Cityonfire.com is proud to present our exclusive interview with the legendary Don “The Dragon” Wilson. The 11-time World Kickboxing Champion talks about his prolific action movie career (30 titles and counting!), his personal favorite titles, his thoughts on remakes, and much more! Judging from the interview, we have a lot more to look forward to from the Martial Arts Hall of Famer, including a film called Blood Raid, which may be his answer to The Expendables. Enjoy!
Your first movie appearance was in a Hong Kong film called New York Chinatown, which was made in 1982. (In past interviews, you’ve stated that you took up acting in 1985, and it wasn’t until 1989 that you got your first appearance in Say Anything, then your first starring role in Bloodfist). So, basically, can you explain how you ended up appearing in New York Chinatown?
My brother James had some very well connected Chinese friends in Hong Kong and they arranged for a local film producer, Alan Tang, to hire me and Ted Pryor, another Kickboxing Champion, to play the “bad guys” in “ABC in NYC’s Chinatown.” I did it just for fun and it wasn’t until 1985 that I made a full commitment to become an actor. I retired after my fight with Jean Yves Theriault in Montreal, Canada December 1984 and moved to LA in May of ’85. I enrolled in acting classes, got an agent, and began the auditioning process like everyone else. I ran out of money by November and took another fight in Montreal November ’85. I was back in the ring again but was really concentrating more on building an acting career than being a professional fighter.
Everyone is curious about an in-development movie you have talked about called The B-Team (aka the low-budget Expendables with fellow martial arts actors like Michael Dudikoff, etc). Can you tell us if this film is still in the works?
There is a script called The B-Team and it’s still “in development,” but the original idea was to shoot it in Papua New Guinea with the support of their government. Cynthia Rothrock and I traveled to PNG and had a “reception-party” for the project but, unfortunately, the political leaders did not win their elections and so it’s uncertain what will happen in regards to the film. It could be rewritten to fit another location, so you’ll never know.
I do have a project called Blood Raid which will shoot in LA and utilize many of my “B” movie star friends, so I’ll keep you posted.
There’s a trailer on youtube for a movie called The Whole World at Our Feet? You seem to be part of an ensemble cast, including Bolo Yeung and Armand Assante. Who exactly do you play in it? Can you tell us more about this film?
I did a “Cameo” in that film for a friend, producer Erken Ialgashev. He is a fellow martial artist and I helped him learn the business so he asked me to appear as a Chinese Triad Gang Leader. I had a scene with Olivier Gruner and another with Armand Assante.
You’re also in Phillip Rhee’s upcoming movie called The Underdogs, where you’re playing a mentor to the young martial artists, along with Richard Norton, Danny Inosanto, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, James Lew and Grand Master Jun Chong. Can you tell us more about this movie?
This one’s easy… I play Don “The Dragon” Wilson in The Underdogs. Many of the other “celebrity” martial artists play themselves as well; and we are the “official judges” of a competition involving The Underdogs.
Another upcoming movie you have coming out is White Tiger, with Cynthia Rothrock, Matt Mullins and the late Joe Lewis? When exactly will we get to see this movie?
White Tiger is a film in which the late Joe Lewis, Cynthia Rothrock, Matt Mullins and I all worked on in Bangkok, Thailand last year. It’s release has been delayed because of a long legal battle between the local Thai producers and the US producer.
I recently spoke to Karen Kaing, the film’s producer, and she stated that she won all the lawsuits and will begin the process of post production. It may be ready for Cannes next year.
What are the chances of you making another Bloodfist film? And I’m talking about a real Bloodfist sequel (not by name-only), where you reprise the the role of Jake Raye for the 3rd time. Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt and all!
Well, I did recently speak to Roger Corman in his Brentwood offices and he was very upbeat and friendly. We did not discuss another project together but I would LOVE to work with him again. We made 12 films together and he distributed several others produced by other companies. He is my “mentor” and friend, so there could very well be one more Jake Raye film to complete the series.
Your film Moving Target, which was made in 2000, was recently remade. What are your thoughts on a remake of your own movie. What are your thoughts on remakes and reboots, in general?
It was a bizarre experience to remake my own movie with the same writer-director. Paul Ziller and I may be the only director-writer-actor team to attempt this type of “remake”. We actually worked off the script Die Trying and just did rewrites to change the locations, some story points, etc. so that it would work for Ireland. It was a strange thing to do, but I enjoyed working with Paul again and the Irish film crew and actors are the best.
Out of the entire Don “The Dragon” Wilson filmography, pick three of your favorites and explain why they’re your favorite.
Of course, Bloodfist because it was my first starring role as the lead actor. Redemption, because my best friend, Chris Penn worked with me in that one and, now that he’s gone. I appreciate every minute we spent together on the set, working out together, and the “partying” of course. Lionstrike because my son Jonathan was 5 years old and worked with me on location for much of the shoot. Usually, when you work on a film, you don’t see your family. But, because he was playing my son in the film, we spent lots of time together. Another bonus was working with the director Rick Jacobson and choreographer Art Camacho. They were a great team and did an excellent job as always.
