If you were in contact with martial arts films in the early 90’s, you probably know Loren Avedon. While Van Damme and Seagal were breaking box office records on the big screens, Loren was nearly breaking every bone in his body delivering “Hong Kong-style” action films to our local video stores. Starring in classics such as Corey Yuen’s “No Retreat No Surrender II” and Lucas Lo’s “King of the Kickboxers,”it obvious that Loren was ahead of his time and very underrated. – MPM, January 2002
Tell me about your martial arts background and how you got into it?
I was about 11 and was living in England. I saw Bruce Lee in “Chinese Connection” as it was called in Britain. I was hooked. It wasn’t ’til 6 years later that I started training, after I graduated High School in the Summer of ’80 I walked into a Dojang and signed up and started going everyday. I was fortunate to have great instructors like Simon and Phillip Rhee as well as Bill Wallace teaching occasionally as well as the Master of that Tae Kwon Do School. I am currently a 4th dan in Tae Kwon Do and 2nd Dan in Hap Ki Do. I am awaiting a 5th dan certification after I test in January ’02.
Who are some of your idols in the martial arts community and film?
Hwang Jang Lee, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and many others.
What got you into acting?
I was a commercial actor when I was a kid because my mom was a commercial producer and director, so I was always doing the commercials she directed if there was a kid needed. I blew my big chance to really capitalize on that when I was 5; the ad agency told me I would have to do the commercial live in front of millions of people – that’s not what you say to a 5 year old – so I turned it down. The early films and acting came from people calling the Dojang looking for fighters to do scenes in a movie they were shooting. Back then, the stunt men didn’t have a lot of kicking skills so they’d call Karate schools for talent. “Ninja Turf” (1985) was produced by my master and starred Phillip Rhee. I got into acting on a lark when I was 21. I was invited to an acting class and asked to perform a scene. I didn’t like it that I was so nervous in front of only 12 people, so I started taking the class. I loved it and the challenge. I figured I could use it in whatever direction life took me.
Describe to me how you got discovered for your first starring role in Corey Yuen’s No Retreat, No Surrender 2.
Actually, Van Damme had turned down the film so they chose Matthius Hues for his part. I replaced Kurt McKinney. I was at the Karate school at about 9:30 PM on a Friday night. I had just come back from Africa where I had been on safari with my dad for 8 weeks. I was broke and had a job selling used cars at a Dodge dealership in town. I hadn’t sold a car all week and was at the school beating the ^%$& out of the heavy bag to take out my frustrations when the phone rang. The Latin guy who answered the phone did not understand what the caller was saying, the caller turned out to be Roy Horan from Seasonal films. A week later and after he had seen about 75 other candidates, I signed a 3 picture deal and was on a plane to Thailand.
What was is like working with the legendary Corey Yuen? Is he demanding? Tell me some of the experiences you’ve had with him on the set. Did you expect you’d be doing some serious HK-style action or did you have to pick up on this while on the set?
I had not seen the original No Retreat, No Surrender so I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I could do it; whatever they wanted, I could do it. The first thing they did when we got off the plane was set up a meeting. Roy Horan seemed very serious; then an audition there with Corey Yuen took place to test our reactions and the next day I [had] a screen test – with me and Matthius, Roy Horan was pushing for us – we passed the test, then they took our passports. We had no choice. The American crew and everyone there other than the Thai’s and Chinese had turned over their passport to Ng See Yuen, the Exec producer. He was a tough task master and I could go on and on about the experiences; just the journey every day to the jungle set was an adventure. The Chinese stunt men are great people, they are so tough, so dedicated; they really motivated me, so did Corey Yuen. He is a great director. He yelled at me several times, I couldn’t understand him, but in the end, he would crack a charming smile, scratch his head and say “Jesus,” but he would say it really fast and it was really funny. His way to break the tension… he would always gamble with the crew when it was per diem day… he always won!!! Then he would give them their money back by taking them to dinner that night or somehow he would lose it all in one hand on purpose. I was so lucky to work with him. He would always tell you exactly what he wanted, even without speaking the same language… great director.
