*Interview* Martial Artist & Actor Ron Smoorenburg

AR: Being a skilled martial artist, who were your influences growing up?

Ron: First of all I have to say that I came from an amazing time with a lot of very good and motivating martial art movies. The movie Karate Kid which I saw on a childrens party made an huge impact for the first time, in the same period we had ‘The Master’ on TV, a ninja series, with Sho Kosugi. Everyone was making ninja stars in my neighbourhood and martial arts was very mysterious so I started to rent books at the local library to learn more about it. Then Rocky 4 just came out, there was so much screenpower these days with motivated fight and trainingsscenes which is totally missing nowdays. My friend Nick (I named my son after him) always invited me to watch VHS cassette videos and then JCVD’s bloodsport came out and that basically changed my life. I have seen that movie for sure more than 100 times also played is in the background while training.

AR: I loved your fight against Jackie Chan in “Who Am I”, what was it like fighting on screen with Jackie?

Ron: Jackie Chan is a total master in movie fighting, basically my best teacher ever, also very demanding and detailed which is great because then you get very good fight scenes. Who Am I ? was my first movie I ever did and people who ever fought Jackie Chan know that pressure even after many years of being a stuntman (one of his stuntmen told me). They liked my kicks and leg control but I was lacking rhythm which is something you really learn over the years in movie fighting especially in high speed fights. They make up combo’s on the spot back in these days instead of having pre-viz before the shoot. So you got to perform real time say 5 minutes after they choreograph a sequence basically with full power and speed, with all reactions, looks, acting and rhythm.
I can tell you that’s not easy back then especially these are long combo’s. I was not too lucky that a documentary was filming which actually needed to show an example of someone who was not in the Jackie Chan team and is not as good as them. That documentary is actually very twisted if people know the reality but that time I was a newcomer and I always kept quite afterwards abt the real situation in respect of Jackie and the opportunity he gave me.

AR: Did you pick up any tips on choreography and how to shoot fight scenes and stunts from Jackie?

Ron: They have a lot of ways to make fight scenes better. Also they showed you don’t need to use a lot of power to look powerful, the use of baby powder on shoes to have a better impact fx. They have wires and pullbacks on legs and body to make you for example fall further away. You really got to be very precise where you place the kicks and punches to get the desired effect, there can’t be any waiting so you got to kind of keep moving during a fight, and it feels you are just on time to not get hit. The closer to that point the more exciting a fight can be. Jackie also got assistants and they give him ideas and he chooses the best options for the next parts in the fight. They also made mats with a concrete paint over it so it was exactly like the floor and some of them even had springs under it.

AR:You have also worked with Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, they seem like perfectionists, did you ever get nervous before shooting?

Ron: On Who am I there was pressure, after having done that movie, everything else was relatively relaxed. On who am I half the crew was actually nervous, just to do a good job, even a stuntman told me ‘Ron I work with Jackie for 15 yrs, I’m still nervous nowdays’, don’t worry. Donnie Yen would be the second in line with pressure, but maybe because I was used to Jackie, this wasn’t a very big deal anymore. Donnie is totally amazing and one of a kind. His vision and ways of dealing with action is terrific. 2 things I have to share with you which are super important Donnie Yen does. – 1. Before making a choreo he first watches you training and let you do your best moves, based on these highlights he makes the fight scene, and he will give you the transitions and combos in between your own highlights. That’s how everyone Is optimized. Some choreographers just tell you what to do without knowing what you are capable off.. I think that’s a lack of opportunity and a total mistake and underuse of talent. -2. Donnie Yen talks about the golden scissors, basically he wants to pre edit all the fights he makes and the production got to stick for 99% to that edit, so he keeps quality control. There are so many cases a fight scenes gets destroyed by an editor who just get all this footage but didn’t know how the director had it in mind. Tony Jaa, total cool, also very tough, he can take hits and absolutely give hits, I got experience with it. The last kick in Triple Threat in my neck was like a baseball bat. But I kind of told him….’Go for it’; so its my responsibility.

AR: You have worked with some of the best martial artist, who would you say are the 3 fastest you have worked with?

