ART NEVER SLEEPS: An Interview With THR3GUYS
|From L to R: J. Cheung (a.k.a. Cryptik Soul), Temur Mamisashvili and Kamil Janowski|
I first came across this group a little after I started taking a closer look at some photos being shared on Instagram by martial arts actor and stunt performer Xin Wuku. These photos would eventually be part of a Roger Corman production that thr3 founder and member, J. Cheung would be co-starring in called Fist Of The Dragon, slated for a December release.
Since then, as I learned more about the thr3guys and their collaborations, I fortunately got to meet the demand to hopefully get some questions answered when I was opted for an interview by J., who also serves as action choreographer, stuntman and actor with photographer and visual stylist, Kamil Janowski, and the crew's newest member, actor, stuntman and action choreographer, Temur Mamishasvili. Common sense dictated that there was no way in any universe that saying "no" would be an acceptable answer. So, naturally, destiny called, and I answered. They each responded to as many questions as they could at their own discretion since most of the answers that are written basically coincide with each other's own thoughts and feelings, which I find to be an admirable and unifying trait. Plus, this was a chat interview and these guys tend to be busy, but in a good way. ;-)
As they continue to grow, some people will wonder what to think when the "thr3guys" pop in conversation from here on. For J., Temur and Kamil, it defines things like implementing artful creativity in a new and fresh way by pushing boundaries. One example of this was working to help evolve their style of capturing dynamic martial arts moves in action-still photography, making innovative changes in the process. Since photography is one of Kamil's strongest suits, I incorporated this with an inquiry with him about what made thr3guys-photography so unique:
Kamil: Martial arts photography has existed since beginning of photography, so what we are doing is nothing new. We are just trying to evolve what's already has been done, a little like the film industry as well. If you look at the evolution of action and martial arts films you will notice that the use of camera angles and the speed of things happening in the frame has changed. That is exactly what me and J. wanted to do from the first moment we meet, it's all about a fresh approach.
Full contact looks great in stills and in film, and it also allows me to use so many more angles, something you can not do when you do full contact where you have to "fake" it with angles so it LOOKS real. With a full contact photo shoot I can shoot straight on, from below or even straight down from above. It opens so many new possibilities for experimentation and visual fun.
So, what makes our action photography so unique and outstanding? To be absolutely honest with you, I am not entirely sure. As I mentioned before, it could definitely be the new and fresh approach and I have a tendency to dramatize everything with angles, weather, light and colour. I am also a music and documentary photographer, and I always try to combine that genre of photography into the thr3 action photography.
Also, I have the pleasure to work with some amazing people like J., Temur, Chloe Bruce, etc. They have a very similar vision and are not afraid to push them selves to achieve some great and stunning visuals.
For Temur, thr3guys is also relative to important things like teamwork, respect and inquistive growth among each other, to which Kamil adds a deeper definitive meaning regarding as an extended family, networking as a unit invested in commitment, trust, fun, creating photographic, filmic magic and more. All these results probably would not have happened if not for a chance encounter between Kamil and J. while working at the same retail outlet many years ago. I discuss this and more in the following exchange:
FCSyndicate: Describe what it was like when you all met. What were the first impressions like?
J.: Well, we all met at different times. With Kamil, I met him eight years ago, and my impression on him wasn't anything. But as soon as we started talking over ideas about fusing photography with aerial movements, we instantly clicked. Then from there, Kam and I joined forces together and built up thr3guys.
With Temur, he sent me his demo reel, and he showed his interest in working with us. I saw the skills he possessed and offered a spot for him on the team when he came to Hong Kong. When we all sat down, we clicked like we knew each other for years.
Wouldn't you agree Temur?
Temur: It was only one month ago that we've met in person and I felt very welcome into the thr3guys family. I loved the ideas and plans they had and I thought I found what I was looking for. And I agree with J., we really clicked and our vision was right on spot, even though we were individually very different.
Kamil: Meeting J. was cool. We both were new at our job in a retail shop, so it was nice to have a chat with someone. I think we clicked pretty quickly as we had similar interests as to spectacular aerial moves, photography and film. After the first framework in one of London's SoHo backstreets, thr3guys was born.
FCSyndicate: How long have each of you been involved in your respective fields? (Martial arts, film, producing, music, photography, etc.)
J.: I've been doing Martial Arts for over twenty years, and ten years with music (rapping) and movies..
Temur: Martial arts for twenty-seven years, and I did stunts since I was sixteen years old. Plus, films as an actor for six years
Kamil: I registered as freelance photographer in 2005, so it has been eight years I have been snapping away as professional. Video is something I always wanted to do as well, that is something that I started to do when I came to Hong Kong some seven months ago.
