Martial artist Alain Moussi and writer/director Dimitri Logothetis have a real passion for creating action films that showcase the martial arts. Their partnership began in 2016 with KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE, a remake of the beloved Jean Claude Van Damme film, that film was successful enough to spawn its own sequel two years later titled KICKBOXER: RETALIATION. Both of those showcase what would come to be the trademark of their collaborations: a cast filled with interesting actors, highly skilled martial artists, and wall-to-wall fight scenes featuring both.
The duo has returned with another project, this time it’s an action film that combines the martial arts with the science-fiction genre titled JIU JITSU. Here the plot is that every six years an alien being comes to Earth looking to challenge itself in combat against a group of Earth’s finest warriors. If the creature’s challenge isn’t accepted, then the whole world is at risk of invasion from its violent alien species.
Joining Alain Moussi in the cast are Nicolas Cage (MANDY), Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER), Tony Jaa (ONG BAK), Juju Chan (WU ASSASSINS), Rick Yune (DIE ANOTHER DAY), Marie Avgeropoulos (THE 100), and Eddie Steepless (MY NAME IS EARL).
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with both Alain Moussi and Dimitri Logothetis at length about JIU JITSU. We discussed the origins of the project, shooting the film fully on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, assembling the impressive cast, and a lot more!
What led to JIU JITSU being your follow up collaboration after KICKBOXER: RETALIATION?
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Well, I wanted to come up with a completely different take on martial arts, and I thought if I could blend science fiction with martial arts, that would be really cool. Of course, with a martial arts film, you’re always dealing with an antagonist who is just unbeatable. So, what better unbeatable force than something you can’t kill? Then putting together a team that has to go after them. Creating a mythology behind all that I thought would be even cooler. I embraced it. I always like to embrace a challenge anyway, and that was really the genesis.
[Alain Moussi] – We were going to do Kickboxer 3 originally. We were in development on that and Dimitri sends me this comic book, and it was JIU JITSU. I’m like, “What is this?” And I look through it. I thought it was so cool, so different, and then we chatted about it. He gave me his ideas on how he wants to make this film. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I mean, martial arts, sci-fi, fighting an alien, and I’m like, “Whoa. This is out of this world.”
Right away, I’m like, “This is just taking the genre somewhere else than your typical martial arts film.” I thought it would be so much fun to play this character and also the fact that in the film the character goes from not knowing … losing his memory to all of a sudden finding out who he is again and all that kind of thing … I thought that was so cool to play as an actor. Also, I love working with Dimitri. He is a visionary filmmaker and he understands the genre. So, I’m always up for doing anything with him.
Dimitri, you mentioned the idea of having a team in the film. You have got a great cast of actors and martial artists in this film. Can you talk a little bit about how the casting came together? It’s quite an array of talent.
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Well, Alain is the inspiration behind the storyline in the first place because he’s a sixth-degree jiu-jitsu master. And so jiu-jitsu happens to be a martial art that has very, very or to none, known origin. If you do the research on it, you can’t really find its origin. Again, it could be Japan, it could be Korea, it could be even India. It’s thousands of years old. It’s fascinating.
Secondly, I’ve been trying to work with Tony Jaa for years. I’ve been chasing him for a while, and I was fortunate enough to get ahold of him. I was fortunate enough to also get ahold of Juju Chan from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2. With Nicolas Cage, he originally wasn’t available, so we were thinking maybe using Bruce Willis. I wanted Nic though and when we had to move some shooting dates, suddenly Nic was available. We were very fortunate to get him because he’s the heart of the film. He sells the mythology. If you follow the film, you’ll see that he’s the one that gives you all the exposition and the background and sets up the mythology. He does it in such a passionate way that you buy into it. I thought that was very important because this is the first film of a potential series.
I agree. I think Nicolas Cage does an excellent job of making you invest in what’s going on, even though it is really fantastical. How did you get Frank Grillo involved with the film?
[Dimitri Logothetis] – I just liked Frank’s work. I’ve watched Frank do an awful lot of films throughout the years, and he’s a guy that had done a lot of genre. He’s got a unique style. So, I fought really hard to get Frank in the movie. If you look at all the characters, I’ve tried to balance them out. As a kid, I grew up watching THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. I grew up watching THE DIRTY DOZEN on TV. Then I always thought it was really cool that everybody had their own unique personality, and I tried to balance that out in the film.
