Exclusive: Interview with Don “The Dragon” Wilson

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!


 

Don "The Dragon" Wilson in the 1992 Hong Kong action flick, "New York Chinatown"

Don “The Dragon” Wilson in the 1992 Hong Kong action flick, “New York Chinatown”

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.

Trivia: Don "The Dragon" Wilson was up for a role in 1986's "The Eliminators." In the end, Hong Kong action star Conan Lee got the part instead.

Trivia: Don “The Dragon” Wilson was up for a role in 1986’s “The Eliminators.” In the end, Hong Kong action star Conan Lee got the part instead.

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?

photo from "The Underdogs," featuring Philip Rhee, Richard Norton, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Danny Inosanto, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, James Lew and Grand Master Jun Chong.

photo from “The Underdogs,” featuring Philip Rhee, Richard Norton, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Danny Inosanto, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, James Lew and Grand Master Jun Chong.

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.

 

A scene from "White Tiger."

A scene from “White Tiger.”

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!

Oddly enough, a 3rd remake of "Die Trying/Moving Target" is in the works called "Fist of the Dragon," which stars Josh “The Punk” Thomson.

Oddly enough, a 3rd remake of “Die Trying/Moving Target” is in the works called “Fist of the Dragon,” which stars Josh “The Punk” Thomson.

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.

Wilson's favorite three movies of his entire filmography.

Wilson’s favorite three movies of his entire filmography.

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.

In reality, this shot from "Bloodfist" was actually a dangerous stunt.

In reality, this shot from “Bloodfist” was actually a dangerous stunt.

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.

 

The original posters for "Bloodfist I & II," the two films that launched Wilson's film career.

The original posters for “Bloodfist I & II,” the two films that launched Wilson’s film career.

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.

 

The Dragon's favorite movies.

The Dragon’s favorite movies.

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.

 

"Enter the Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Dragon” Japanese Theatrical Poster

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.

 

 

With Chuck Norris.

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.

"The Martial Arts Kid" Teaser Poster

“The Martial Arts Kid” Teaser Poster

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.

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8 Responses to Exclusive: Interview with Don “The Dragon” Wilson

  1. American Ninja Man says:

    The only thing I’ll say, for a guy who has an issue with Van Damme, he sure made a career out of ripping off his movies. I mean Bloodfist is literally a remake line for line Kickboxer (which is way better.), Cyborg had a lot of similarities to Future Kick and Bloodfist the title itself played on the popularity of Bloodsport. As for lying about his background, Van Damme was never a kickboxing champion but he did win things in Karate and Golan and Globus were notorious liars and who knows how much was meant to promote their star, I mean if i’m not mistaken they told us that the chick from Ninja 3 was more than she wasn’t. So, I find that a little hypocritical on his end. It’s like an actor criticizing The Sopranos because it’s shows Italians in a bad light, only to then find steady employment ripping off The Sopranos. It’s just lame. I’m not trying to take a piss out of The Dragon, god knows I enjoyed some of his movies. (Bloodfist III, Cyber Tracker, Blackbelt and Red Sun Rising) It’s just that I see Van Damme as more exaggerating than lying (he did fight, even if it wasn’t kickboxing) and it was the 80s and the guy was a coke-head, I just find this and then his I don’t see other action stars as rivals to be completely at odds with each other. But, hey you make The B. team with Michael Dudikoff, Cynthia Rothrock and Jeff Speakman(?) I’ll watch it.

    • James Wilson says:

      Don does not criticize Van Damme’s movies. You must remember that Don is a real World Kickboxing Champion and feels it is disrespectful to all fighters when Van Damme claims to have been a Champ which he has done & allowed to be done many times over the years. Van Damme actually gave an interview that Don was worthy enough as a fighter to be in the ring with him. Don even likes many of Van Damme’s movies, and remember Don does not speak ill of any other actor. It is the claim of being a Champ that upsets him.

      • james vaughn says:

        i am a big fan of don dragon wilson for a long time he was best in 80 and he right about van damme but van damme movie was ok but don movie was better don real kickboxing not van damme how don live in now i would hope van damme can make movie of now then he old movie.

  2. American Ninja Man says:

    First off, I want to make clear I liked some of Don’s movies. (Add Bloodfist II to said list.) Like I said before he goes and makes the B. team with Michael Dudikoff, Cynthia Rothrock and anyone else and I’ll be the first one in line to see it.

    The claim that Van Damme was a champion and all that. The only thing I can say is that his drug problem while in no way excuses it, is probably the reason, that and he was doing anything to get into Hollywood. I mean here’s a guy who couldn’t speak English coherently and the only thing he had was his ability to do the splits and do helicopter kicks. Plus given his mental issues with Bi Polar (which people who have Bi Polar have a huge issue with lying often out of grandeur. http://lifeloveandbipolar.com/bipolar-and-lying) In fact, he took his career and totally pissed it away on drugs and all that jazz. No matter your JCVDs, Expendables and Universal Soldier sequels, he really can’t go home again. I think he should’ve known better than to talk about The Dragon or bullshit people, but then he should’ve known better before doing drugs. Still, I kind of have a soft spot for him because of his movies (I am a fan) and I see him as a (hopefully) a former addict and so I’m more prone to give him the benefit of the doubt because you look at him now and he’s a sad figure. That TV show he had was just painful to watch because here is a guy who you enjoyed watching in the movies, who is just a mess.

    For the record, I still like Don “The Dragon” Wilson and if I see any of his movies out, I would probably rent it, even if I was very disappointed with The Last Sentinel.

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  4. Maybe if Don The Dragon Wilson would like to make a movie with Jon Foo in the next film.

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  6. Bruce Hoi says:

    I am a fan of martial arts action film. So, I am fan of Don The Dragon! But I like action that has a good story and good acting too. It is a movie, not a instruction video, so it takes all of the elements to make it a good movie. I would like to see Don in more movies that has balance of good acting and action to make the story and movie better. Don is talented actor too but he needs more actors with talent around him in my opinion in his movies. I think his career deserve this now.

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