AR: Action Fans all over let me introduce the great Isaac Florentine who has kindly agreed to come chat with us about his career in the industry! Welcome Isaac it’s an honour to have you here, can’t say how awesome it is to have an action director like yourself here.
IF: Thank you (laughs) but you should speak to the teams I have had with me, they make it look good.
AR: (laughs) Isaac I am sure you had something to do with it!?
IF: Yeah I just bought them in (laughs)
AR: Just for new comers to the Action genre or to people who have just discovered you and your movies, can we have a bit of background on yourself Isaac?
IF: I was born in Israel and I wanted to do movies from a very young age, I started training in the martial arts when I was around 12. But I didn’t see the connection between the two until I first saw the James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’, but really I saw the connection once I saw ‘Fist Of Fury’ starring Bruce Lee in 1972. When I saw you could make really good martial art movies I said “I want to do this” 16 years later I did a short in Israel that won some awards, but as the genre wasn’t big I decided to move to the states.
AR: Is that when you made your first big break?
IF: Well it took me about 2 years to understand how the dynamics were and then I did a movie for Menhalem Golan who was known to give chances, he helped along Van Damme and Chuck Norris. From there I went to do Power Rangers. I got lucky and now I continue to do movies and television.
AR: Touching back to when you said about Bruce Lee’s ‘Fist Of Fury’. Would you agree it is Bruce’s best movie?
IF: Oh yeah absolutely, totally agree. It was the first movie that came to the west. The charisma that he has is… It can’t be compared. You can say that now people are better in the genre, but nobody has the charisma that he bought to the screen.
AR: Totally agreed Isaac.
Moving back to your filmography, I enjoyed your move Cold Harvest that starred Gary Daniels and Bryan Genesse, what was it like filming that?
IF: It was the first movie I did for Millennium/Nu Image and it was shot in South Africa in May/June time and I was unaware it was winter and the winter over there is very, very, VERY cold. We filmed mainly at nights to which was freezing. I was very lucky to have Gary and Bryan who are two wonderful actors and screen fighters. It was a great experience.
AR: After that you made ‘Bridge Of Dragons’ starting Dolph Lundgren. Its not often you get Dolph doing loads of martial arts moves in a movie. How did you push him for that?
IF: I didn’t have to push Dolph. Because I had met Dolph in 1980 in Stockholm. After my military service in Israel I went to Sweden to train in karate. I met Dolph and trained with him. So I did not need to push him to do more as I knew he would and was capable. People just don’t ask him to do all these moves. Funny story, Dolph was to do a spinning hook kick to Cary Tagawa and it was meant to just miss his face, well I slight skin touch and Cary was worried. I told him not to worry and Dolph did it in one perfect take. Luckily when we filmed that movie Dolph was training for like three intensive months in tje dojo. So I think what made the fights better was I caught him in his peak at that time.
AR: The character reminded of a futuristic John Matrix (Schwarzeneggers character from Commando) I would have loved to see more of him. Was there a reason we never got a sequel?
IF: It was the first movie I shot in Bulgaria, what happened was the studio moved out of Cape Town after someone started shooting the place up. So we moved from there to Bulgaria that at the time was coming out of a very hard economical situation. I’m South Africa we were given 8-10 weeks to shoot an action movie, but in Bulgaria we were given just 6 weeks. It was a schedule I was not used ipso it was a very tough experience. I always say I got my white hair from that movie (laughs)
AR: From it being such a tough shoot your next movie US Seals 2 looked like so much fun.
IF: Yes we had fun. We read the script and I was like it can’t be taken serious it has to be done in a comic style with sound effects and everything. Really cheesy. The fight choreographer was Andy Chan from the Jackie Chan team. I had Michael Worth, Karen Kim who didn’t know any martial arts but was a dancer so she picked up the choreography very well and Daniel Southwort, I wanted to bring in all these stunt guys who I knew could act. They did such a great job.
AR: They done a great job the film was amazing it’s was fight after fight, Michael Worth is a great martial artist, that was the first mot e I saw him in.
IF: Yeah Michael Worth is a great guy and very gifted film maker.
AR: After Seals 2, We saw the first partnership of you and Mr. Scott Adkins in Special Forces. How awesome is it to know you kind of had a hand in creating action sensation Scott Adkins.
IF: I would never say I created Scott Adkins. Scott created himself. I used to own a company nothing to do with movies it was martial arts instructionals. A lot of stuff used to come our way on VHS, like demo reels. It was either people who could act that had no stunt skills or people that were martial artists really mediocre and no stunts or acting skills. There came a point I was really tired and can’t do this. One day I came in and was handed a VHS tape sent from England. I wasn’t sure so I put it off and by the end of the day I decided to watch it. There was everything I was looking for on the martial arts front but I was curious if he can act, then I see his BBC drama and I was like wow this guy is the whole package. I left a message saying I saw your tape I would like to work with you, let’s see what I can do. I took the VHS to Nu Image and went to the producer I work with Boaz Davidson and I showed him the stuff and his reaction was very similar to mine. He said “you know something we are writing the script for Special Forces let’s give him a small role”.
After the movie was done I was surpposed to do Undisputed 2, and Scott came up to me and said “listen Isaac if I get the role of Boyka I will do my very best”
I trusted him.
