Our NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR early coverage concludes with david’s interview with the ninja himself, the world’s most complete fighter, El Gringo, a man who has had bit parts in both the remake of THE PINK PANTHER and ZERO DARK THIRTY, an icon of modern action, Mr. Scott Adkins.
It’s weird meeting action stars in person. I’ve met more than I can count now, and every one of them is different, but I knew Scott Adkins would be cool. We’d previously met face to face when I did an hour-long Skype interview with him in 2012 after I saw him in Expendables 2, and he was incredibly gracious and generous with his time. In that interview, I was shocked at how well versed he was in B-action movies, and we talked about not only his movies and career, but the careers of guys like Jeff Speakman and Michael Dudikoff. He joked to me how upset he was when he saw Jeff Speakman’s second or third movie and that Speakman wasn’t delivering on the martial arts front like he did on his first movie. “Fuck you, Jeff Speakman!” he joked, which I thought was hilarious.
It was Scott Adkins himself who opened the door to me to visit the set of his latest film Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. He sent me an email a few months before filming, and told me that he and Isaac would be making a sequel to their 2009 film Ninja, and that they would be filming in Bangkok, Thailand. I immediately got in touch with Isaac and the producers at Millennium, and in no time, I was on board with full approval to visit the set. On my first day on the set, Scott warmly greeted me, and he reminded me of that joke he made about Jeff Speakman. “Remember when I said, Fuck you, Jeff Speakman!” he asked me. From that moment on, I knew that I was welcomed, and I spent the next few days getting in his way, trying to find out what it really means to be a real-thing action star. In various stages, I watched him rehearsing his lines, I saw him stretching on exercise mats, practicing a few kicks and flips, and he had warned me that he’d injured himself a few days previous on a fight scene. He was wearing a back brace during down times on the set, and he’d remove it when it came time to fight before the camera.
When he finally summoned me to have lunch with him in his trailer on my last day of my visit, I sat down with him and prepared to conduct my official set visit interview with him. As I fumbled about with my tape recorder, he put on a video for me that the stunt coordinator Tim Man had assembled, which featured the run through of the climactic fight in the film. We watched the video, and he kept pointing out things that he liked about it, and asked me what I thought. “Dude, this movie is going be amazing,” I said. As I asked him the following questions related to Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous pile of spaghetti he was eating for lunch. Action stars eat BIG.
What can people expect from Ninja 2?
It’s a full-on martial arts film, as was the first one. There was a hell of a lot of martial arts fighting in the first one. I think there’s actually more in this one. More from just me – I think I’ve got about 12 fights in it, ranging from really long to short and sweet. It’s definitely a very physical part. I was disappointed with the first one, at least with my performance. My character Casey was kind of bland. He was a bit of a wet blanket. That was the character in the script. I tried to perform the character as it was on the page, and so when we watched it back, there wasn’t much about the character – there wasn’t much of an edge. What we’ve done with this one is we’ve taken him to a darker place. Everything that he holds dear to him is taken from him, and when you think of good ninja movies you think of the revenge storyline. We’re definitely going down that track. He’s also grown more into himself. He’s a bit wiser, he’s a bit cooler. He’s full of anger and vengeance in this one.
The first film had a larger-than-life comic book style. What are the stylistic choices being made in Part 2 that will give it a unique style of its own?
No CGI, no silly bat wings. No silly ninja cult. This one is a bit more down and dirty. The other one was a bit more clean and pristine. This one is in Thailand, partly in Burma. It’s grittier and dirtier. The martial arts in this film will be much flashier than what we did on the first Ninja. Another mistake we made with the first Ninja – and I don’t want to put it down too much because it’s got a lot going for it – was that we tried to make the fights more realistic in the first one … a lot of it was very basic. We’re really going for the flash in this one, the same way we did in Undisputed 3. We’re trying to make the fight scenes very flashy and very entertaining – we want to give you those big “Wow!” moments.
What’s the hardest part – acting or action?
Action is the hardest part, make no mistake about it. You smash yourself up completely. I’ve already gotten injured. I hurt my back a bit. When you make as many action films as I do, with all probability is that on one of them you’re gonna get hurt. I did get hurt on the one fight, and I’ve been doing my best to recuperate as quickly as possible. If it’s a normal drama, you go home and work on your lines for the next day, you come in and you work all day … you could be sitting at a table, you’re having a domestic with your partner, and she’s slapping you in the face, but it doesn’t happen just once, it happens again, again, and again. And then the next day you’re probably going to have some bruises. But when you’re smashing yourself on concrete, when you’re throwing spinning kicks, when you’re trying to raise the bar to do things that haven’t been seen before, you hurt yourself. I’m sacrificing my body for what I love to do, and I’m happy to do that, but it’s not easy. That, in turn, makes the acting harder because you’re fucking knackered! You’re absolutely shattered. And you still have to go home and work on your lines for the next day.
