
JNC: We have 14-time martial arts champion and actress Zara Phithian whose character is called Miss Thunderleg – a reference to my favourite villain Thunderleg from Drunken Master. Also attached to the project is action star Silvio Simac, and I am also currently in talks with other big stars to join us.
JNC: £500,000 is the minimum budget needed to produce this movie. Although, should we achieve funds beyond our goal, the extra money will allow us more days to film in order to spend more time on bring quality fight action, as well as focus on the acting. This is my passion project and I want to get it right, we have a fantastic script and I owe it to all of our supporters of Iron Monk to make a good movie.
JNC: I have been a fan of Shaolin martial arts movies since I was a kid. In 1999 I had the opportunity to work on a stage show production with Shaolin monks for a show called “Shaolin Wheel Of Life” where I played the evil general. I became friends with many of the monks, and it was through that show that I met Yanzi. He was not in the show but he would visit the other monks from the show from time to time.
My whole life revolves around a passion for martial arts and Kung Fu movies. I love keeping fit and it’s a great way to stay healthy. I train five days a week.
JNC: That’s a tough one because there are so many. Besides the Bruce Lee movies, my top three are The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, The Legend Of Drunken Master and Ong Bak.
FCSyndicate: I wish that was easy for me, [laughs]! I have too many favorites for a top three. I’m glad it’s not a written rule [laughs]. Anyway, I know in speaking for Yanzi, you’ve said he doesn’t want to be a movie star. Bearing that in mind, looking beyond Iron Monk, have you two spoken about the prospects of a partnership in film in some capacity?
JNC: Iron Monk has three chapters, so if the first movie succeeds, we would then commense on the sequel. Simultaneously, I’m also producing a documentary with Yanzi, but we have nothing else going on beyond those projects as it stands.
JNC: Currently I’m working on a romantic comedy for a studio in Vietnam, with the working title Father In War. It’s a project that I created and produced with a script Mark Pallis also wrote.
After that, I will focus on an action movie project called Destination Saigon. Also, I just finished filming my role as Vegeta in a DragonBall Z viral video for K&K Productions.
JNC: I would like to thank everyone who has supported the Iron Monk project. I am really surprised to see how well the trailer has been received. So please support Iron Monk on Indiegogo and together we can make this movie. And thank you Lee, especially, for taking the time to interview me about this project. I really appreciate it!
Likewise Jason! And I wish you the best of luck in your fundraising AND filmmaking!
Check out some more cool photos from the event below with Cao, Sunderland, and Shaolin Abbott Shi Yongxin, and then CLICK HERE for the official Iron Monk Indiegogo campaign page to learn more about how to donate, and the amazing perks you will earn from your generosity.
Special thanks to Jason Ninh Cao for sharing his story with Film Combat Syndicate for our interview!
|Jason Ninh Cao, actor/producer for Iron Monk|
|Mat Sunderland, director of Iron Monk|
|One of the exhibits at the Shaolin Cultural Festival|
|Jason Ninh Cao (left) and Shaolin Abbott Shi Yongxin (right)|
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.