Cung Le was in Asheville, NC to premiere his new movie at Actionfest. Dragon Eyes will be part of the first batch of films under the new After Dark Action label. Le plays a stranger who wanders into a corrupt town to clean up the streets. The festival named Le “Rising Action Star” and he has big plans. He’s got a major role in The RZA’s directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists, a fight scene in Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmasters and some exciting ideas with fight choreographer J.J. Perry (who we also interviewed this weekend). Le talked about his films and fight prospects with us, and when it was over said the interview kicked ass. That’s nice, since he could actually kick our ass if he didn’t like it.
CraveOnline: How does it feel to inaugurate the After Dark Action line-up?
Cung Le: I’m just grateful and at the same time very excited to be part of the After Dark Action slate. I feel that Dragon Eyes, definitely with the control that I have in the fights, is going to be different than a lot of other fight movies out there. I feel there was a lot of hard work put into it and it’s starting to pay off now.
What has been the process of getting yourself into movies?
I think the biggest process was put together by my team, my agent Brett Norensberg, my manager Scott Karp, even my lawyer Dave Feldman that kind of spearhead the operation to get into movies specifically that cater to me and give me a chance to star and action direct in the movies. I feel blessed for the people around me.
Is the casual audience going to notice how different your fighting style is?
I feel that the audience will notice a big difference because nowadays with the UFC and so much MMA on TV, everyone’s educated about the fight game and what moves are what. Now when I bring it on the big screen, they’re going to feel the impact. They’re going to understand what move that was and at the same time what I did was try to put a little mixture of western style fight making and eastern style because I worked with [Yuen] Woo-ping, Corey Yuen, Donnie Yen so I worked with the best in China. Now I have a chance to showcase that in a western style type of movie.
How did you feel about the way the Tekken movie came out?
It was such a small part for me. I didn’t have any say in the choreography. I gave them a little bit about how you would defend against an arm bar, but I feel like it could’ve been so much more.
It could’ve been a theatrical movie.
You said it best. It could’ve been a big time on the big screens but it isn’t and it wasn’t my fault, so that was actually my second movie that I’d really done. From Fighting I went to Tekken but they kept pushing the start date. By the time it was my turn to film, I was three and a half weeks out before my Frank Shamrock fight. That was nerve wracking, and for them to not showcase Marshall Law’s real move, I think they had it twisted around a little bit because Jin did a backflip kick on me. That’s Marshall Law’s move. If you’re not going to have Marshall Law do it, you shouldn’t have someone else do it to Marshall Law. So I think they kind of diluted the action a little bit which was kind of B.S. but not my responsibility. I just take directions and I try not to be difficult to work with. I just try to take directions from whoever is directing the best I could.
You’re choreographing as an experienced fighter, so how do you work with an actor fighter like Van Damme in Dragon Eyes?
Van Damme’s very athletic. He knows the fight game a little bit. He’s a martial artist so he’s used to the contact. I think the biggest part for me is I have better control than most people. With Van Damme, I’ve just got to make sure that the hook kicks don’t connect. Definitely a few of them, if I didn’t have my hands up, they would’ve connected.
Did you want to work something in with his splits?
You know, I felt like the splits have been done so much before with him, I didn’t need to play that in. I was just hoping that he would deliver a solid performance with his acting, which he came big. That’s why Van Damme’s so versatile.
What kind of story did you want to tell to showcase your fighting abilities?
The key thing for me to showcase my fighting abilities is I don’t want to make movies where I’m fighting in the cage or in a ring, which is a lot of fighters get stuck in that genre or coming out, these movies like Beatdown. For me I just want to stay clear of that. I want to have a good story that surrounds my character and there’s a purpose for my character to use the martial arts in that scenario.
What are the big fights in Dragon Eyes?
All the fights that I put together in Dragon Eyes I’m very proud of because the key thing in Dragon Eyes was I wanted to have every fight have a different feel and every fight be different, not use the same moves. In different scenarios you use different techniques and don’t use it over and over and over. I felt like I was able to pull it off. Each fight had its own life.
What is the significance of “dragon” to your martial arts?
I feel like the significance of dragon to my martial arts is a dragon is fierce and my style is very fierce.
How big a role do you have in The Man with the Iron Fist?
I kill like 20 people. I’m very ruthless in the movie. At the same time, I think people will like my character for being fearless and being badass.
What did you have to do to work with an experienced actor like Russell Crowe on fight scenes?
It’s the same formula for me. With Russell Crowe he’s a trained actor and he’s dedicated to his art. He knows it and he’s like the champion of his art. I’m a champion of my art but it’s the same philosophy, dedicating myself in the acting and being in character, knowing my scenes and my surroundings and where the camera’s at. Working well with everyone on set, whether it’s the production assistant all the way to the director, you’re able to get along with everyone and take directions and be open minded. Then I can match up my acting with anyone.
Did he take to choreography easily?
Russell and I were supposed to have a fight scene but then we changed it up to me and Lucy Liu. That was more appealing to me because I love Russell Crowe, he’s Maximus, but Lucy Liu, every time I watch her I’m like, “She’s super hot. I’d love to work with her one day.” What do you know, I got a chance to work with her and it was awesome.
Was her experience from Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill compatible with you?
