When I saw Marko Zaror stand up and ask Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine a question at the Fantastic Fest screening of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, I went up to him and asked if he would like to do an interview for us. He was at Fantastic Fest himself for Machete Kills, in which he plays an assassin who faces off against Danny Trejo’s title character. We won’t spoil whether Machete kills him or not, but the title gives you a hint.
I’ve of course seen Zaror in Mandrill and Undisputed III, the latter with Adkins, as well as Machete Kills. It was so refreshing to see Zaror get so sincerely excited about his fellow martial artist’s work, and about talking with me. We e-mailed throughout the fest to coordinate, and after Zaror saw Man of Tai Chi, he sent a mutual friend to come get me. Zaror introduced me to his whole family, mom, girlfriend, everyone, before sitting with me one on one to talk martial arts and movies.
Crave Online: How did you like Man of Tai Chi?
Marko Zaror: Oh, it was beautiful.
Tiger Chen is magnetic. Would you like to do a movie with him sometime?
Who knows? I really love the movie. It’s nice to see that there are people doing these types of movies because more than the martial arts, the incredible fight scenes and all that work, I really like the spirituality behind it and that there is someone who is willing to try to send the message and to show that and awaken people. At least this is what I felt when I saw the movie. Maybe not everybody is going to see this but this is the way it gets to me because as a martial artist, I see it more as the side of the philosophy of martial arts, what it means.
But, I don’t see that apply only for the martial artist. I see that applying to life. I forgot that that guy was a martial artist. I saw that guy as a regular businessman, a regular person that society and the system is trying to sell all this success, money and achievements. I think it’s beautiful to see a movie that shows how the decisions you make in life, sometimes with good intentions, doesn’t always lead you to the right path. That decision is not really connected with who you are. Instead you’re making decisions from fear. Because of his fear of losing the temple, he made a decision and went against his principles. He betrayed himself doing the underground fights. That’s what I really love, that it brings the real martial art philosophy.
Today, the UFC is a perfect place that a martial artist can get into the dark side or into the good side. UFC is pure martial arts, but if you like the fame, if you like the money and you start getting lost on that track, you start getting away from the real essence of martial arts. Then you get trapped and you have to be the best and then you have to defend your title, and then you stop seeing your family. So then, you really lose what martial arts is about. It’s about integrity. Integrity of styles, integrity of the way you live. Spending time with your family, your daughter, your boyfriend and girlfriend. This is what for me was the most surprising about the movie. You see a really good martial arts movie with good fight scenes, with good action but also with a good spiritual message.
I thought so too. Did you like Ninja: Shadow of a Tear?
Beautiful. The choreographies in Ninja, man, the martial arts of Ninja… You know Scott Adkins and Isaac for me, Undisputed III that I have the honor to be part of, and I saw this Ninja, I haven’t seen the other Ninja. This Ninja, I really loved how they did it. I thought it would be hard to go beyond Undisputed III but this one was really surprising. It was long shots, beautiful combinations. I like when you see two athletes performing and the way Isaac captures it, he shows you the right angle so you see the leg looks perfect, straight. You just switch the angle and the kick is not going to look as cool if you just miss the angle, so every angle is so beautiful.
How much time did you have to choreograph the fights with Danny Trejo in Machete Kills?
To choreograph, none. Everything is so dynamic and there’s no time.
Robert Rodriguez shoots fast.
Yes. Actually, I’ll tell you something. There was one moment of the shooting that we were shooting two scenes at the same time. On the set, it was brilliant of Robert and his team. I don’t know if it was coincidence of the shooting schedule, but there were two sets, one next to the other: The final battle and then Danny Trejo fighting in the lab. Because there were two sets at the same time, I had an incredible stunt team that I used to work with before, J.J. Perry, Danny. I had a series of stunts that were following a rhythm.
