3rd March 2010
A respected martial artist, movie star and, more recently, star of prime-time US TV, Mark Dacascos is riding high. Carl Fox recently caught up with him for Martial Arts Illustrated...
Eight years ago, I was very fortunate to interview one of my martial arts inspirations - Mark Dacascos. When I was a 15-year-old kid, I went to a local shopping centre to buy a few things with my hard earned paper round money. I had finished my shopping and I looked down at my watch - I had just missed my train home... I was left with a dilemma - did I wait an hour for the next train or did I watch a movie at the shopping centre cinema and, when it finished, wait ten minutes for my train? I opted for the movie. Luckily for me, there was a movie about to start. A movie I had seen advertised the night before on TV. A movie called Only the Strong. I walked into the cinema, my bags almost taking up as much room as I was. By the end of the movie, Only the Strong was one of my favourite modern day martial arts movies and its star was one of my favourite martial arts actors.
Fast forward seven years later to 2001. Iím sat in a basement room (though a very nice one I must add) of a hotel in Londonís Covent Garden with a couple of publicists and my good friend Andy Staton. After ten minutes or so, I glimpse a guy popping his head around the corner of the door. ďAm I in here?,Ē he says as he walks into the room. Itís Mark Dacascos and Iím on cloud nine. How often does a kid from a Yorkshire mining town meet one of his idols? The publicists leave the room so itís just Mark, Andy and I. After I ask Mark how to pronounce the name of his newly born, he puts his hand into his back pocket and produces a pocket book full of baby photographs. From that moment, he was no longer just a great martial artist and a great actor to me - he was one of the sweetest guys I could ever have hoped to meet.
Now it is 2009 and Iím doing my fourth interview with Mr. Dacascos. Iím calling him but his fax machine keeps cutting in. I check my emails to see if Iím calling him on the correct number. Ever the gentleman, he has emailed me, explaining that he is running late. I give him ten minutes and call again - this time he answers. He has just got back from his morning workout with his son, Makoa. ďI train with my son Makoa, who is eight years old and I love it,Ē he says. ďThere are two things that I work with him on. I am in charge of his martial arts training and I work with him on Shakespeare. I study that with a fantastic teacher from London called Patsy Rodenburg and she is brilliant. Sheís completely opened my eyes to Shakespeare and Iíve been working with her for the last five years. So I do Muay Thai with Makoa and I teach him Shakespeare.Ē
After studying Wun Hop Kuen Do and Capoeira, Mark began studying Wu Shu with coach Eric Chen. Whilst training with him, Eric told him of a role in an upcoming Chinese TV series.† ďIíd been working with my Wu Shu coach Eric Chen for five or six months before we shot Cradle 2 the Grave.† He was one of the American producers of the Legend of Bruce Lee series and one of the stunt co-ordinators who worked on the show. He suggested that I audition for the part but Iíd never taken any Muay Thai classes. I love just jumping right into the character so I started taking them. When we shot the series, Iíd only been learning Muay Thai for three months and Iím much better now, but at least I got a sense for what they do.Ē
Mark began training in Muay Thai for his role as Thai boxer King Charles in the The Legend of Bruce Lee - though the producers originally wanted him to play Dan Inosanto. Mark recalls, ďI met with the producers of the show and they were actually considering me for the Danny Inosanto part. They told me of a few roles that they had available and I told them that I would love to play Danny Inosanto but the thing about that part was that most of the scenes involved acting or holding the pads for Bruce. They were hoping that I would want to fight Bruce so I thought, ĎCool, OK, definitely.í So it was their recommendation that I play the King Charles part and I thought that would be great because I get to fight Bruce Lee.Ē
In the Legend of Bruce Lee, Markís character, King Charles, is a champion Muay Thai fighter who challenges Bruce to a fight on the set of The Big Boss. ďMy character feels insulted because I hear that this Chinese Kung Fu actor guy has come over and is beating the crap out of my students, who are playing stuntmen on his film (The Big Boss). In Thailand, that seems very disrespectful so I feel that I have to go there and save some face. So I go to the set and I challenge him to a fight. He accepts the fight but tells me that they are going to film the fight and if I win, he wonít use any of the footage, but if he wins, he can use the footage in the film if he wants. My character agrees. Heís not a bad guy, just a very proud fighter, who is patriotic and Muay Thai is his art. He doesnít want to feel like his art wonít hold up against Kung Fu.Ē
Mark still trains in Muay Thai. He says, ďWhat I love about it is, when you train in Muay Thai, you donít do the finger flicks to the eyes that you do in Wun Hop Kuen Do or the shin kicks, kicking the knees, popping the groin, chopping the throat. Thatís my fatherís stuff but what I love about Muay Thai is that you have to be incredibly fit to do it and I just love the conditioning, the speed - the power you get from training in Muay Thai. Itís like what Bruce Lee wrote in his Tao of Jeet Kune Do - you have to be fit to fight. When training in Muay Thai, I do anywhere from twelve to seventeen rounds. We do three minutes of training in each round and then instead of a one minute rest break, my teacher has me do ten push ups, ten sit ups, and ten squats before the bell rings and then we go at it again. Lately, itís been even harder since my teacher only gives me thirty second breaks for every three minute round. The good thing about that is that your push ups and your sit ups become your break. Whatís really hard is Iím doing it and Iím not tossing my cookies after each class so my conditioning is up. But Iíll go and do this movie in Thailand where itís acting so Iíll do that for five or six weeks and then Iíll have to come back to class and start all over again. Now, that is rough!Ē