FCSyndicate: What were you all doing before thr3guys started?
J.: Before the thr3, I was, and still am a battle rapper and recording artist, collaborating with artists from all over America and Asia.
Kamil: I was doing loads of boring things. You know, by the end of the day you have bills and rent to pay. But I was also doing loads of photography through my company Kamil M. Janowski Photography. Focusing on Alternative Fashion, Documentary and Music Photography (Which I am still doing).
Prior to joining the thr3, Temur was also a member of the Soviet Wushu team. He explains his experiences in taking his talents from sports to film from a young age and on:
Temur: That was very long time ago. I was a wushu team member from when I was thirteen to sixteen, then the soviet collapsed, so did we. :) Then, I became part of Georgian team. It was the best time of my childhood: Lots of hard work, traveling and fun. Training nine hours a day-very strict old school Chinese way. Kept me out of the streets though.
With films, I did couple of stunt double jobs back in Soviet Georgia. Nothing major, but I was mad excited, fearless, and very brave. I felt like I was Jackie Chan! Then when I was twenty two, I moved to New York. New place, no English, no money, had to work hard as a dishwasher, then busboy, etc...
So didn't have much time for anything, but I kept training, then got a job as a martial arts coach as my English improved. Then in 2004, I started training in Shaolin Kung Fu with ex Shaolin monk Zhang Li Peng, and we started doing films. And that's when I started acting besides being a stuntman. I felt like I am made for action films, and my dreams were coming true! So that's what it felt like, for a little bit. :)
While researching for this interview, I learned even more about the business relationships between the thr3 and B&E Productions, a seperate company owned by multifaceted martial arts cinema figure, author, writer and film expert, Bey Logan whose works are loaded with a slate of upcoming goodies, including Borderland, Garuda 7, and Temur's current area of focus, Lady Bloodsport. More on some of these titles a little later, but in talking film, we also delved a bit into some favorites shared by the thr3, and memorable collaborative projects:
FCSyndicate: What are some favorite films that you all share in common? (And what are the worst?)
J.: Even though I practice Martial Arts and do action movies, to be honest, my favorite films are horror flicks as they are the base of my raps.
But if I have to state martial arts flicks, I say Fist Of Legend, Legend of the Fist, Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong, Tiger Cage 2, Iron Monkey, In the Line of Duty 4... The list of movies from me can go on for days.
Kamil: If I start on films I like and dislike I will sit here for a week. It's not that easy as I watch films both as an escape from reality, as an inspiration and also as research. But I think everyone will agree, I'm looking for big, minimal and powerful visuals; a bit like The House of Flying Daggers and Fearless.
FCSyndicate: What was your first big collaboration?
Kamil: As Temur is "fresh of the boat", we haven't had the pleasure to work on a big collaboration with him yet. Soon to be changed.
I believe first real collaboration was back in London, with the awesome Chloe Bruce (pictured below as Chun Li). It was a great and weird day. Weird in a way that the weather was constantly changing, with some occasional rain but amazing sky with heavy clouds. Awesome! You can see that in the stills from that day. Yeah, it was an awesome day.
Temur mentions in reply to my question, the upcoming Lady Bloodsport as his first big collaborative project. Bringing the film up for a brief moment, Temur explains how he observes the casting process, and what he saw in actresses Jet Tranter and Selina Lo that made them premier choices for the film, and more:
FCSyndicate: What goes into casting for a film? What do you look for most and least?
Temur: Casting is interesting, it's like auditions for American idol. For Lady Bloodsport, we are looking for female actors with martial arts skills. Producer Bey Logan tests their acting skills and J and I martial arts skills, ones they chosen they have to attend our training sessions to work on choreography and stunt skills. In the process we will decide who will make it to the final cast.
|Selina Lo and Jet Tranter|
Temur (cont'd): Jet and Selina are incredibly talented martial artists. We haven't met them yet in person, but we've studied their work and they fit the role.
Jet is a very passionate hard working girl, and even though she is not in Hong Kong, she is very much involved in our production progress. She will be playing a very cocky, strong MMA fighter.
Selina is a star of LB and she has great martial arts skills to back that up. She will be playing beautiful girl next door, trained by Master Wai to compute in kumite.
Some of the cast members' martial arts skills not on same level as them, and we are working really hard to make them look like real fighters. Jet and Selina are what you call full package. And I am looking forward working with them.
FCSyndicate: How high are the expectations now, compared to when thr3guys initially started?
Kamil: Speaking for myself, my expectations are much higher now then before. I ( and J... ;)) push myself in the technical and visual creations of each image and new project. I expect everyone to push themselves to the limit, every time.FCSyndicate: I understand one of the projects you all are currently working on is the Damon Dash film God Never Sleeps. How did you meet?