Because of the low budget movies that I do in Chile, all my martial arts training is based on that rhythm because we don’t have another option. We don’t have the time or the money to spend too much time on the rehearsals and all that. So my training is built to that. It’s like a marathon of choreography. I have to train myself to be able to be fighting the whole day, nonstop. If it’s one, two or three days nonstop, I have to do a whole endurance program. So the most funny and crazy experience, this I’d never done before because my movies are so little, there’s only one unit.
So in this movie it was two units where one unit was right next to the other one so in this unit, we were doing the last fight. This unit we’re doing Danny Trejo’s fight. So okay, action, shoot, cut. Run to the other set and while they’re resetting the second take, I was shooting the first take of this other scene. We were doing that for a while, for a couple hours. So it was funny and the team had energy because makeup, wardrobe, everybody was jogging with me. So everybody was drinking water like they were doing sports. All the team was running there, cut, running there. It was so funny. It was such a nice experience and I’m so happy that Robert let me do that and let me express myself like this.
Was it always your goal to be in a Robert Rodriguez movie?
I think me coming from Chile, it was not a goal. It was something beyond what I could imagine in my life. Robert Rodriguez is a big inspiration in my career, with my friend Ernesto [Diaz Espinoza], the director of Mirageman and Mandrill. He’s a fan of Robert Rodriguez. Robert Rodriguez inspired him to start in filmmaking. Look how magical this is. When we started our careers, Ernesto showed me El Mariachi. He’s like, “Man, this is what we have to do. This movie didn’t cost anything. We can grab a camera, you do the martial arts.” We start seeing this movie and we started thinking, “Yes, we can get a house. I’ve got a friend here that can lend us the house to shoot in. I have a friend who can do this.” He was a big inspiration to start making movies without thinking that we need millions and millions.
So when our careers start growing, we arrive to the U.S. with Mirageman, we were like, “Man, how cool would it be to be in an action movie with Robert?” After looking back through my career and saying the big man that inspired my career as a director and started all our ideas for filmmaking, now I’m doing a movie with him. So for me it’s so magical and being here at Fantastic Fest where the first time we showed the movie was in Austin, Mirageman, and then the first time I see Machete Kills is in Austin. That’s why I brought my Chilean family to meet my U.S. family. I feel here, Tim [League], Carrie [League], Todd Brown, Harry Knowles, we’re friends here and every time I come they support me. They made all this happen for me so I can’t stop saying how thankful I am and how magical this is.
Look at it. This is not coincidence. I see this as something that was really special. It’s like if Bruce Lee was alive, for example. Bruce Lee was my big martial arts inspiration and he was the one that inspired my life to become a martial artist. Imagine suddenly I end up receiving a call from Bruce Lee that he wants to do a movie with me. 35 years old, all my life inspired because of his philosophy and his martial art and suddenly life takes me to do something with him. That’s what it meant for Ernesto to work with Robert Rodriguez and for me. Who’s the only director that could really do Latino exploitation movies? It’s Robert Rodriguez. When he called me, it took me time to digest, to process. The same thing here at the premiere, when I saw the movie for the first time, it was like receiving a kick in your head, then you get knocked and you don’t know what happened.
And you know what that feels like.
Yeah, it was so shocking that after you wake up, you start understanding. It was so shocking, too much adrenaline, I enjoyed the movie so much.
I saw Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman here at Fantastic Fest last year. I loved when they looked up Mandrill and said he was too expensive. Do you think Mandrill might team up with Machine Gun Woman?
I don’t know, man. Right now, I’m not thinking about what’s next. I’m not thinking about what’s my next project. I have an idea that actually I got inspired to start writing or thinking about this idea here after seeing all this, after meeting some people. I said, “I’m going to start writing an idea” because I really want to make my next film with the same passion. I don’t want my movies to become my day to day work because I don’t ever want my movies to become work. Like Robert says, I want them to be always play, always passion, always joy. Thank God I have my business that gives me the money and the pay to pay my rent so I don’t have to rush. I don’t need to contaminate my movies. I want to keep that as a magical experience, and if this is the last movie that I do, that’s what life wanted for me. I don’t care.