One of the great things about Mark is his willingness to learn different styles of martial arts, not only for professional reasons but also for personal reasons. Too many times have martial arts actors stuck to the style that has made them famous, never daring to cross over that line into the unknown. The great thing about a Mark Dacascos movie is that you never know what his fighting style will be as it is always tailored to the character he is portraying. Markís foundations are rooted in his fatherís own art of Wun Hop Kuen Do. Mark says, ďMy father teaches Wun Hop Kuen Do which, today, would be classed as a mixed martial arts style but, as you know, in a real fight, everything is a mixed martial art. You donít think, ĎIím going to do this style,í or, ĎIím going to do that style,í you just fight. So my fatherís style has always been that when we train, he will stop the students and tell them not to put their training clothes on. If they have a suit on, he will tell them to just come out and this is how we are going to do it. So for practical restraint training, we will go out and fight between cars or we go into an alley or the side of a hill. Thatís my base and thatís what Iíve done all my life and when I did Cradle 2 the Grave, I thought it would be good to revisit the Wu Shu I did in my youth. I love learning different martial arts and Iíd never studied Muay Thai before so it gave me a great professional reason to learn as much as I could before shooting started.Ē
Shooting in different countries bring about stark contrasts in their ways of working. In America, both sound and video are recorded simultaneously whereas the Chinese still shoot some of their footage without sound and dub it later. This method was more commonly used in the 1970s Kung Fu movies. Mark testifies to this, ďI shot my part in English but everything was MOS - without sound. We had a guide track so that the people who would loop us later could do it. The forty episodes that were shot were never intended for America. They were only intended for Mainland China so they just shot it MOS because they thought they would just dub it into Mandarin or Cantonese.Ē
Though Markís character fights Bruce Lee in the TV series, had it not been for mutual respect, Markís father Al Dacascos and Bruce Lee could have fought each other almost 40 years ago. ďMy father opened up his own martial arts school in San Francisco and, like Bruce, had begun teaching Caucasians. He was threatened in a similar way that Bruce was and also had to take similar action. The Chinese clan then tried to create bad blood between my father and Bruce, spreading rumours that each was calling the other down. They circulated the story that my father claimed that he taught Bruce everything he knew, in the hope that both men would lose their tempers and put each other out of business. When my father approached Bruce at the Long Beach International Tournament in California and pointed out that he had never called him down, Bruce slapped him on the back, told him to forget it and they shook hands.ď
Markís mother Malia and Linda Lee became friends, just after Bruce passed away, when Linda went on a world tour in memory of Bruce Lee. One of the producers of the tour asked Malia, who was one of the top female competitors on the martial arts circuit in America, and his father Al was a top ten fighter and one of the only Kung Fu guys to compete in tournaments at that time. They were both asked to go on this tour with Linda and became good friends. Mark says, ďAfter Bruce Lee passed away, Linda, knowing that Bruce respected my fatherís art and skill, championed my father for the role of Bruce Lee in a biographical movie back in the Ď70s - the movie never got made but my father was Lindaís first choice. The movie was made twenty years later when my friend Jason Scott Lee played Bruce Lee. Linda wrote a book called Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew. At the beginning, in the acknowledgements, she thanks two martial artists - Jhoon Rhee and Al Dacascos - Bruceís Ďfellow martial artists.í That made me so excited and so happy. Iím like a million martial artists who have been so inspired by Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, my father, my mother - those were my martial arts heroes when I was growing up. Bruce Lee was the first Asian guy that I saw kick butt on the screen and today, heís still one of my heroes.Ē
With all of the Muay Thai training that Mark has been doing lately, he was lucky to be flying to Thailand to shoot a kidís adventure film called The Lost Medallion. ďAny movie I have done that has action in it for my character, 90 or 95% of the time I get offers. But for straight acting roles, I still audition, so I auditioned for this part and I got it so Iím playing all three bad guys. Itís crazy because Iím going to the land of Muay Thai and Iím a martial artist but the movie Iím working on, I have absolutely no fighting in it.Ē
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the first Mark Dacascos film I saw was Only the Strong. I was quietly delighted when I heard that a sequel could have been in the pipeline, but for the first time ever, Mark shatters my dreams, ďWhile I was doing Brotherhood of the Wolf, I had many conversations with the producer Sammy Hadida, who I worked with on Only the Strong and Crying Freeman, about a possible sequel to Only the Strong, but he is very busy and the rights are tied up with a couple of other producers and Twentieth Century Fox.Ē
Though an Only the Strong sequel is out of the question at this time, fans of the movie will be pleased to know that Mark is working on a new Capoeira movie. He says, ďI have been talking to Amen Santo, my friend, who is also my Capoeira teacher, and we did Only the Strong together. If we were to do another Capoeira movie with the same team in a studio, I donít know if we would be able to get the grit, the sweat and the feel that I would like to show in the next Capoeira movie. Amen Santo, my wife and I are working on a script and we want to shoot everything, apart from a few scenes, in Brazil. I would like to show Capoeira that is actually done by the true Capoeiraistas. When I did Only the Strong, I was taking Capoeira, not for the movie, but for myself. I started training in November, not even knowing that there was a Capoeira movie in the works. Then at the end of January, my manager, Cathryn, called me and told me there was an audition for a Capoeira movie and I should go for it. What I would like to show is the Capoeiraistas who have been doing it for decades. Weíre doing the movie for the same audience as Only the Strong but theyíve grown up now.Ē I for one am looking forward to seeing this.
Mark recently participated in Dancing with the Stars, the US version of our Strictly Come Dancing, alongside UFC legend Chuck Liddell. Taking part in a reality TV show can make or break a celebrityís career, like we have seen so many times. But being a sweet, caring guy with tremendous ability, Iím sure Markís career will take off and he will land the role that will confirm him as the martial arts actor of his generation. The only thing I can see stopping him achieving that is if he cooks the judges for his Iron Chef America TV series, but with his charm and charisma, even if he does that, the public will still probably love him.