DIRECTING A DANCE OF VENGEANCE: Director Sam Puefua Talks Revenge Action Thriller Shortfilm, MAMBA
The latter end of May through early June saw the emergence of a promo campaign for a project now shaping up be quite the festival favorite. The project in question hails actress Sonalii Castillo in her latest electrifying role in Mamba, a new revenge shortfilm thriller from actor and filmmaker Sam Puefua.
“Sonalii brings a level of authenticity to her character,” says Puefua who also co-stars as Sam, a former soldier who applies his skillset aptly as Kali’s right-hand man. “She’s a hard worker and very passionate about her role, and having created this character, there’s no one better than her to bring this character to life!”
Heralded as a cross between John Wick and Colombiana, Mamba is currently garnering acceptances and praise from multiple territories in North America and Europe with Castillo having recently won the Gold Award for Best Actress at the Independent Shorts Awards. The project also earned Honorable Mention as well as Best Thriller Short in June at the same festival, signaling a rather favorable start for Puefua in his film journey with Castillo since their pairing on 2014 short, Dahlias.
With Puefua, he got his start in acting at a very young age with an interest in musicals and stage plays, journeying with his mother and other siblings for shows like Les Miserable, Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera. His teenage years saw an evolution of that interest take shape by high school – albeit partly from necessity.
“Upon my senior year after football season, I needed another elective for second semester and drama was the only one left.” he says. “Ever since that class, the acting bug bit me and literally right after high school, I pursued my career in acting.”
D.O.P. Luke Dejoras, Brendon Huor and Sam Puefua on the set of MAMBA (2018)
Puefua’s career has flourished accordingly for well over a decade, from small ones to sizable supporting ones. My first dramatic impression of him was actually in a fantasy action concept piece for an independent film company in addition to seeing him in Prince Bagdasarian’s 2013 heist pic, Abstraction.
Seeing Puefua’s own ability to do perform stunts and action was what appealed to me in the course of my own coverage though, and so seeing him take on Mamba is pretty huge in my view. It leads me to believe a project like Mamba is in especially good hands – something I gather Castillo herself took note of way earlier as Puefua sought to take the helm for a change of pace.
“I always wanted to see what it was like to direct someone.” says Puefua about working on Dahlias. “That first project gave me some good experience and inspired me to jump in the directors chair again one day. Now, four years later, I’m on my solo directorial debut! I learned a lot from this film and I had a GREAT team to join me on it.”
Castillo, whose credits partly include NCIS: Los Angeles, Heroes and The Saint, shepherded the idea to Puefua in 2015. Her training for the role of Kali, a presumed-dead assassin seeking vengeance against the corporation that employed her, and the man who runs it (her brother), was another story to be told – one of the usual pain, sweat and rigorous training employed aptly by none other than Brendon Huor whose credentials in stunts and entertainment are demonstrably exceptional.
“The man is the real deal when it comes to action.” says Puefua. “I’ve known my bro for a long time now and we always talked about working on something together, and Mamba was that something.”
Brendon Huor and Sonalii Castillo on the set of MAMBA (2018)
The idea implemented was a straight-up, tactical approach with guns and knives – relatively akin to what audiences have enjoyed seeing thusfar in the John Wick movies and characteristic of rough and unflashy techniques. By Puefua’s own account, Huor knew exactly what to do without question.
“A few weeks after we met, Brendon started training Sonalii on how to handle a knife and gun properly and safely, conditioning her to look like she had years of training within a short period time and having her drill those motions over and over again.” says Puefua. “This is before she even started to learn the choreo and when the time came man was she sore! [laughs].”
He continued: “Just like the gun and knife training, he made her drill that choreography over and over and over until it was second nature. On set, he stayed hands-on with the action and made sure I had the takes. He didn’t merely just produce what I asked for with the action either. He made plenty sure I had the best version.”
Puefua also provided an ordered list of whos-who in the team members who contributed to the stunt work on hand and tasked with making Castillo look good on camera, crediting Joseph Oreste, Kosey Baskin, Subin Choi, Mark Poletti, Nathan People, Nick Krawiec, Kody Pham, Allen Quindiagan, Anthony Hoang, Castillo’s stunt double Kiera O’Connor, Sinilau Tauteoli, Ping Moli, Enele Tauteoli and Amy Sturdivant; A good handful of these stunt performers have already shared space in our weekly Hit List which is delightfully telling in part what fans who follow our posts can expect with a project like Mamba.
MAMBA (2018) crew and stunt performers with Superman Sam second from right.
“The action wouldn’t have been what it is without all my stunt team!” says Puefua who also shared his gratitude for Sound Guy, Vincent Dang who shared in on the stunt action as one of the villains in addition to director of photography, Luke Dejoras, with whom Puefua worked closely to get the best shots. “My stunt brothers and sisters not only brought their A-game to our lil’ film, but were constant professionals on and off-screen! I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Mamba had its share of hurdles like any other production, including location and screenplay issues, although they weren’t anything he couldn’t handle. It hasn’t daunted him from directing either given much as he enjoys it, but of course he has his preferences, suggesting acting was tanatmount to his spanning skillset, adding “…Acting is my first love and I have to continue to build and master that craft before I master another.”
Puefua’s next stop for Mamba, apart from festivals, is the hopeful funding of a feature film that may very well land Castillo a starring role apart from producing. On the acting front, Puefua also has another title scantly making the social media rounds with a few posters and a caption that reads “Who is Mr. Happy?”. I don’t know if that’s the title or a tagline for the project but I was stanchly excited for this project whose director, D. Miles, has largely been intangible for the past few years. Puefua couldn’t say much either but gave a little something to keep in mind.
“It’s a dark Superhero movie.” he says. “Think Batman meets The Punisher. ‘Protect the Innocent, Punish the Rest’ is what Mr. Happy lives by.”
Follow #MambaTheMovie and Sam’s progress through the official website.