Filmmaker Ranjeet S. Marwa is betting it all on his latest Indiegogo campaign these days to help make one of his biggest dreams come true with the new action thriller, Blood Rush.
I first found out about this project and was astounded that a new name in the craft had emerged with such an ambitious talent roster on hand, featuring the incomparable Yayan Ruhian, Singaporean actor and action star Sunny Pang, and actor Zack Lee who has proven himself immensely as an actor capable of delivering a performance caliber worthy of audience praise.
The Blood Rush campaign runs for about another month, and so I was compelled to help introduce this particular unknown director who has since continued to push his campaign in a series of videos on YouTube. For a more written record though, you’re welcome to acquaint yourselves with Marwa in the following exchange. Check it out, and by all means, read the FAQ and more at the Blood Rush Indiegogo page.
Before we get a little more into Blood Rush, I just wanna pick your brain a little bit on martial arts. I grew up with Karate since the cradle and that sort of prefaced my own fandom. Do you share a background, any, in terms of training?
When I was younger, I took karate lessons for a while which my father made me do and I also did judo and wrestling in high school. Later on, I trained slightly in MMA but my interests changed.
There’s always talk about “upping the game” and pushing the envelope when it comes to the progression of these films over the years, and Merantau was certainly the jump-off point for a lot of martial arts fans who’ve seen these fight films growing up and are always hyped up to have their minds blown with the latest new title. For me, the turning point was Mortal Kombat, which opened up so many doors with the Hong Kong crossover in the 90s – I was in my teens, at the time – and I wound up digging into the kung fu classics at my local VHS rental store when I could. If it’s all the same any, talk about your own film fandom growing up and what the turning point was for you when it came to action films.
I grew up with a father who loved comic books and movies in general. I was no more than maybe five years old. I was surrounded by the arts all the time as my father was also in many bands during his youth and other family members were illustrators and movie buffs too. This is where it all started for me. In my teens I went from being an illustrator to magician, from magician to games designer, from games designer to animator and finally evolving into filmmaker during my early twenties. It’s been a decade of me making movies. I’ve made almost every type of movie there is. The earliest movies I remember watching were Candyman and Stephen King’s IT. I’ve loved horror movies since and made many myself. I remember starting my own collection of DVDs, I started off with about maybe ten DVDs, which has since grown to almost a thousand. My influences early on were Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins and Audition. Since maturing as a filmmaker and being inspired by a wave of different filmmakers, I’ve started to love the works of The Safdie Brothers, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, David Michod, Darren Aronofsky and Luc Besson. I’m inspired not only by directors but by certain non-action films too, such as Irreversible, Bronson, Moonlight, You Were Never Really Here, The Terminal – I honestly don’t think their is one particular film that set me on a path. It’s a mix of so many which have led me to this point.
When you look at the playing field today for action cinema and you point out titles like The Raid, The Night Comes For Us and John Wick 3, there’s a distinct characteristic about these films when it comes to the action, and it pertains to things like funding. Some directors oppose each other on the issue of whether or not a big budget can mean the difference between a good action film, and a bad one, and yet still, there are titles that are very much low in budget, some even lower to none, that still manage to produce feasibly entertaining results, especially martial arts action films. What is your viewpoint on budgets and delivery scale of action movies with respect to the goal you’re trying to reach on Indiegogo?
To me, the budget has always been secondary, as it should be. Telling a great story is key. Of course, the budget is always important if you’re writing according to your budget but I’ve written so many scripts in ten years that I know what I can do and what I cant do. For me, a budget is for keeping the people working happy. I wont expect people to do ten or twelve hours a day for thirty days and not get paid. However, saying that, I have made films for zero budgets which have turned out great and some not so great. The budget doesn’t dictate the action for me, but it does if you’re doing an explosion scene or a crazy car stunt but it should never dictate the brutal hand-to-hand combat style of action like the movies mentioned earlier. If I could make this movie for no budget, I would, but I’m more respectful than that and would like my peers and collaborators to get paid regardless of the budget size.
I also read you wrote Blood Rush with actor Zack Lee particularly in mind.
I did, yes!
Tell us about the casting process you underwent and what it was about Lee that stood out so well in the course of developing this film, and the potential appeal you might draw with fans given the fanfare from his more prominent roles in Headshot and The Night Comes For Us.
I wrote it with Zack in mind only purely because of the films you mentioned. I saw his name first in The Raid 2, then The Night Comes For Us and finally Headshot. I was immediately drawn to who he was. I researched him and found out the other projects he’s been involved in, like the HBO Asia series ’Grisse’. It was the same with Sunny Pang. I guess I can thank Gareth Evans for showcasing him to the world. Nick Khan and I developed the fight choreography for the film and we sat on the footage for a few weeks. I finally decided to upload the footage to Instagram and all three of them, Zack, Sunny and Yayan took a liking to it straight away. Timo also responded with great enthusiasm and offered advice to me about continuing on the path. From this point on, I knew I had to keep pushing forward. The roles written were specifically for all three actors in mind. There was no casting process.
If you were to maybe synthesize Zack Lee’s character, from drama moments to the action, and break it down for us, what would you say he’ll be a culmination of, in terms of how you’ve envisioned him in your script? I’m thinking maybe “a little bit of ‘this character’ from ‘that movie’ and ‘that character’ from ‘this series’ and so on.
I wanted to give him the brutality he has from The Night Comes For Us and the cold bloodedness from Headshot. I’m a big fan of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer movie and Chris Evan’s character from that was what I envisioned for Zack’s character in terms of humanity. It was the sense of being a killer, a guilty man who, knows he is guilty but tries to rectify his fate. I had the idea of; before one can enter Heaven’s gate, he must first kill the Devil knocking at his door. That was my mentality writing Zack’s character.