This is your … eighth movie with Isaac Florentine?
I think this is the seventh. He helped us a little with El Gringo. We’ll say this is the seventh. We’re very comfortable with each other. When we did the first shot of the first fight sequence, and I thought, “Man, just that bit looks better than any of the action I’ve done in the last three years since Undisputed 3.” I feel very comfortable that he’s going to be able to deliver. If you’re going to do an action or martial arts film, that’s what you want. Also, we know each other so well. He knows the way I work, and I know the way he works. I know what he wants me to do in front of the camera. I know how he wants to shoot it. I can also be very blunt with him, and he’s the same with me. We don’t have to beat around the bush. He’s not going to hurt my feelings because I know he’s got my best interests at heart.
Talk about working with Kane Kosugi, your co-star.
Yeah, brilliant. Been a fan of his for a long time. What he did in D.O.A. and Muscle Heat. I watched Black Eagle a lot when I was a kid during my Van Damme fascination. And, of course, I’m a big fan of his dad, Sho. We’ve only just started this fight, and just to see his movement and watch him pull it off – you can see he’s really got that form, that samurai look about him, which I struggle at. I’m more of a kickboxer – that’s my bread and butter, so I have to adjust to the Japanese ninja style. He’s definitely got that. He’s a very nice guy – I’d heard he was, and he’s doing a great job with the acting. I wanted him in Ninja 1, actually.
Tim Man is coordinating the fights, and I’ve been observing him, and he’s incredible. He’s also in the film. Talk about Tim.
I knew who he was, I’ve seen his kicks, and he’s brilliant. But I didn’t know if he could choreograph or not. We said, “Well, does he have any stuff to show us?” He sent over some stuff he had done. Another thing was that we had to use someone who was in Thailand. So we said, “Okay, let’s give Tim Man a shot.” What he and his team started to do was send over these previews of the fights we were going to do. I’ve worked with a lot of the best stuntmen in the world, and he’s up there. I knew I was in good hands. He and his partner, Brahim [Achabbankhe] are as good as anyone I’ve ever worked with.
What can fans of yours and fans of martial arts films or even fans of the first Ninja look forward to when they settle down to watch Ninja 2?
You’re going to get brilliant fights, and you’re going to get the best people in the business doing what they love to do. We hope we pulled the story off. You never know until you see it. You never know. I don’t care how big the budget is. I’ve worked on films and thought, “This is gonna be great!” and it turns out to be not so great. I’ve been on films and thought, “This is gonna be shit!” and it turns out to be pretty good. You never know. You hope you’ve got a story that pulls the audience in and make them care about what’s going on. You follow Casey on his journey, and hopefully it means something.
Does this feel like a sequel to you, or does it feel like a completely different movie?
I think the sequel should be a completely different movie. You take elements that made the first one work and made it successful. It feels the same, but it’s very different. It’s not a bad thing that it feels different. A lot of people thought there should have been more ninja stuff in the first one. It’s going to be a great martial arts film.
Are ninjas back?
No, I don’t think so. Let’s be honest: Ninjas are a bit cheesy. There is a good time and place for a ninja movie. You’ve got to do a ninja movie the right way. A modern day ninja movie is always going to be slightly cheesy. It’s going to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. I think that’s why he’s not running around in the daylight in a ninja suit for most of the movie. We save the ninja suit for when it’s dark and when he needs to slay people silently. There’s more to this film than just the ninja stuff. That’s why we base it in reality with these martial arts schools.
Anything you want to say about shooting in Thailand?
I love it. The stunt guys are brilliant. They don’t mind taking a hit.
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Other NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR interviews by david j. moore:
Scott Adkins movies reviewed by Vern:
Extreme Challenge (2001)
Special Forces (2003)
Pit Fighter (2005)
The Shepherd: Border Patrol (2008)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The Tournament (2009)
Undisputed III: Redemption (2010)
Assassination Games (2011)
El Gringo (2012)
The Expendables 2 (2012)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.