You’ve worked with many well-known martial artists on and off film, tell me about some of your experiences with stars such as: Simon Rhee, Phillip Rhee, James Lew, Roy Horan, Hwang Jang Lee , Billy Blanks, Cynthia Rothrock, Keith Vitali, Jalal Merhi, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Keith Cooke and Carter Wong.
Wow… all of them great people. Don’t forget about Karen Shepard. I can’t say enough about those people. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with them. I have been really blessed. Can’t say enough good things about all of them!
Since you’ve worked with Billy Blanks, how many copies of Tai Bo videotapes were you forced to buy?
Actually none… lol. I still go by Billy’s school in the San Fernando valley once in a while. He always stops what he is doing to say hi to me. He is the salt of the earth, a great man, a great martial artist, a great motivator. I can tell you this… when we were shooting in Thailand, the book by his bed was the Bible and all he wanted to do was a good job and get back to his wife, family and his school…he kicks like a mule!!! But has a heart of gold. His brother Michael is really something special, too; he can jump higher than anyone I’ve ever seen – just like his brother.
Out of all your films you’ve done, which is your personal favorite and why?
My personal favorite has got to be No Retreat, No Surrender 2. That’s the one that I spent 4 months on and was only 23 at the time. It changed my life, that’s why it’s my favorite. Not because [of] the fact that it was released in 1400 theaters around the U.S., or because of the action or the great fights. I’ve had many great fights in my movies, such as the one with Matthius, which is the second favorite fight I ever did. My first favorite is the Billy Blanks fight in King of the Kickboxers. That took two weeks to shoot and just about every part of my body was bruised or battered, cut or scraped. Imagine fighting 4 different karate tournaments in one day, round robin all the way to Gold medal; then doing it again, and again, and again… for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week in 100 degree heat with costume, smoke and plenty of impact. Talk about a character building experience!
Speaking of No Retreat, No Surrender 2, that has to be your most involved movie, as far as overall action goes. I’ve tried to catch body doubles here and there but couldn’t. Either the production did a really good job or you are the ‘gwailo’ version of Jackie Chan. So, how much was you?
Most of it, except for the hard falls and flips; but the snake market, all me. The stunt double “Rocky” that did the jump from the top of the doorway to Matthius’ chest – he was paralyzed in a film shortly thereafter – the other stunt men were so cool, they are the best!
What was it like traveling to all those exotic places like Thailand?
Wonderful… to be an emissary of my country … I always tried to behave like a gentleman. Even in Lebanon while at gun point at a Syrian checkpoints in Beirut – with Russian tanks and itchy trigger fingers – I loved every minute of every place I ever went, not knowing what was around the corner, going into a cave opening no higher than my waist on the River Kwai, and finding a 30 foot Buddha, covered in a long monks cloth with flowers and candles everywhere. One thing I can say is that people are the same everywhere. Everyone in whatever culture can share a smile – a gesture of kindness or friendship. Everyone from every land wants the same thing… to be accepted, to be understood, to give love and to receive it, to share, whatever is there. I have been to many poor places. Even though I am not a millionaire nor wealthy by any means monetarily, I am rich beyond my dreams in experience with people and places; not just from movies, but from my childhood and even now in my fatherhood; we all go [to] many places, sometimes exotic, but always interesting. Life… any life is what you make of it. I am very fortunate for my experiences and hope to have many, many more before I’m through….
In the beginning of King of the Kickboxers, when you change your mind about your mission, you do a “Sly Sallone” type yell. My question is, how many takes did it take you to get it down right?
You mean how many did it take to make me not laugh? just kidding… I was told by the director what to do and I did it… I think 4 or 5 times… I hated that … I thought it was not the right choice… I wanted to take the tape and throw it into the fire, then call the captain and have my moment after the phone call to be pensive, a stroke of the cheek and then I fall apart knocking over some furniture. It was a rented house – no props for that – so they didn’t go for it. They wanted the scream… so I did the best I could. The scene with Richard Jackel was shot completely independently, on another day, neither of us knew how the other played it. You can kinda tell can’t you?