[Alain Moussi] – Yeah, I mean, everybody has their own charm in the cast. I mean, Tony Jaa is incredible … we had amazing actors like Nic. And then sci-fi stars like Marie Avgeropoulos and other martial arts stars like Juju. I mean, it’s just nuts. I think Dimitri put a cast together that was world-class, and it was so much fun to work with every one of them. I did action with Tony Jaa. Holy crap, that’s a dream come true! I was in scenes opposite Nicolas Cage acting. I mean, you got to pinch yourself, right?
Speaking of that, what was it like for you working with everyone, Alan?
[Alain Moussi] – Every moment on the set and working with this cast was incredible. Like, Frank Grillo is such a nice guy. And you know what was cool was that the cast, we all connected even offset. We ended up going to dinner together, hanging out together all the time, and that was really cool to see, too, how the camaraderie and the thing that brought everybody together was the martial arts, you know? Everybody from Rick Yune, Frank Grillo, Nic, everybody had a martial arts background, so everybody hung out and had a good time.
This was the first film to completely shoot in Cyprus. What were your memories of shooting there?
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Cyprus came up with this cash rebate program and they invited me along with a number of filmmakers. They flew us out to talk to us about it. It’s a very aggressive cash rebate that they offered for filmmaking. When you’re making an independent feature, you really need to dig up as many pennies as you can to put the film together. Cyprus’ weather’s great though. The terrain is great. Anytime I do an independent feature outside of America or Canada, the challenge is always putting together a team and bringing the equipment together and stuff. But I work with the same people. I work with the same stunt people. I work with the same camera people. We always strive to do something that people haven’t seen before and keep it entertaining. Consequently, I think we ended up with something really different.
[Alain Moussi] – Cyprus was incredible. I loved the people and the food. I’m big on food, okay? [laughs] You give me Greek food every day and I’m a happy camper! The people are great. The crews worked so so hard. Then you have these exotic locations. You have everything from the jungle to the sea to the city. I mean, you have all these incredible caves, like big … Oh, my God, it was just awesome. So what was cool is that we could have all these diverse locations all in one place, and I think that added so much production value to the film, like Dimitri said
What was your favorite part of making the film JIU JITSU?
[Alain Moussi] – Oh, my God, it’s tough. There is so much. Okay, so if I nailed it down a collection of a type of moments, it was my time with the cast. I mean, that for me, that was the ultimate pleasure. I mean, we start with, obviously, Nic Cage, being onscreen with Nic Cage. I had a great time being onscreen with him, and he has amazing presence. Also, the first quarter of the movie I spent with Maria Avgeropoulos, just a phenomenal actress, and actually, I learned a lot from her. She taught me quite a bit by working together on those non-action scenes, and I feel I was able to evolve as an actor thanks to her as well, which is really cool.
Then being in action alongside Tony Jaa and Juju Chan. My friend, who plays the alien, his name is Ryan Tarren and then Marrese Crump, who was the actual villain in Tony Jaa’s THE PROTECTOR 2. Marrese is a phenomenal martial artist. So the cast, to me, is what made it such a special experience, other than the fact that, as I said before, I love working with Dimitri all the time, but, man, we were all friends outside as much as much as on set.
What was your favorite aspect of JIU JITSU, Dimitri?
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Well, I’m proud of the whole film. I mean, you’ve got so many cool sequences in there that when I originally conceived them and then we’re just pulling them off, I thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to pull this off?” We’ve got an incredible oner in there when Tony Jaa is first introduced and he goes in to help Alain escape from the army base. And on the way in and on the way out, we’ve got point of views where the camera is Alain’s character’s perspective, and then all of a sudden he steps out in front of the camera and he’s no longer in the point of view. Then you go back into the point of view again. I wanted to do that because it was like a video game perspective. When I was doing the test screenings the audience loved when they realized these weren’t computer generated images these were real martial artists doing these amazing, complicated sequences. I’m really proud of the sword fight sequence between Nic Cage and the alien. I think that’s a really cool sequence.