J.: With Damon Dash, we all met him when he came to Hong Kong with his team for the Adidas Gallery opening. He stopped by the office to talk with Bey about film projects, and after his meeting, I decided to freestyle (rap) in front of him and his team. They were so impressed that they wanted to shoot a little promo with me in it, so we all decided to shoot a mini music video to one of my freestyle songs called "Dead Silence".
Damon was so amazed at how professional we were (even though we only had a day to come up with everything).
He then approached me and the team about "God Never Sleeps", a story which is based around something that I went through in life with gangs, drug dealing and rap.
One other issue I took notice of in befriending the stunt and film industry was the topic of budgets in certain kinds of films. Believe it or not, there are discussions I have partaken in and observed with some indie filmmakers and fight choreographers who share an opinion on some big major Hollywood productions who have take big name stars and make big, blockbuster action films that feature martial arts choreography and make millions of dollars, while other small scale films like The Raid: Redemption eventually achieve the same result. So I was implured to ask the thr3 about their opinion about how important they feel budgets are to a film production. Temur pretty much summed it up for everyone in the chat when he said the following:
Temur: Of course it's better if you have a big budget. With a small budget (like The Raid) you really have to get very creative, lots of pressure though.
With a big budget, you have lots off creative minds working together and that could be a mess too.
J. responded, and in case you have read all the way down and didn't skip anything, congratulations! You're in for some awesome news:
J.: It was a honor to meet Donnie Yen. He's been an inspirational figure to me since childhood, ever since he was doing TV dramas. I was mezmorized with his kicking work on "Flying Tiger SWAT Team" and the movie "Tiger Cage 2". He was the reason why I took up Taekwondo. So, big brother Donnie has played a big part in life.
Bruce Lee has too, but Donnie was the foundation of my kicks.
Yuen Woo-Ping was great, to sit in front of the greatest Martial Arts Choreographer in Asia was amazing. In that short space of time when we spoke in his office, he taught me alot from his personal experiences.
FCSyndicate: What are some of the projects you guys are currently partaking in right now? Any auditions? Any screenplays in the works? Random ideas?
J: The thr3 are signed to work on the "Lady Bloodsport" project, Damon Dash's "God Never Sleeps", and a short film project by Philippe Joly called "Vor: Trust Me I'm A Thief"... There are others in the pipeline but those at the moment are the ones to look out for". With "Lady Bloodsport" and "God Never Sleeps" going into production very soon, "Fantom" has currently been put on hold. After the two projects ("Lady Bloodsport" and "God Never Sleeps"), if there's time, we'll shoot "Fantom" then.
I have a few friends who are also writers, who feel that 2013 is turning out to be a great year for martial arts cinema. So, aside from the goodies that these awesome fellas will be a part of, I asked the team what films they look forward to this year and J. responded:
J.: I'm looking forward to see big brother Donnie's movie "Iceman Cometh 3D", "The Raid 2" and "Tom Yum Goong 2".
Considering how far Kamil and J. have come in their careers, in addition to adding more experienced members to their team, I thought it would be informative to inquire and hear from the thr3 how they felt after all these years to this day. After moving up from retail to building a brand that promotes influential art, athletic sport and filmic creativity, it's quite astonishing to see such a movement contintue to bloom, and grow, knowing that they are just getting started. In the last inquiry, the team expressed to me their thoughts about the career they are humbled to be a part of:
FCSyndicate: What are some of the more enjoyable aspects of working in the film industry, in your opinions? And what are some of the worst?
J.: To me, the enjoyable aspects are that of learning from others in the trade. A lot of the times I meet great martial artists in the industry from around the world who do a lot of traditional styles or hybrid fighting. I love learning new techinques in which I can incorporate into my own fighting style.
What I least like is when individuals act all big when they know so little. In this industry, there are so many that talk but have nothing to show for.
FCSyndicate: What are some of the lessons that you all have learned along the way?
J.: I learned not to take things for granted and stay humble.
Temur: Agree with J, and that if we work hard, people will recognize our efforts, along with our passion and dedication.
Kamil: Deal with it! Play the game. But also as J. mentioned, be humble and play hard/work hard. Never forget your dreams and your friends, your true friends!
thr3guys 三人組合, Cryptik Soul, Kamil M. Janowski Photography and B&E Productions to stay tuned to the action. And as always, thanks for being a reader.
Thank you thr3guys for taking the time to talk to me! And a special thank you to Kamil Janowski for sending me some great photos to share here for Film Combat Syndicate readers!
Selina Lo Photo Credit: IMDb
Jet Tranter Photo Credit: Super Food Cooking Coach
This article was updated at 5:57pm to correct the context regarding Roger Corman's film and B&E.