Ron: Mark Stas absolutely number 1 (wing Flow system), and if you don’t know him check him out he’s a new amazing action star with a style which is very special. – Jackie Chan / Donnie Yen (kind of same speed)- you won’t expect this maybe but I would say Michael Jay White. He’s fast and sharp!

AR: Your latest upcoming movie English Dogs in Bangkok has you leading the movie alongside Byron Gibson, how did this part initially come your way?

Ron: I know the production very well and they needed someone who can fight, be a villain but also could play a friendly character. English Dogs is also about friendship and to be honest mafia, drug dealers aren’t always rude guys, they can be the nicest guys in the world, just don’t mess with them. It’s a total misunderstanding that these people always look angry, so they needed a mix of this. In real life I’m a good friend of Byron so this just worked perfectly. I also really loved the concept which is very original and when we did our first lines it felt very natural also because we were able to adapt, I put a few Dutch gimmicks in about Dutch food and that was just fun.

AR: Is this going to be the start of a franchise for you and Byron, with Taffy Edwards at the helm?

Ron: Totally, we are talking about a prequel and spin-offs of this concept as the story has a lot to it. We hope to get a nice fan base as well. Both for people who love martial arts, action and also for people who love thrillers and gangster movies. I think English Dogs will absolutely surprise people with a lot of unexpected events. Also we didn’t stick to the Hollywood template which in my eyes is way too overdone. Our selling point is that it’s not actually. I have to mention that in English Dogs it was the first time that Mark Stas and me had fight scenes and this hopefully will surprise people as well. I think for Mark also a great exposure as he’s just incredible.

AR:Was it challenging being the star and action director?

Ron: Not at all and because we spoke about Donnie Yen before, he actually does the same in many cases, so we optimize the angles for what we can do and even pre edit all the fights (golden scissors remember ha ha) We also had some great dynamic camera’s and it went all super smooth. Some scenes went so smooth we did it in less time than planned while having a lot of extra shots on top.

AR: For you, what makes a great fight scene?

Ron: What is most important is the reason to fight, the audience got to be on someone’s side and feel it. I’m not a fan of killing/beating many people in a movie very easy. I call it the guys in the black suits fx. Once one of them lost, then you just know the next 10 or batch of 100 will lose as well.. it’s something unconscious. So matchmaking is super important. Look at Bolo vs JCVD THAT’S matchmaking. Some main actors don’t want to lose but then it becomes more of a choreo than a real fight , there’s a danger here. In a choreo sometimes you can see an actor ducks too early or is aware of the next move, so that’s something to avoid. To always involve environment is a great thing to make people feel the dangers around or the pain when people fall in props. Also a difference in styles makes a fight interesting. Sometimes you see these basic punch combos like duck, hook , duck punch, etc.. we need more than that, like some highlights, so these highlights needs to be spread in the fight.. Also be careful with too many cuts, I think that people do appreciate that some takes are all in 1, combined with a great move, good combo’s these parts of scenes will become rewinders which means you want to rewind to see it again. Like ‘what did he just do, that was cool’… that fx we want to create. There’s so much more to say about this but these are the main things for me!

AR:What can we expect to see you star in next?

Ron: I’m working on a few very interesting projects and shared projects with partners in which I will play leading parts. These are great projects in Europe, and Asia mainly. I do also like to do more in the USA. It’s great to have fought a lot of action stars I’m really really honoured and blessed with this. Also because they really are all different I learned a lot from them. Now I’d love just to use this experience and have a small chance myself as well to share the love for the art to the world but then in a non limited version of myself as a lead guy this time where I can show what I really can do. That was not always the case except in Who am I ? a few other movies and a TV series which actually did very good for me in Thailand. In English dogs in the fight vs Mark Stas YES that was a full go at it.. That’s why English Dogs will make a change for me and also as an actor. We got lots of dialogues and very ‘special’ situations I can say !

AR: Before I wrap up, what would be your top 5 martial arts movies?

Ron: 1- Bloodsport, 2- Rocky 4, 3- No Retreat No Surrender, 4 – Young Master, 5- Fist Of Legend.

AR: Thank you for your time Ron, best wishes!

Ron: Thank you so much as well also for the great Questions and as I always say: Life is Action have a great day everyone

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