Now that you mention it, yeah, I can tell…In No Retreat, No Surrender 2, did you get to try any of those insects or snake’s blood?
I passed on the snake blood but Max Thayer drank 4 shots of that snake blood. God Bless ’em… they tried to put rotten tofu into the bowl during the scene with the girl in NRNS II at the floating restaurant – that was Roy Horan trying to be cute. I caught it before they rolled camera. Funny thing: Corey Yuen asked me how I thought the scene should be shot. I told him to run 3 cameras one master two shot and two over the shoulder so we could get everything in one take if it went well; problem is that usually in Hong Kong movies you don’t get a master; you do everything in pieces, kinda hard to pick things up in the middle when you haven’t shot the beginning… but that’s part of the craft….
Give us your opinions on some of the big names working in mainstream martial-arts films today such as: Van Damme, Seagal, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh.
Haven’t met any of them. They wouldn’t want me near them most likely… competition… I can give you an opinion from some personal friends and their experiences. Van Damme… wife beater, jerk… thinks he’s all that and a bag of Fritos; his career has been over for a while now. Same with Seagal… I can’t believe the Dalai Lama made him some high priest… what was the Lama thinking? Must have had too much incense that day. Jackie Chan I have nothing but respect for, although he is notorious for not liking Guai Lo’s… Donnie Yen, Jet Li, I have never met nor Michelle Yeoh, although I’d like to meet her. She is so awesome. I think I might have met her in Hong Kong at a club… great night life in Asia.
What do you think of the recent boom in Asian actors making their crossover into Hollywood films?
Thought it would happen sooner. You know a lot of those films that were released with Jackie and Jet are just repackaged films they made 5 or 10 years before. Just wait… John Woo is just getting started.
What do you think of the legendary Bruce Lee being digitally reincarnated for the new film Dragon Warrior?
Don’t know… but I won’t see it… sacrilege!!!!
You’ve mentioned that many things have changed in the movie industry. Explain some of these changes and do you have any regrets?
No regrets… but one… the actress Sheri Rose. Bad mouthed me after the King of the Kickboxers… I told her to ‘shut up’ one day when she was pitching a fit out in the jungle, acting like a prima donna. No time or place for that and I told her. She came back and got a deal with PM Entertainment who wanted to sign me for 3 pictures. I should have done it, it would have been me instead of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, but I was trying to hold out and she ended up getting the deal with Lorenzo Lamas, who had broken my nose and cheek on the set of a video he was shooting. I had to sue him to get my medical fees, can you believe that jerk? Anyway, between the two of them and those two experiences, my name was mud to producers after 1991. If I had not done that video and if I had just let Sheri have her fit and kept my mouth shut, I think I could have had a much more successful career; but now it’s all water under the bridge. If I come back, it will be under different circumstances. I always fought for quality – if that is wrong – then I don’t want to be right, know what I mean? But the way I see it, everything happens for a reason… maybe on one of these other movies I didn’t get, I might have been hurt or I might not have my daughter now… I don’t regret … but hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it?
Tell me more about the Lorenzo Lamas incident.
He is Fernando’s son… he had a career the minute he was born. He was a student of mine and I helped him on a Self Defense Video he was doing. For about 5 minutes ’til during the blocking of the first choreographed demo, he promptly broke my nose and cheek with an elbow across the face that was supposed to miss me by a mile. Lorenzo called me crying the next day. I said “just send me some flowers and come and visit me and we’ll call it cool”… he never called, never visited. And when his manager called me to say that he would take care of everything… that’s when I got a lawyer. I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night, know what I mean? So, I took care of myself. I was paid well for that accident. My girlfriend Christine Chu was on the set, thank God. She took me to the emergency room and to a great doctor that same day to have my face put back. Nice guy Lorenzo, but no honor in my eyes…
Are there any movies or roles you have turned down in the past?
