Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Mark Dacascos

Martial Hearts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Have you ever wondered about those straight-to-video kung-fu titles crowding the "Action" shelf of your local video store? The boxes show chiseled fighters grimacing beneath generic titles like Killer Instinct and Fatal Attack and Honor and Vengeance. It seems as if none of these guys has any more chance to break into mainstream movies than a porn star does.

Well, except one.

The handsome, charming kung-fu star Mark Dacascos has suddenly found a whole new audience with the next week's release of Brotherhood of the Wolf, a spectacular French-language, period-piece, kung-fu monster movie the likes of which you've probably never seen.

Fitting in with the grabbag theme of the movie, Dacascos himself comes from an interesting heritage mix: Filipino, Spanish and Chinese on his father's side, and Irish and Japanese on his mother's. To go one further, in the film the Hawaiian-born Dacascos plays an American Indian (!) named Mani. Mani travels side-by-side with the hero Grégoire de Fronsac, (Samuel Le Bihan) to a small rural French village to hunt "The Beast," a mysterious creature who ravishes the countryside, devouring young women.

Perhaps Dacascos deserved a breakthrough like this. After all, his first movie role did not involve kicking anyone at all. Rather, his first job was kissing -- the beautiful 23 year-old Joan Chen in Wayne Wang's film Dim Sum, though their scenes were eventually cut out. "I'd never been on a movie set before," Dacascos says. "I asked Wayne Wang, 'how do you want me to kiss her?' He said, 'well, how do you kiss your girlfriend?'" Dacascos squeals with joy at the thought of it, "YESS!!"

Though Dacascos has also trained as an actor, his kung-fu training began literally before he could remember, at age four. "I have pictures of myself at four years old in a decent stance, not a great stance, but a decent stance. My mom says I was running around kicking students in their shins -- sometimes in a poopy diaper. Which is not very nice," he laughs.

Later, Dacascos attended school in Germany, the only foreigner in a class of 1200 students. He drew on that experience for his performance as Mani. One particular incident, a simple discussion, hurt the young artist substantially.

"It was in swimming class. We were young kids and we were impressionable. My friend was looking at me and I was looking at him and we were talking. And he said, 'you know -- your kind is not as evolved as my kind.' And I was like, 'oh, really?' And he said, 'yeah. They found the remains of Peking Man.' And he started talking about evolution and everything. And I just went home thinking... What do you say to that? It wasn't like he was trying to be mean or anything. It was just something he read or heard and he was just relating it to me. And he was my friend. Maybe he thought I needed to know this. But it was a very strange time in my life," Dacascos says.

Of course, Dacascos grew up and found his calling as a martial arts actor. His career culminated four years ago when he landed the coveted role of Eric Draven in "The Crow: Stairway to Heaven" TV series, a role originated by Brandon Lee in the 1994 film. Now Brotherhood of the Wolf stands poised to eclipse even that.

But there's a small dark side to this new window of opportunity. Most directors and editors don't know how to properly shoot action scenes. John Woo, Yuen Woo-ping (Iron Monkey) and Tsui Hark (Time and Tide) are the exceptions. But luminaries like Ridley Scott (Gladiator), Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) and Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor) tend to try and spice up the proceedings by shaking the camera and cutting twice every second, which, in essence ruins the natural fluidity and beauty of the martial arts or any other action scene.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, to some extent, suffers from that same problem.

"That's a huge issue," Dacascos says sadly. "It is difficult. Because for the fight scenes, I did 98-99% of my own stuff. We worked hard at it. And what you see is only about one-third of what we actually shot. And then you see it and maybe sometimes the techniques are kind of (chop-chop-chop) so you're not quite sure what it is. But you know you were sweating and bleeding and doing all that stuff. I know the feeling because I was there going, 'wait! I can't see what I did!'"

But Dacascos trusts director Christophe Gans and hopes to work with him again. "As far as all the movements -- as a typical martial arts movie -- he didn't really follow them. And I guess that's because it wasn't a typical martial arts movie."

As far as his career goes, Dacascos hasn't bothered separated his acting skills and his martial arts skills. He says he won't take a role that's all fighting and no character, though. And he would consider any great role that came along. Asked what his dream role would be, he stops and thinks for a long time. Finally, he replies with a huge grin: "I was always a big fan of 'Speed Racer.'"

(January 3, 2002)

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