She was great. She was so daring. She wants to do a lot of her own stunts. She even crashed into this table and she’s like, “I’ll do it again.” I think the director got a little bit worried, but she’s game, she’s gung ho.
When you say “the director,” you’re talking about THE RZA.
Well, in that scene it was Cory Yuen making sure that everyone was safe.
What is the mythology of The Man with the Iron Fist?
The mythology is more the modern Shaw Brothers crossed with The Lord of the Rings.
How does RZA direct?
RZA has been mentored by Quentin Tarantino for six years and he was amazing. He knew his stuff. He knew what shot he wanted to get. With Eli Roth on set, they worked together so well, and even Marc Abraham who’s directed before. There was so much knowledge on that set but RZA knew his craft and it was like he was producing a soundtrack in this movie. He brought the best out of me in a lot of my scenes when I had to deliver for him an emotional part or a powerful part. He definitely knew what to say, what buttons to push to get that out of me, which is not that hard. I’m very open. I’m not insecure about anything so if they want me to get a little crazy, a little out there, bring it.
Do you have an example of one of those times he pushed you?
I don’t want to give it away. When you start the movie there’s action, and the pace of the movie from the beginning to end is hardcore. And it’s not just for the guys. There’s powerful scenes where Lucy Liu did what I call “The Lucy Liu Braveheart Speech” that she did for her clan. It was powerful. She empowered the women in those movies, and of course Jamie Chung was in there too. It’s a dream come true for an action type of guy like me who’s trying to develop into the best actor to match my action skills.
Was The Grandmasters when you worked with Yuen Woo-Ping?
I worked with Woo-Ping on True Legend. By the time I worked with him on the Wong Kar Wai film, he actually suggested me for that part. Wong Kar Wai tried to expand my part but we couldn’t get our scheduling down. I was also filming The Man with the Iron Fist at the same time so I was kind of bummed about that. He already shot another fight scene to be in middle. He wanted me to shoot at the end. If I couldn’t shoot the ending of the movie, then we couldn’t get that middle scene in there. My schedule was kind of tight and I know he shoots all over the place and it had to be shot in that location at that certain time. I just couldn’t get back there because I was filming on The Man with the Iron Fist. We’ll see what he puts in there but I know I open his movie with some, excuse my Vietnamese, but some kick ass action. I guarantee it’s going to be badass. It was the second time working with Woo-Ping so he let me open up a little bit.
Do you speak any Cantonese or Mandarin for the Hong Kong films?
For Chinese I don’t speak it fluently but I learn the dialogue that I need to learn. I just go out there and deliver it. If they need to dub me then they dub me. If they don’t, I’ve done a few lines in Bodyguards and Assassins and I was like, “Hey, that’s me talking, holy crap!”
How long do these films take you out of the fight game?
Well, now that my parts are getting bigger they’re taking me out of the fight game between one or two months. Now promoting it, I told After Dark come two months before the fight, I’m kind of like locked down Shaolin style. No messing around.
Is the Rich Franklin fight in July a monumental bout coming from Strikeforce going up against a UFC champ?
Oh yeah, definitely. We’re not trying to be Strikeforce Team or anything. For me it’s a personal goal. I don’t have to fight anymore but I love the challenge, I love to compete and I can’t do it forever but right now I can still do it so I’ll do a couple more fights and really focus on my acting because right now at the same time, I’m improving my acting skills. My action, I’m always learning from guys like J.J. Perry which sooner or later, when we do a movie together, watch out world because that movie is going to blow the lid off the action genre. We’re going to change the whole action genre around when J.J. Perry and myself get together and we do a movie together. We’re already in talks right now. It’s a secret talk and no one’s going to know about it until we announce it and when we announce it, watch out, world, watch out.
What do you want to change action to?
Over the years it’s gone from the powerful style of Bruce Lee, then it goes to the Shaw Brothers, then it comes back to a lot of the wirework. Then you have the Bourne style, shaky camera. Then you have the Tony Jaa type and now you’ve recently seen The Raid which is a little bit evolved style from Tony Jaa with weapons and then fights. In a movie you can get away with banging a guy’s head on the ground 10 times like The Raid. In the real world, if you get banged on your head once or twice on the cement, you’re going to sleep. So what J.J. and I are talking about is bringing more realism to the screen. Now there are so many great directors and so many great moviemakers out there, they’re taking it a notch up. Whether it’s special effects or whether it’s a great stunt team or whether it’s great DP work, we want to tie it all together and bring you something where people can take that breath and say, “Damn, I never saw that before.” That’s where we will take it to. At the same time, I’ve got a few things in the works with Eli Roth also. We’re talking together about making some action. In the action world, Jason [Statham]’s awesome, The Rock’s awesome and they’ve been around. I feel like I’m going to bring new blood to the screen and when I do a move, people are going to be like, “Definitely that move will work in real life because I’ve seen him do it in a match.” But with a little bit more of a movie twist and some more cool setups.
Can you tell us any more about your Shaolin style training?
I just call it Shaolin training because it’s from kung fu. My style is more like San Da, Sancho, which is Chinese style full contact. It incorporates all the punching, the kicking, the sweeping, the takedowns but no groundwork. Over here they know when you say Sancho or San Da, they know it’s Cung Le.
Are you thinking 2 more years in fights?
I don't know. One day at a time.