[Alain Moussi] – It was an incredible experience for me to be the head of the “action department”. Conveying Dimitri and I’s vision of the action to the team, creating a style for each of the characters. I was even able to action direct with our director of photography, helping to determine camera placement and shots for the action scenes. So, he gave me my first experience like executive directing on this film, which … and I saw things from a totally different perspective because of it, not just as a performer but also from what does the director want? That’s one of the reasons I love collaborating with Dimitri as well because I feel that I can evolve, not just as an artist in terms of an actor a performer, but also as a filmmaker. And that’s what Dimitri offers in terms of mentorship. So, I came out of JIU JITSU not just, I feel, being a better artist but having a much better understanding of filmmaking as a whole.
Do you think directing is something you might want to pursue?
[Alain Moussi] – Guaranteed. Guaranteed I will definitely pursue it. And you know what? I got one of the best comments from Frank Grillo actually one night. Frank pulled me aside while we were having a glass of wine after a day on the set, and he says, “Alain, you have an eye, and if you were to direct, I would definitely trust you, and I would follow you anywhere.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” That is, coming from Frank Grillo!
Wow. What a nice thing to say!
[Alain Moussi] – He said, “”It’s not about just your time as a director. You already have an eye for it.” So he said, “That’s something you might want to consider going forward as well.” And I thought that was such a great, amazing compliment coming from somebody like Frank Grillo.
You must have been floating on air after he said that.
[Alain Moussi] – I was. I mean, I definitely was. I was like, “Am I the only one who heard this? [laughs] Did anybody else hear this? Come on.” It was really cool.
Tell me about coming up with the look for the alien warrior. It’s pretty unique.
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Well it goes back again to the influences that I grew up with, I used to love to watch on television in black and white, the original THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I was always fascinated by that robot and his look. That was a low budget movie. They didn’t have much money, but they came up with a really cool look for that robot. Then his face, of course, was kind of faceless. Then my favorite film of all time was ALIEN by Ridley Scott, and the design for that alien and the look of his face and everything came from H.R. Giger, the German designer. And so between those two, that’s really where the genesis of the alien came from.
As we begin to wrap up, what’s next for you two after JIU JITSU?
[Alain Moussi] – We’re about to make another film called MAN OF WAR, which is really cool. Dimitri is producing and directing. It’s written by Gary Scott Thompson, who wrote THE FAST AND FURIOUS. I’m not starring as the lead in that one, but I have an amazing, amazing part. I’m so excited about it. But then after that, in terms of starring in a film, I have KICKBOXER: ARMAGEDDON, the third of the trilogy. That’s coming up in 2021 as well. It will be balls to the wall action, non-stop adrenaline, and you’re going to see Kurt Sloan in a way you’ve never seen him before. And that’s really exciting to me.
I thought KICKBOXER: RETALIATION was a strong progression for the series. So, to hear that you guys are going to try to step it up and do even more, that’s really exciting.
[Alain Moussi] – We are already working on selecting who the villain will be, and we’re getting close to choosing. But I’m really excited about what’s about to happen.
Is there any last thing you want to say to our readers ahead of the release of JIU JITSU?
[Alain Moussi] – Absolutely. Well, number one, I want to say thank you for being action fans. Thank you for keeping the genre alive. That’s number one or else I wouldn’t be there doing it. And I want you to watch JIU JITSU and have a great time doing it. I want you to enjoy it, sit back, relax, and just let yourselves be entertained with what you’re about to see. It’s a wild ride, and it’s fun. My mission is to create more and more martial arts films, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s my whole mission in life is to do that, produce action, do action, and really keep that genre going.
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Exactly, just enjoy JIU JITSU. It’s a lot of fun, and it really promotes the genre. It really promotes the martial arts. I hope everybody has fun watching it on November 20th.
Thank you both so much for talking with me. I wish you two nothing but success.
[Dimitri Logothetis] – Thank you.
[Alain Moussi] – Oh, it was my pleasure, Matt. Thank you!
JIU JITSU is in Theaters, on Demand, and Digital starting on November 20, 2020.