Martial arts movies have always had its heroes – different people in different times. Some of them were real-life champions who became actors, others were doing stunt work and landing occasional acting parts.
In the martial arts movies niche these “modern warriors” are well-known – Ron Smoorenburg, Marko Zaror, Mike Moeller.
Moeller – the smallest of the mentioned, is a German born martial artist and stuntman. Moeller started off as a stuntman in German film industry, later switching to big Hollywood projects, such as “Resident Evil”, “Eragon”, “The Three Musketeers”.
In 2012 Moeller directed and starred in “Urban Fighter” – a post-apocalyptic martial arts tale, that is overloaded with some amazing fight scenes and martial arts-related stunts. This was Moeller’s first directorial effort, and first starring role. The message was clear, what “Urban Fighter” lacked in storytelling and acting, it fully compensated in fight scenes.
Moeller has reached his dream – he’s working in the film industry. And in this exclusive interview to BZFilm, Moeller recalls how he first got started, how he studied martial arts, talks about his work with Donnie Yen, and reveals his latest film project with Fred Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas.
Please tell us how you first got started with martial arts, and what styles did you learn? Any tournaments that you’ve participated in?
It started with the movies, through the video stores that opened after the Wall came down (I grew up in East Germany) we were able to enjoy all of the great films from around the world. The martial arts and action films influenced and motivated me a lot at that time. Unfortunately at that time there was not a martial arts club in our area, so I trained by myself, and I’ve learned a lot from books and movies.
During my job training few years later in Nuremberg, I took the opportunity to join an excellent Taekwondo club. Of course I also took parts in tournaments, but only at the country level. Today I train with different martial artists in judo, karate, boxing and wrestling.
On your website you state that aside from doing martial arts, you started “doing intense workout sessions”…what were those? Since you are extremely agile, what exercises did you use? How did you combine those with martial arts?
I realized that my regular martial arts training was not enough to improve my power and speed. So I started with intense circuit training for the entire body. At the beginning at home with push ups, chin ups, sit ups and with some homemade weights. Later I joined a real gym.
If I’m not working on a movie, then I have a plan to fulfill: on first day – martial arts & stunt training, on second day I pump iron, on third day – martial arts or cardio, and then all over again. Sometimes I change the days but I still train 6-7 days a week.
Let’s talk about stunt work, since you speak of yourself as not only a martial artist, but a stuntman as well. How come you decided to become a stuntman? Where did you learn to do stunts? Any particular stunt school?
I’ve always been a big movie fan, and on the weekends I would meet with my friends and we would talk about movie fights and later we would train together. At that time I learned a lot from the Eastern and Western martial arts films. I taught myself the fall techniques and acrobatics. One day, a friend came to me with his video camera, and we started filming our martial arts movements.
Some time later we started making our own little martial arts films. At that time we were shooting with a Hi8 camera and we would later edit the raw footage with two VCRs. We worked with a stereo system and a Super Nintendo for the sound because at that time no one of us had a PC. We have always tried to tell simple, funny stories and to create new choreography for the fights.
Please tell us about how you got your first stunt gigs in German cinema, and how that led to landing stunt parts in U.S. movies, such as “Resident Evil”?
I read in a magazine that Donnie Yen is in Berlin and responsible for the film fights in “The Puma” martial arts series.
I was a huge fan of his work and then back then I wrote a letter to the local production company. I had asked whether it is possible to visit the film set in order to get a photo with my idol and I put a VHS tape with our short films in the envelope, hoping they would realize that I am a true fan.
Three days later I got a call – German stuntman Michael Bornhutter who worked for this series with the Asian stunt team, saw our VHS tape and he invited me to a training session with Kenji Tanigaki and Michael Woods. That was a dream come true for me. I was very surprised when I arrived, because it was not a training session, it was more like a casting for the last part of the season. I was very excited and I made mistakes, but I did my best. For me it was just important to meet and learn from these guys.
After the casting I drove back home, and two days later I got another call, this time from the producer of the show and he told me that Donnie Yen and the Asian Stunt guys liked my performance and enjoyed the VHS tape. They liked my sense of humor and my skills and want me in the show – something I did not expect at all.
I had a training day with Donnie Yen and his team and 3 days of shooting where I fought the main actor Mickey Hardt. That was my entrance in the professional film business and that I owe especially Michael Bornhutter, Kenji Tanigaki and Donnie Yen. That was a great time with nice memories and I’m so happy because I met and worked with Donnie Yen, Michael Woods, John Salvitti, Kenji Tanigaki, Yuji Shimura and Ron Smoorenburg.
“Resident Evil” was shot one year later in Germany/Babelsberg. Just like “Half Past Dead”, “Speed Racer” or “Inglorious Basterds” for example. It takes some time to make a name in this business and I’m so grateful to met people and found friends around the world who supported me. They gave me a chance in the movie / stunt biz…this is rare.
Unfortunately I’m not an all-around stuntman who can do everything. My specials are body stunts and martial arts.
You have pictures with Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine on the set of “Ninja”, a film which is not listed in your credits… did you work on that film? What is your opinion on Florentine, and Adkins, who is becoming a leading action/martial arts star in today’s cinema?
I had an email contact with Isaac long before I was in the stunt / film business. He has always inspired, motivated and entertained me with his films. Isaac is a really nice guy and is a very good friend, a great karateka and has always supported me! During the shooting of “Ninja” he invited me and I visited the set. There I met Scott Adkins, a great guy and very talented. Adkins and Florentine make a great team and responsible for some of the best martial arts films ever.
You made your first film as director, titled “Urban Fighter”, that features some truly amazing martial arts scenes. What was your vision for the film? Any particular influences before you decided to make your own martial arts picture?
We are huge fans of action and martial arts movies, and so we had the idea to make one of our own in the tradition of many B-movies. We wanted to show what we could do, do the best we can with what we had available.
Unfortunately, there were creative differences during production because we were involved with the wrong people. It almost looked like the film would never be finished. I tried to save what could be saved and the final result was “Urban Fighter”.
Since “Urban Fighter” seems to have been made on quite low budget, and with this considered, your film reminds a lot of those 90s low-budget kickboxing movies with such stars as Don Dragon Wilson, Gary Daniels, Lorenzo Lamas, Olivier Gruner…
Yes, “Urban Fighter” looks like one of the old Don “The Dragon” Wilson kickboxing movies like “Ring of Fire”…haha!!! I watched almost every one of them, and I admire a lot of these stars, but to name a few: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Brandon Lee, Gary Daniels, Phillip Rhee and Mark Dacascos influenced me a lot. I also like some movies with Ernie Reyes jr, Loren Avedon, Olivier Gruner, Jeff Speakman, Richard Norton, Billy Blanks, Michael Worth, Sho Kosugi and Jeff Wincott.
From the East, I would say Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Alexander Lou, Tan Tao Liang, Lau Kar Leung, Jackie Chan, Wu Jing and Vincent Zhao are my favorites. Each of them made a great contribution to the action and martial arts movies. Some of them are still in business. Right now, Scott Adkins and Tony Jaa are the upcoming action stars that have great potential.
Do you have any other director’s project in the works, in the near future?
Not as a director. As I mentioned earlier, it was not my intention to direct “Urban Fighter”. But I hope that we’ve made producers aware of us because we are preparing another movie movie, with a larger budget, a good script and good actors, and we’re hoping to get some support.
Everything is still in the development phase, but we’re working on it. This year I also had a starring role besides Fred Williamson, Hazuki Kato and Lorenzo Lamas in the action film “Atomic Eden”, that is coming out in 2013.
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