Much has happened this year for actor and martial artist Jose Manuel. Interviewing him back in April was something of a milestone achievement, and no less for a rising star who himself has contributed years of sharpening talent and unmitigated resolve toward growing into the headlining action star he strives to be to date since making history in 2012 with Puerto Rican martial arts action feature, El Testigo (The Witness).
His recent ‘Best’ wins for the Short Film Competition and Blood Sweat And Bones categories at the Urban Action Showcase and Expo on November 10 are also doing plusses for him this month. Retribution won the latter of the two and you can currently catch that one via YouTube. The other, Uncompromised, still stands plenty to gain with Manuel taking the lead next year following his current endeavors in Nepal.
For this, we bring you The Man From Kathmandu, hailing from Nakim Uddin – head of Nepal’s largest theatrical exhibitor, QFX Cinemas, and marking another turning point for Manuel along with a group of fellow rising stunt locals from Puerto Rico. The project is already underway from director Pema Dhondup and it’s a film that I’ve been following for about more than a year now through its slow evolution.
Manuel is talking to Film Combat Syndicate to shine a spotlight on what lies ahead from their bustling film set overseas.
Greetings across the world Jose! Congratulations on your transatlantic victory at the Urban Action Showcase & Expo. How are you these days?
My God, I’m having a blast. After all this years of hard work blessings are coming like thunderstorms. I was so happy to receive the news. Robert Samuels and Tresa Man have been very supportive. When they got the news about they told me, and then Demetrius Angelo confirmed it. Uncompromised was a passion project and a very personal thing. So glad it turned out to be a favorite, and getting the news while working on another big project feels even better.
You’re overseas right now working on your new movie, The Man From Kathmandu, in Nepal with director Pema Dhondup. Tell us about the project and the role you play.
This project is a very exciting one. I play a character called Faisal Mustafa, a Muslim leader who wants to join ISIS and what he learns on his journey gives him a great ark. Pema Ji (I learned that “ji” is an expression of respect to elders here in Nepal ) is a great storyteller and a wonderful person, we have great chemistry and its been amazing to work with him and everybody here in Kathmandu. Obviously it’s an action film as well, so we’ve been busy for weeks now creating action with my team.
Was there any specific preparation needed for playing your character? Anything dramatic or linguistic? Physical?
The biggest challenge was shaving my mustache and leaving my beard isolated. [laughs] The character speaks english and was raised for the most part in LA so in terms of language, I’ve had to polish my English and learn a little Nepali. Aside from the physical, I’ve been diving into the character’s motivation with Director Pema. The action hs been a big challenge as well.
Tell us about the cast involved?
I star alongside a cast of people from everywhere; The leading lady, Anna Sharma, is a very talented and popular actress here in Nepal. Gulshan Groover, a very popular actor from India known as the “bad man” in Indian cinema, and Ahmeed Sheikh another fine actor from Pakistan is part of our line-up.
|From L to R: Jose Manuel, Chiran Rae, Kawui Joa, Pema Dorje Lama, Rohan Jirel, Angel Vasquez and Dani Medina|
You’re also coordinating the action sequences for this project. Tell us about the team you are working with?
The team is simply the best Latin action team i can get! My brothers Angel Vazquez and Kawui Joa from Puerto Rico, and my brother Dani Medina from Spain. We’ve been working for weeks on the action sequences, trying to bring a traditional interpretation in terms of film language, selecting our angles, lenses and choreography carefully, and trying to do different things in each fight. We have some great local stunt talents as well. Pema Dorje Lama, an amazing wushu stylist with a great future in stunts, as well as well as Rojan Jirel and Chiran Rai. They are giving 100%. They are great!
Until now, at least to my knowledge, all your projects have been in North America as well in our commonwealth of Puerto Rico. What was your first reaction when you learned you were going to be partaking in this venture with Pema?
At first, it was a challenging decision. The storm in Puerto Rico had everybody stuck, and dreams went to be the last on priorities. But Pema pushed me into taking a chance and with some faith, I was able to make it here and bring my team. When the venture got serious, I embraced it without a doubt, but maybe with a little fear. After a couple of days here in Nepal, I knew I was making the right decision. I just learned that I am the only Puerto Rican actor that gets a starring role in Nepal. So we keep breaking ground!
El Testigo (The Witness) was the first martial arts movie in Puerto Rico and now this. For once I am taking the chance, and feeling proud of myself. It’s a feeling I rarely endulge in, but heaven has been good to me, and I cant help but to celebrate.
Pema is an amazing and talented director and a great human being. Everybody here is great. He inspires the crew to be better and the environment is one of passion, respect and love. Truly blessed.
Can you give us an estimate as to when production could finish?
We hope we will finish by February 2018 in L.A.. We will film some scenes there and then production may wrap up.
Granted you get some rest after this, you stated in our previous interview that there were plans to expand your winning pilot, Uncompromised, into a feature. Are those plans still in the works? Has anything changed?
Not at all, I WANT TO MAKE IT INTO A FULL FEATURE, and this month’s win at the UASE has only REAFFIRMED my intentions – a mix between South Korean cinema with the stylish flair of John Woo’s bullet ballet, and old school Hong Kong style screenfighting with heavy spin falls, breaking glass and some big stunts here and there. I’m still very much looking forward to doing that. In all certainty! Right now however, my focus is on this film, and when it is finished, if other doors open, I’ll be there to embrace those opportunities that may follow.
Any plans for New Years?
FILM! ? I’ll be here until January so I have lots of work to do. And after that, a little rest and maybe travel a little. I want to congratulate my friend Angel Vazquez as well for winning best action sequence in the Blood Sweat And Tears division in the urban action showcase this year as well. He is a hard worker and I’m happy to call him a brother, and having him here as part of my team gives me great confidence. Congratulations bro!
We’re about a month-and-a-half away from 2018 and I hope we’ll hear from you again going into the new year. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with fans, friends and family in Puerto Rico and abroad?
Don’t stop fighting for your dreams. This is not an easy task; Lots of restless nights and uncertainty come with the territory, but if you are true to yourself and you develop your talent and invest your time wisely…even if you cant see the end of the tunnel, there is a seed being planted. I cant tell you how hard it is sometimes, but today I can say it is worth it. I hope what I am doing inspires others to continue to fight for the dreams in their hearts. Whatever that dream may be. Hopefully that means more action films in the future!
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.