When I said I wanted Scott to play Boyka everyone thought I was crazy because Scott is a handsome guy, he is supposed to play a brute Russian character. I am telling everyone he is my choice and they’re freaking out, even Michael Jai White says “Isaac I’m a big guy he is a small guy how are we going to do it”
I made sure they made boots with platforms that were 7.5cm and gave Michael a thin jacket and gave Scott a thick jacket. I told Scott not to shave and let his hair grow. He came to Bulgaria and the male up artist cut his hair, trimmed his beard. Scott picked up a bit of hair and another and made a goatee and said “This is the character”
AR: Was it always in mind to keep the character of Boyka in the franchise? As it seemed like… Well from my point of view that the character of Chambers was going to continue on and regain the title in either boxing or becoming a top mma fighter.
IF: Well in the first movie Chambers was the bad he was the antagonist and the idea was take the antagonist from the previous movie and make him the protagonist. The character in the first Undisputed Ving Rhames (Chambers) was the villain.
I said that for Undisputed 2 there is only one actor that can play Chambers and that is Michael Jai White. Luckily he said yes.
He has the physique, the heart, and the wisdom to pull off such a character and I think he did a fantastic job.
Now going from 2 to 3 the concept was obvious take the antagonist and make him tree protagonist… Which was Boyka.
AR: Undisputed 3 was such a great movie, the story and the fight scenes were on another level!
IF: It worked so well because we had different fighting styles we had Tae Kwon Do, MMA, Karate and we had Lateef Crowder playing the capoeira guy and we had Marko Zaror playing the bad guy. Marko is 6’2 but he thinks he is 5’2 doing all these crazy kicks and flips. The story was really good it was more of a buddy movie.
We had an amazing fight choreographer, Larnell Stovall came on board and he was really thinking about what he wanted to do and he did a great job. After we finished the movie it was featured at Action Fest and we screened the movie. The crowd loved it and went of there way to get the movie two awards. Best Fight choreography and Best Director.
AR: After two successful movies featuring Boyka, what made you step away as Director of Undisputed: Boyka?
IF: So to answer that, my wife was diagnosed with cancer and I wasn’t sure if I would be free or not, luckily at that point she was okay and passing treatment. So I was very hands on. Unfortunately she passed away seventeen months ago. So I couldn’t fully commit.
AR: I am so sorry to hear that Isaac! My condolences. That was something I wasn’t aware of.
IF: Thank you Jeff, but at the time she was passing treatment and I was hands on.
AR: Would you go back and direct another entry if the chance arose?
IF: Yes. Absolutely. Its my favourite.
AR: Are there any talks of a fifth undisputed movie?
IF: I cannot say anything (laughs) I don’t want to jinx anything, there’s something in the… Let’s leave it there (laughs)
AR: I know these movies have struggled especially after part 3 and the amount it was downloaded, it didn’t make much money, right?
IF: Yes absolutely. Everyone wanted to do it, it takes years when it really should not.
AR: Hopefully we get an Undisputed 5, with you as director again.
My personal favourite movie of yours and probably my all time modern fave martial arts movie is. Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear.
IF: Thank you Jeff, it was a very hard shoot but it was fun. So what happened is the first Ninja I made a mistake. The mistake was to go comic style. I should have… It was a mistake. Some people liked it. There was some good scenes, the subway scene… But I wanted to fix it.
The opportunity for Ninja 2 happened and we also learnt Scott can’t play the nice guy.. As nice as he is he can’t play the good guy, he should have this darker side to him and this was an opportunity to clean our mistakes and reboot it all.
AR: I am sure Scott wasn’t your biggest fan after all the fights and stunts you put him through in that movie (laughs)
IF: Scott loved it. He always gives 100% and never complains.We were also lucky to have Kane Kosugi join the cast especially with his father being Sho Kosugi the original Ninja from the old 80’s movies, we had Tim Man as fight choreographer who is amazing and he also plays a role. It was a fun shoot, all the sweat you see is real.
AR: Can we expect to see Casey back?
IF: I hope so!
AR: After Ninja: Shadow of a Tear you re-teamed with Scott for Close Range, that was also awesome.
IF: We shot that on a low budget for about 19 days and thats something you can’t really push the limits anymore on, it only works as it’s one location, not so many fight scenes it’s very stripped back. But Scott creates a good character. I think you can take this character and make a TV series out of it.
AR: I always wondered if the character of Colton Macready would be seen again. In a sequel or even a TV series. Any word on anything Colton related?
IF: No I wish, but I haven’t heard anything, it’s a pity in mind when I shot the movie I said this would be a very good pilot for a show. But i guess it wasn’t.
AR: Hitting onto your latest release Acts Of Vengeance starring Antonio Banderas, what was it like working with Antonio?
IF: Working with Antonio was a blast. He’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful human being. I was worried about the Action, and the first scene we shot was the scene with the gang who had the dog. Antonio comes in and does everything just beautiful by himself, he was moving really well. He was a pleasure working with.
AR: Wow!! So I am right to assume Antonio does all his own fight scenes?
IF: Everything. There was one fight where he got hurt. He hurt his eye. He needed stitches and he wouldn’t go we had to make him go and get his stitches. He is such a sport he brings so much energy to the movie.
AR: Is there anything new coming up we can look out for?
IF:No no not at the minute.
AR: Anything in limbo with Scott (laughs)
IF: (laughing) ask Scott
AR: It has a true pleasure being able to speak with you Isaac. Thank you for your time and coming to talk with me.
IF: It has been a pleasure thank you so much