Many. I just turned one down that I convinced the director to put my best friend JJ Perry into. It’s being shot in Brazil. It’s called Sunland Heat… boy did they made a mess of things. Even though we had talked about the film for years and they raised the money with my name, the director/producer put his girlfriend in it as the female lead (the producer is married) and also made many more really ridiculous mistakes, so I turned it down, cause I know it will be chaos down there. I’d have loved to go to Brazil for a month, no matter what, but I thought, do I want my last film to be a piece of $#@* even though some of my films are pretty close? I can afford to be a bit picky now, especially when I know they are going to make money and have already from my name! And I won’t see any of it. Not fair. We’ll see what the future brings. I’m not out of the business by any means.
In the late 80’s/early 90’s, your films dominated the martial arts video market. You have fans all over the world. Did you ever have higherexpectations of becoming a household name, like Norris or Van Damme? Or appearing in bigger-budget martial-arts films like Mortal Kombat or Universal Soldier?
Of course… but because of the reason above and lousy representation, I never made it. Not to say that I still can’t, who knows, maybe some big producer/director will read this article and decide that it’s time to bring back the Clark Kent character and have a star that can really kick ass that is just a regular… guy… I’m a Keanu Reaves without the “dude” quality. Now more mature and seasoned. I’m ready.
You are definitely “more mature and seasoned” and it shows in 1999’s Manhattan Chase. That film has Hong Kong action written all over it. What was it like working with Godfery Ho? How did you get hooked up with him?
Thank you Jeff. You are definitely paying attention. Despite the low, low budget, we made a cool movie. It’s because of my friend Steve Tartalia, who was a producer on this film. I met him in Hong Kong in ’90 when making King of the Kickboxers… he, Vincent Lyn and Mark King were all in the first scene of King of the Kickboxers with Jerry Trimble. Vincent was in Armor of God II, so was Steve. Mark King has been in countless Hong Kong movies. We still stay in touch through Steve. Steve is a good friend and called me when he was getting together the cast of what was then titled Dying to Live. Cynthia Rothrock was slated to star in the movie. She told me about the film and I found out later that Steve was the producer. I sent my head shot/resume and demo tape to NYC and about 2 weeks later we had made a deal. Godfrey was cool. He is a very creative man and has the patience of a Saint. We had no money, but a lot of talent. I had a lot of fun working on that movie during the summer of ’98 in Manhattan. We did it down and dirty. I was my own stunt man, know what I mean? Working in NY was great. The people are great. My half-sister lives there, so I stayed with her after the shoot. I got to see some friends in NY. Let me explain: when I was a kid I’d go back to visit my dad in Manhattan over the summers or for Christmas, so I have friends in NY. I had a great time working there. I love that city, but I’m a Cali boy. I go crazy if I’m in NYC for too long. I can’t see the Sun, nothing but concrete. Great city for movie-making though, plenty of production value everywhere you go. My heart is there everyday. After the horrible events of 9-11-01, I pray for the city. I know 4 people that were on flight 175. God Bless ’em and rest their precious souls.
Do you have any intention to make another Hong Kong-style martial arts movie if the opportunity came?
Not much opportunity. The HK guys are all trying to do it big here since ’97 or just keep doing it there… the producers and market have changed… I have stepped away a bit so I can’t say really … but I can tell you I think the timing is good for an old fashioned reluctant hero movie… with action that is not so far fetched that it is believable… know what I mean? HK’s magic was doing it before computers… people want to see that again… I know I do… use the wires and the gags… just loose the CGI and morphing and cheat camera angles and tight shots to make up for lack of perfection … and go back to the technical ability of a great martial artist and stunt team… the choreography of a creative masterminds action with flesh and blood as the canvas.
Tell us about some of your future projects coming out?
I’ve got re-release on amazon.com right now of Silent Force. Other than that, I have no upcoming projects. I have written some of my own scripts and have ideas and a lot of potential. In all honesty what I need is about $850,000.00 and I can make a film like King of the Kickboxers and make the investor rich. The problem is where I live. Anybody with that kind of cash in Hollywood has heard it all. I would just be another person knocking on their door. I have tried, the numbers are there, the possibility is there… I tried with two films to start my own production company, but on both occasions the greed of one of the producers ended up railroading the project into legal situations or worse. Next time I want to do it clean. I will not have that power entrusted to any third party again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me again, I don’t think so… not in this lifetime.