Since you do most, if not all, of your own stunts, have you ever had a near-death/dangerous experience while making a movie?
In Bloodfist I ran along the top of an active volcano. I could have fallen because I wanted the shot to look good so I stayed VERY close to the edge. I would not do that today. I also did a fight scene on top of a moving train… nothing safe about that either. I held onto the “Skids” of a helicopter as it rose about 30 feet without being attached in any way. I just used my hands… and they were getting very tired just before the director called “CUT”! I stood on the edge of a building, 10 floors up, in downtown LA. It was only for a few minutes but I kept thinking “earthquake”! I could go on but it’s making me nervous so I better stop. There are some risky things involved in shooting independent action films but I am always surrounded by competent professional stunt people so the risks are minimized.
I vividly remember the original poster for 1989’s Bloodfist which clearly says “Don Wilson would kick Van Damme’s ass in one round!” by a critic. It’s obviously true since you’re a World Kickboxing Champion. I’ve read reports, dating back to the early late 80’s/90’s, that producer Roger Corman was trying to get you and Van Damme the ring. How close was this to happening?
I have met Jean-Claude Van Damme and he was very friendly. I’ve enjoyed many of his films and have the utmost respect for him as an action star. However, I do not tolerate anyone who lies about their “kickboxing” background and record. That’s the only problem between us and the fight offer from Corman was just a publicity stunt because it would have been like Tyson fighting Stallone. It’s one thing to “act” like a fighter and a completely different thing to have a trained professional trying to decapitate you in the ring.
If we looked at your personal DVD collection, name a few movies we would find in your collection.
Crash, Star Trek, The Wrestler, The Funeral, Reservoir Dogs, Mystic River and Billy Jack.
Who is your favorite martial arts star of all time? And which of his/her movies are your absolute favorite. And why?
Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon because he was a “true” martial artist and incorporated his philosophy into several of his films. He was able to entertain, inspire, and promote the positive aspects of the martial arts at the same time.
Every entertainer or product has had their “friendly” rivals. Coke had Pepsi. Apple had Microsoft. The Beatles had The Beach Boys. Stallone had Schwarzenegger. Who was Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s rival?
I do not consider any “actor” a “rival”. We are all doing our best to entertain the action fans and there is more competition from comedies, drama, etc; So it’s best to stay positive and work hard to make a good film.
Are you a fan of any particular “new” martial arts actor or movie of the last 10 years? (i.e. Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen, Scott Adkins, Iko Uwais…) feel free to mention anyone that comes to your mind. Please explain.
I am a “fan” of many new martial arts action stars. Michael Jai White is a friend and is doing great work. All the actors you mentioned are excellent and I’ll watch their films any chance I get.
If you can work with any actor (martial arts star or not), who would you choose?
Since Chuck Norris is my friend and I have the utmost respect for him as a martial artist, actor, and man, I’d love to work with him in an appropriate project. He was the first person in the industry that thought I could become a star. Unlike the other actors you mentioned, Chuck Norris was famous for his martial arts accomplishments before he said his first line of dialogue.
If you can work with any film director, who would you choose?
James Cameron because we are both graduates from the “Roger Corman School of Film” and I think it would be great to have a filmmaker of his caliber directing a martial arts action film.
You’re both a successful professional fighter and an money-making action star. Now you’re entering the world of fashion with your own clothing line called “Dragon TraditionZ.” And from what we understand, you are also getting in gear for the first “Dragon TraditonZ” produced movie. Please tell us about that as well.
My brother was my Kung Fu teacher and manager during my fight career. He helped finance my move to Los Angeles and has “been in my corner” throughout my life. It was his idea for the two of us to join forces and create a brand of martial arts clothing that could be modern and traditional at the same time. He felt the TAPOUT-AFFLICTION Tattoo, biker, Celtic, Skulls, etc. – while popular – did not embody or promote the positive aspects of traditional martial arts. DRAGON TRADITIONZ is being sold all over the world and is rapidly growing in popularity. We have schools, equipment stores and clothing stores all over the world carrying our brand; as well as a presence at many major events. Thanks to all our supporters. Check out the new designs at www.traditionz.us.
The new film (The Martial Arts Kid) the company is producing will highlight myself, and our other celebrity endorser Cynthia “The Lady Dragon” Rothrock, as a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” married couple meets “The Karate Kid,” dealing with a “troubled” youth-family member. I love that it’s shooting in Florida because it makes me feel I’ve come “full circle” regarding films and the martial arts. I started fighting in Cocoa Beach and that’s where we’ll film.
Any closing comments to your fans?
I would like to thank all those who have supported me as a fighter and now as an actor. I appreciate your support and hope to meet you and thank you personally one day.
Special thanks to Don “The Dragon” Wilson, who took the time to do this interview; and to James Wilson, who made it happen.