Let’s say, and perhaps this isn’t really a spoiler much given its been a year and a half…let’s say White Boy Bobby lives. Where do you think Timo could or perhaps should go in his ‘Night’ universe? Prequel? Sequel spin-off?
From my understanding, Timo always envisioned The Night Comes For Us as a trilogy. I think maybe if they were going to continue with the character of Bobby, I would first ask if I could take the reign’s writing and directing it. I would do both a prequel and sequel to the character, showing how he got to the point where he lost his leg and before he was, as Zack states, a hobo. For the sequel, I would show maybe him becoming a part of the Six Sea’s. Where they save him, put him back together and train him to become an assassin for them. The character that Timo created was brilliant but Zack’s elevation of the character is what made him so memorable.
Prior to Blood Rush, you’ve directed a variety of projects – both short films and features – and even pitch projects like one you released in 2017 called Memoirs Of A Sikh Soldier. I like the concept you have there, and I noticed in the description, you sort of lambast certain people who stole the idea. I haven’t seen anything particularly like it, even though I’m always discovering new and obscure titles to this day. Talk about what it takes to produce a proof of concept like that, and the sort of lessons you now take with you going into future projects, like Blood Rush, for example.
Memoirs of a Sikh Soldier, my WWII film about Sikhs taking part in the War against Hitler was a film that I had been developing since 2012. It was pitched to Ridley Scott & FOX Searchlight to develop before they ultimately passed on it. It went through many changes and production companies before it was given to one final producer who just sat on the script for years. I decided to make the film myself by pitching the idea on Indiegogo. However, before I did, the producer, out of spite, decided to make the film with his A-Listers and a huge budget. I lost out. I lost my original idea, my position as director and potentially making money on something I spent years developing. I finally made the concept trailer which was greeted with a lot of positivity and instead of it being made into a full feature, it was kept as short film and premiered at the Frida Cinema in Los Angeles in 2018 to a sold out audience. The lessons learned from that experience were; never give up the full rights to your movie or script. Sign it under your production company and bring in other players instead. This time I’m much more wiser and have had a hell of a lot more experience within the
I wanna take a stab a little bit with you at today’s filmmaking environment, and the sort of, I guess for lack of a better word, “corporatized” studios. We’ve seen Disney pretty much snap its Infinity Gauntlet and sort of take over a great deal of the mainstream in Thanos fashion. And with the sort of outpouring of opinions in terms of how a lot of these films from maybe Marvel and Disney/Lucasfilm, and how they’re delivered, tell us your thoughts on how some of today’s films perform for you compared to some of the smaller, more specialty releases.
For me, the studio system of making movies is great, it’s a completely different experience. However, I’m used to the freedom I have with independent films. So many filmmakers today, the older generation I should say, are complaining that Disney and Marvel are taking over cinema, that there are too many superhero movies out. It’s quite the opposite to be honest. Only a very small percentage of superhero movies come out in theatres. Maybe three-to-five percent at most. The rest of the movies are other genres. The fact is that Disney, Marvel and DC just know how to market, that’s all. If I were offered a big studio tentpole movie like that, I would never say no, I would of course think about it first and see if it was something I could add my own touch to. I like to tell more personal stories though. For most of my career, I’ve been known as the guy who makes violent movies. I don’t think the studio system would allow me to full have creative control over the types of movies I’d like to make so for me, I would like to stick with what I do best. I have a love for indie movies which is something I would have never have said when I first started because when you’re young, you’re sold this idea of glitz and glam and its actually quite the opposite. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of editing and scrutinising everything that you do. Most people don’t see this though and they never will. This is the life of a filmmaker, even after all the hard work is done and the movies out into the world. You’re never relaxed and calm because you know, you’re going to have to do it all again very soon but, you know what? I’d do it over and over again.
A lot of us beyond your reach don’t know who you are, as you’ve been beyond ours, so I imagine the bewilderment when some fans learn the name Ranjeet S. Marwa and that he’s got all these stars on board for what imaginably looks to be a tasty fight film akin to a niche, that has blown the competition in many ways in the last decade. If we were to dig deep and acquaint ourselves with your work so as to get a handle on your directing caliber, what films from the Ranjeet S. Marwa resumé would you recommend? And don’t say “all of them” because now you’re cheating!
[Laughs] As I mentioned before, some of my work has not been the best so I wouldn’t recommend all of them. I’ve made almost one hundred films, about seventy are listed on IMDb, but only a handful I would show people. I was recognised first when I was offered a contract by horror author Stephen King to adapt one of his stories into a film. It did well and I was offered a second, and it’s one that I would share, titled Cain Rose Up. It tells the story of a college student, who, in a fit of rage, decided to execute all of the students with a sniper rifle from his dorm room. I took slight liberties with King’s story and adapted it to my own style.
The second film I would recommend would be a foreign language film titled ‘The Last Goodbye’. It was my first TV directing gig back in 2014. It tells the story of a young man and how he and his father are massacred in cold blood for their farm land in India. The base of this story was based on real events that take place in India every single day. The third would be a film tiled ‘Citizen Erased’ which was my first theatrical film released in the UK to sell out audiences. Since, it has been developed into an Amazon series. The film tells the true story of a British born Sikh girl who is brainwashed and tortured by her foster parent into becoming an ISIS sex slave. It’s a very tough film to stomach. It was met with critical acclaim and received standing ovations upon its premiere. I would recommend a few more but these are probably out of my top five, the top three.
How does 2020 look for you, personally, for moviegoing?
Only Blood Rush is on the cards for me at the moment. I’ve said no to a lot of projects because I want to make this. I believe it’s a step in the right direction for me, personally, career wise and in furthering the genre as it is developing at the moment. The genre hasnt hit its peak just yet and I want to be a part of the movement.