Since you’ve worked with Corey Yuen and Lucas Lo, you might know the answer to this: How much do those wires hurt your twigs and berries? And what’s the main difference between working for these Hong Kong guys and a typical American/Hollywood production/director?
I’m still fertile if that’s what you want to know. And yes, the berries and “log” – It ain’t a twig … hurt… ! lol…. The difference is in creativity and artistry. The Americans have the money to do it. The Chinese take nothing and make something out of it. Americans take something and make nothing – not true in all cases – but look at the action in Lethal Weapon 4. Dick Donner is brilliant to have turned over the set to Yuen Kwai for the action… literally… whatever he wanted to do. An American director will do it his way and get the tight shot to sell it, etc. and will focus too much on one aspect, but will not get the coverage and cool angles that a Chinese director would use to thrill an audience with, even the simplest activity.
If you ever fought someone like Van Damme, how many seconds would it take for you to truly kick his ass?
First, as a Martial Artist, I would never fight with someone for ego; only to protect myself and my family and/or the ones I love. I would rather do nothing and take a punch than lower myself to battle with someone, when I know in the end it will serve no purpose. I have nothing to prove. However, if I ever fought with anybody, it would be over before they knew it. When you fight for real there are no rules. Only a fool has principles in a fight. In a fight, or in battle, you do what you have to do to survive; overcome or to disable your opponent so he cannot pursue you or continue to fight you that day or another. Fighting itself is stupid. There is no art in it. It is pure survival.
Do you have any interest in entering a ‘No Holds Barred’ competition? Do you study ground grappling?
I have studied enough grappling to know that Bruce Lee was right… “the toughest opponent to face is a good athlete in great shape who knows nothing, he will come at you with angles you have never seen before… born out of the moment, with no counter but your own instinct in that situation” I don’t see much art in those fights. I do see some great technicians that are out to prove they are the best. It all boils down to the man. Look at Tank what’s his name… who won and became a pro fighter with his right hand and good timing… a warrior always knows his weakness… the key is to make the opponent worry about his… so you can take him out while he’s thinking… I mean really, on any given day … one man can beat the other. One day it might be you, the next day him. The key is to pick the day, the time, the moment… and always on your terms….
Loren, I’m waiting for another hardcore martial arts flick from you, when are you gonna deliver that to your fans?
Me too. don’t know. I’m open to any ideas. As long as the money is there to make the idea happen, let’s go!!!!
What’s the greatest martial arts flick in your opinion?
The original Drunken Master. I like it cause I first saw it on Kung Fu theater, way back in the day when they would show Hong Kong movies once a week on a local station. I was amazed at the action. I always admired the creativity, the story and comic book characters. They are so charming. I totally get into it. Also because of my friend Hwang Jang Lee. He is a great man. I’ll tell you a little story about him: When I first arrived from America to Bangkok, Hwang trained me in the art of film fighting – Matthius as well. We would meet in the Gym at the Ambassador Hotel on Sukamvit Road in Bangkok and he taught us over the period of three days about selling punches and kicks. Amazing the power of that man. Truly amazing. I heard stories of his experiences Vietnam. He was paid to train the Special Forces. Wow. Anyway… about two weeks into it, we were in Saraburi Thailand, a small town at the junction of three major roads in Thailand. That is where we stayed when shooting the jungle scenes. I was so sick that Hwang was genuinely concerned about me. He is such a sincere man. He helped me get well. He made me drink hot water and used acupressure to help me, but what really touched my heart was when he asked me: “Loren, what did you eat that made you sick?” I said: “American Fried Rice.” He called over the waiter and he said “Give me an American Fried Rice.” I looked at him. He said, “I’ll get sick too.” As if to say and show me that he would go through hell with me. That is a true account. And he ate all the rice and he made me feel better, and he never got sick! Great man….
For more about No Retreat, No Surrender 2, No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers and King of the Kickboxers, please read our interview with Keith W. Strandberg, the writer and producer of these movies.