Jino Kang is a rare type of action star. He’s only made three movies so far, and each one is a homegrown, carefully constructed film, infused with his own personal philosophies, which showcase his impressive Hapkido martial arts abilities. Born in South Korea, he immigrated to San Francisco with his parents in the 1970’s, and he currently runs a Hapkido school, while making movies on the side. His first film Blade Warrior (2001) was begun while he was still in college, and his two successive films Fist 2 Fist (2011) and Weapon of Choice (2014)bear his distinctive, personal style.
Can you give me a little history of your background in martial arts?
I’m currently a 7th degree black belt in Hapkido, of the International Hapkido Federation. I also hold a belt in Kyokushin-Kai Karate. I received that in the 80’s. And also Taekwondo. That was in the 90’s. And then, just recently, I received a black belt in Gracie Jujitsu. I was born in South Korea. My father was a master in Hapkido. When I was about 4, he started bringing me into his studio. That’s where all the black belts came in and started training together. Of course, I was just a four year old, running around the mat. I would wake up on the mat with my gi already on. Then, I would just jump into the class, and needless to say, that was history. I started training then. We immigrated to the states in 1971. My father didn’t own a martial arts school at that time, but he started teaching from home. Once I became of age in 1981, he said, “I think it’s time to open up a Hapkido school.” We opened up a Hapkido institute in California, and that was the beginning of our journey from then to now.
What led you from that point to making your first movie Blade Warrior?
When you’re young, you’re always watching movies and when you’re at that very impressionable age when Bruce Lee hit the screen, I was just enamored with the guy’s demeanor and his moves and his charisma. I was interested in it. In 1986, maybe, there was a big tournament from Leo Fong and Ron Marchini, and they said that they had a part in a movie that was available, and I won the part. Once I became a part of the production, I played the part of an FBI agent named Joshua. I had never done any acting before, but I was supposed to showcase what I knew with Hapkido. Then, I watched the production and saw how things worked. I thought, I know I can do this, but I also thought that I’d better go to school and learn it. I went to college for three years, and they had a great film department. I learned how to make a movie and write a script. I then shot the first ten minutes of Blade Warrior, the scene in the grocery store. I shot that while I was attending college. A year after that, I finished the film. We shot every weekend, just about. It took us another year to edit. It was all shot on 16mm film. It was the mid-90’s. By the time we were finished, we switched to digital because that’s the way things were going. It took four years altogether. I call it my experimental learning film. We had a lot of fun with it. Ever since then, I was hooked. A distributor picked it up right way.
What was the name of the movie you did with Marchini and Leo Fong?
Ah! It was called Weapon of Choice, which is what I ended up calling my newest film.
What happened to that movie?
I don’t think they ever finished it, or if they did, it never got distributed. According to Leo Fong. I never got a copy of it.
I was familiar with you after Fist 2 Fist got picked up by Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video. It was everywhere. When I got a copy of the movie, I researched you and decided to find your first movie Blade Warriorand watch that first, which is what I did. When I saw it, I was blown away by it. Then, I watched Fist 2 Fist. I really, really like Blade Warrior. It’s a raw little movie, but it’s a great showcase for you – whoever you were, I had no idea who you were. I thought, Whoa, this guy’s cool. That movie is what my whole book The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars is about. You guys are not actors; you’re martial artists, you’re the real thing. This is who you are.
Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. It’s a really cool little movie. I want people to see this movie. Talk about making it. Talk about your philosophy a little bit, and how you were able to incorporate your martial arts into it.
My goal was to incorporate martial arts and the book The Art of War into it – as best as I could – into a film. If a martial artist were faced with a dilemma, how would he handle the situation? Hapkido is a blend of martial arts; it’s very eclectic. We had kicks, strikes, weapons, swords, and so on, and it was easier to be more diverse.
Both Blade Warrior and Fist 2 Fist are very introspective. They’re inward movies. This has to be coming from you. They feel personal.
Yeah, they’re my own way of telling the stories. They’re about how a person can change. When you’re in a situation and someone’s coming at you directly, you need to bend and redirect in that conflict. That’s what I wanted to show in the films. I also watched a lot of martial arts movies, and I don’t know why, but a lot of these movies don’t think about the plot – they only think about the action. There’re only a few really good ones out there that do that. I think anybody can do action, but being able to tell a good story and being able to tell the story that you want … and these are all fiction, just so you know … the second one, Fist 2 Fist, was a personal experience I went through about ten years ago. I incorporated some of my personal life into that film.
What happened in the interim between Blade Warrior and Fist 2 Fist? There was a long gap between films, and even between Fist 2 Fist and your latest one Weapon of Choice.
(Laughing.) It’s a money issue. It takes forever to finance a movie. Also, in the meantime, I also run a school. It’s my bread and butter. I have a very successful martial arts school, so my focus is divided into many things: Martial arts, family, film, and so on. I would like to focus on one thing, but I like them all.
What’s next for you, Jino?
I have numerous projects in development in various stages. I just finished a fresh, new script called Blade Fury, a follow up to Weapon of Choice, and I’ll be working on getting financing, casting and distribution in the next few months. I’ll always have my studio in San Francisco which keeps me sharp and connected to my students. They give me joy in teaching and keep me grounded.
It’s an uphill battle making and releasing martial arts action movies these days. That’s why I like your movies so much – you’re doing them because you love doing them, not so much to make money from them or trying to become a movie star. Say something about that.
Right, right. You’re absolutely right. I’m not here to make a quick buck. I’m not working for someone else, making the movie that they want. I want to make the movie the way I want to, and I want to be good at it. It’s very tough to put a movie together. I’m in front of the camera and also behind it. Some of the storylines, I have to collaborate with other writers, and I don’t mind doing that. Making it personal is the way to go.