After this I go back to my country, I continue my training because I love martial arts. I cannot live without martial arts, without doing martial arts and I have my business, I have my family, I have my girlfriend. I have such a happy life that I’m so thankful for my life. The movies for me are something so magical that I will not let the industry or “what’s next? what’s next?” grab you into that roller coaster that you don’t understand anymore who you are, where you are. That’s what I really don’t want to happen. That’s the only thing. That’s why for me, obviously for sure I would love to make more movies, but because I don’t have the need to do it, that gives me a choice to really truly say, “This is the one I want to do.”
Yeah, if Robert called me and said, “Marko, man, I want to do a trailer.” He’s so passionate about movies that I’ll do a trailer with him. I don’t care if I have to pay my flight here, because it’s play. That’s why I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s all about what’s going to be there, what my life is going to put me there, if I’m going to want to do it or not. It’s not about if they pay me a lot or pay me less. It’s about even the person that I’m working with, I feel like we have a connection.
For example, I worked with Scott Adkins in Undisputed III with Isaac. Beautiful people. Scott is the best man. He has so much fun on the set. If he wanted to make a movie with him or do a fight scene, I will maybe just do a fight scene again. But maybe not, because I don’t know. If you ask me as a martial artist, Andy Cheng, really good friend, really cool. He was my guru about shooting. I shot The Rundown with him. I worked with him being The Rock’s stunt double. He was so cool with me and I was all the time next to him. He was kind of teaching me why we do it this way, why we do that, because I didn’t have any experience with that. Because of that, I went to Chile and made Kiltro. I imitated everything he did with us on the set, the rehearsal and then we became really good friends, not work anymore, just friends. If he called me up and said, “Marko, let’s do a trailer,” it would just be fun to do it. Yeah, if there’s money involved, well, I wouldn’t say no.
One more thing I just want to know. How much training did it take to learn how to do the flipping axe kick?
The one that I did in Undisputed III?
You did it in Mandrill and Machete Kills too.
Ah, yes. That’s a backflip half-twist landed as a forward axe kick to the face. That’s actually a move I came up with the idea to do and I practiced it. In acrobatic martial artist, there’s a lot of gymnasts that started mixing gymnastics with martial arts. They always do the front flip into the axe kick, or the back flip into the thing, or the side flip with two legs open, but never a backflip into an axe kick. When I started feeling that was comfortable for me, I used it in Mandrill and then I used it as my signature move in my last movie.
It took me a lot of training because I’m 6’2” and 210 lbs. So for me to lift my body like that requires a lot of power training, like an athlete trains. Using a lot of cardiovascular training, like the 100 meter training. It’s four times harder because of the mathematic equation of a smaller guy doing that doesn’t need the same strength as me. Proportionally, it’s not if I’m a little bigger I have to be a little stronger. No, if I’m a little bigger, I have to be four times stronger to build the same momentum, to build the same explosiveness. So it was very hard training.
I started reading different books about different athletes, how they trained. So from those ideas, a lot of plyometric training, a lot of Russian impact method where you use your own body. You drop yourself from a height and as soon as you touch the ground, you explode up so that you work on your energy that accumulates in your tendons and your muscles. That type of training I learned from different disciplines, not martial arts, different sports disciplines. That I started integrating into martial arts training to be able to, with my height and my weight, have that. Little by little.
What style of martial art do you practice?
I practice different doctrines or styles, but I do a little bit of everything. Wrestling, now I’ve been learning a little bit of submission training for a couple of years. Then Tae Kwon Do. I did Karate, Kung Fu, boxing, gymnastics so it’s a mix of everything. Then I started keeping the techniques that I feel more comfortable with, that I feel more represent me. For example, I don’t feel comfortable with traditional kung fu because I don’t see myself doing the tiger position. I feel more comfortable with boxing mixed with Wing Chun, that it’s more short. For me, the animal Kung Fu with low positions, I’m not saying it’s bad but for my personality, I feel more explosive short moves. One, two, three, bam.