It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.
Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion
Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films asBack to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.
I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.
I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.
Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.
Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.
The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilsonand Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.
Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.
In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).
Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.
Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.
This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .
Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.
These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly, died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.
The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.
For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky(The man on the rise), Matthias Hues(The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman(the veteran screenwriter).
Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.
Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.
Jino Kang, the gentle-spoken son of a Hapkido Grand Master, grew up in South Korea during the 60’s, a time when the influence of the Western world was just beginning to emerge. The Kang family immigrated to California in 70’s.
Jino adapted quickly to a new language and culture, all the while following the traditions of his father. He opened his Martial Arts school in the 80’s (http://hapkidousa.com/http://hapkidousa.com/). Jino holds a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido and continues to teach in San Francisco. He was inducted in to Master’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Although Martial Arts is in Jino’s blood, he had another passion – filmmaking. He began by making movies with his friends in Junior High School, his early screen heroes were Kurosawa and his frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune. Studying at the College of Marin, Jino elevated his skills and appreciation for the craft of making movies.
In 90’s, Jino starred in, directed and produced his first feature film, “Blade Warrior”, shot in glorious 16mm. Jino has since shot, produced, and acted in Fist 2 Fist aka Hand 2 Hand. Fist 2 Fist won numerous awards and critically acclaimed as “belongs in the top end of the scale of Martial Arts films”. His new film, Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice won “Action Film of the Year” at Action on Film International Film Festival in 2014. He is currently at work on new films including a short subject action series, Kid Fury, starring one of his pupils Timothy Mah.
His balletic style and approach to action cinema set him apart from the multitude of entries in the genre. I believe should he continue to embrace this as he grows in his ambition, we shall someday soon no doubt witness an action/martial arts spectacle the likes of which this world has never seen.
Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock, is an American martial artist and actress who I first encountered in a little movie called Raging Thunder or No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (part of my beloved Seasonal Films Library). From there I followed her through the China O’Brian and Martial Law movies. It is fortuitous that she shares this triple martial arts action extravaganza with Don “The Dragon” Wilson; the pair having shared the screen in a number of Cynthia credits, including The Martial Arts Kid and its forthcoming sequel.
Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.
It was in her hometown in Northern California in 1983 where she was on the Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Martial Arts Demonstration Team. A Leading Asian Film production company, Golden Harvest, was searching, at this time, in Los Angeles for the next Bruce Lee. Rothrock’s forms and manoeuvres were observed at a demonstration by Golden Harvest and they signed a contract with Cynthia there and then. It was two years (1985) later that she made her first martial arts movie, Yes, Madam (or Police Assassins / In the Line of Duty Part 2) which also starred Michelle Yeoh. Proving to be a box office hit, Cynthia ended up staying in Hong Kong until 1988 doing seven films there.
Rothrock would go on to be one of a handful of western performers who achieved stardom in the Hong Kong film industry, before even achieving success in their own country. Producer Pierre David initiated Rothrock’s move to back to America, offering her a co-starring role with Chad McQueen in Martial Law, Rothrock’s first U.S. production. A ten year successful career in B-grade action movies would follow in movies such as: China O’Brien and China O’Brien 2, Guardian Angel, Honour & Glory, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 and Prince of the Sun amongst a roster of thirty films
Rothrock appeared in the television film The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion. She was also the inspiration for the video game character Sonya Blade from the game Mortal Kombat, though was given neither credit nor compensation. After the film Sci-Fighter, she retired from acting to teach martial arts at her studio in California. She made her comeback in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and in 2014, she starred in the action movie Mercenaries, (the all-female Expendables) alongside Kristanna Loken, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox and Zoë Bell directed by Chris Olen Ray.
Like her contemporaries of the genre, Cynthia is still going strong, busy with slate of movies either in the works or beginning production. She is dynamic, fearsome and as I’m sure Cynthia will tell you herself . . . she isn’t too old to quit kicking ass yet.
When you used to decide to hit the video store (back in the day) and roam the aisles in search of hidden gems, you’d discover a great many things. Sometimes it was the films in total – other times it was a star you seemed to have an unending body of work.
That was my first impression of Don “The Dragon” Wilson. There always seemed to be more and more movies that he had been in. So, being the completest I am, I sought out each, any and every film he was in.
Don “The Dragon” Wilson is a world champion kickboxer, a European Martial Arts Hall of Famer and an action film actor. He has been called “Perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history.”
Some (and I stress the word SOME) movies to his credit include: Futurekick, Bloodfist 1-8, Ring of Fire 1, 2 & 3, Out for Blood, Operation Cobra, Blackbelt, Cyber Tracker 1 & 2, Terminal Rush, Redemption, Say Anything, Capitol Conspiracy and Batman Forever as the leader of the Neon Gang. You can judge the scale of a film’s budget by the quality of the craft services. In the case of is brief but memorable appearance in Batman Forever, there would be no mere fold-out table with ice mochas and Doritos. No, Don found the whereabouts of a catering trailer in which stood a chef, ready to cook him whatever he desired.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
But back to the movies – Don’s career has been motoring along for decades – and he shows no sign of slowing down. With films like The Martial Arts Kid and Paying Mr. McGetty along with several others waiting in the wings, Don “The Dragon” Wilson is still as vital and explosive as ever. I for one can’t wait to see where journey goes from here.
I’ve often mused on what it might have been like if my father had of worked in the movie business. Would I have have grown up with this addiction to cinema had that have been the case? Or would it have been different?
I’ve traveled beyond these grey hills, that surround the quiet town in which I reside, and I have seen the poor and unfortunate parts of this world. But you pause upon reflection of such experiences and remember, if you were born into such a life, would you know any different? It would simply be your life until to chose to break loose your shackles and go seeking?
For Chris Olen Ray movies were simply a part of his life; being raised by a filmmaker and being in his father’s films. But like all young people do at some point, they choose to rebel. Thus, Chris joined the military to get as far away from the movies as he could. He took the sea and saw something of the world before returning and realizing – what’s in the blood, stays in the blood.
Emerging from the shadow of his father (B-movie legend Fred Olen Ray), Chris soon amassed an impressive list of credits all his own. From horror to action, to the type of film that would not look out of place among his father’s credits; attacking multi-headed sharks and all-star, all-female mercenaries, these are just the tip of the iceberg.
It is as exciting to ponder his next cinematic chapter as it was to chat with Chris Olen Ray…