Martial arts films have seen a resurgence lately, partially due to the popularity of mixed martial arts and the advent of streaming. Dimitri Logothetis has helped revive the legendary Kickboxer film franchise and released Jiu Jitsu starring Nicolas Cage to Netflix. Now Logothetis is looking to continue both franchises with films, comic books, and television series.
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Logothetis about the future of the Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxer franchises. Check it out below.
Tyler Treese: You’re doing a comic book on the Jiu Jitsu franchise. What led you to exploring different mediums here? Expanding to comic books is an interesting way to take it.
Dimitri Logothetis: It’s because I wanted to see it and I grew up as a kid with comic books. So I thought it would enable me to be able to look at it as if it’s a kind of a glorified storyboard, so I could see it and then take a look at it and see if I thought it could make a really cool film. Cause the comic book is only about 10 or 12 written pages, you know? So once I did that, then I was able to see the picture and sat down with my writing partner and said, “Let’s go ahead and et’s go for the script.” So that was the main reason.
So what can we expect from the comic book? Is that the prequel going into Nicolas Cage’s character or is the film also dealing with that subject matter?
Well, I mean the comic book is an exploration of the prequel and so it’s going to go into his character from years before. How he got to be the warrior that [he is] before the current film started. So that’s where we’re going to start exploring. Hopefully, we’ll have the comic done in about a month.
Great. With the new film, is Cage involved or are you getting a younger actor since it’s a prequel?
I don’t know. I mean, I’m talking to Nic, he’s a busy guy and I’m talking with his manager and stuff and we were looking to do something together besides this, but he had a very great success with this. So did I. This really sort of broke out for both of us in terms of audience and in terms of Netflix, in terms of everything. I mean, when it came out on Apple on that platform, it just really did some wonderful numbers that none of us were anticipating. So I always wanted to explore the science fiction martial arts genre. I wanted to make sure that we stayed martial arts-centric, but I wanted to give us an opportunity to sort of go with a science-fiction base.
It’s such a cool blend of martial arts and science fiction. Can you talk to just about your own past with martial arts? And what brought you to combine that? Because that’s usually two different genres that we don’t see mixed. I think that’s why we saw it so successful because it is something fresh.
Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. I grew up in my teens after I played football in high school and then junior college, I switched over into martial arts and I got a black belt in Kenpō from Ed Parker, who trained Bruce Lee and also trained Elvis and some big celebrities. Then I did Tang Soo Do, and I got a black belt in Tang Soo Do with Howard Jackson, who was a world-class world champion kickboxer. He used to fight guys like Benny Urquidez, et cetera. So those are the two guys that influenced me the most, but you know, back then as a teen, every time Enter the Dragon would come out. I think we probably went and saw it, me and my buddies, I don’t know, 1920 times at the midnight shows where you’d probably recite every single line you know, and there’s a certain kind of a release that you have with a martial arts film and that the premise itself is a little goofy. I mean, heck you’ve got a bunch of martial artists were sitting there not using guns and no cops ever show up, so they get away with murder, literally flying around the air, but you buy it because it’s about a completely different genre.
In addition, there’s a little boy and little girl in all of us that wants to that recognizes that these are real-life superheroes. So you think yourself that if I was to train with this master, I could do what they do. And so you kind of vote for the underdog a little bit, you know what I’m saying? So that’s, that’s something that is in everybody. In terms of suspension of disbelief, this is a genre that everybody releases, their suspension of disbelief and kind of goes with the story. Okay. But today, if you notice the martial artists that I have are some of the best athletes in the world. I mean the kind of things they do without wires, cause in all of the big Marvel films and stuff, you’ve got actors that train and they get themselves in great shape and then you hook them up and they can do just about anything.
My guys aren’t hooked up for wires. My guys and gals are sitting there and they’re flying through the air on their own athletically. And they’re going ahead. My lead, Alain Moussi, he can run up the side of a wall. He can do a front aerial, he can do a back aerial. He’s a big guy who weighs 205 pounds, 6’1″. So he can do the kind of things that, that the smaller martial artists in China can do. So, I think that, that in and of itself after you’re watching about 10 minutes of a long fight sequence in one of my films, you’ll go, “Oh my God, this stuff is cool.”
So then what I wanted to do is, I grew up and when I started out as a filmmaker, I was lucky enough to meet Jean-Claude Van Damme. And it was around the time that he was making Universal Soldier and stuff. And so I saw how they started to combine martial arts and science fiction. In that regard, he also did a couple of other science fiction-based stuff, but they didn’t explore it as far as I wanted to. You know, so what I wanted to do is I wanted to come up with a myth and I wanted to find a martial art form that really had an origin. If you try to do a bunch of research on jiu jitsu and go all the way back, you’ll see that it’s got no origin. The Japanese take credit for it. The Koreans take credit for it. The Indians take credit for it. The most recent obviously and what’s most famous is that the Gracies reinvented it about 40 years ago, and it’s the basis for the UFC right now, but this is a 2-3000 year old art form. Okay. And so I thought to myself, boy, if we can just go ahead and combine that with some stuff in an old temple that basically says that this was brought to us by somebody in outer space and, and set up the mythology, which Nic Cage does masterfully when he lays out the entire backstory of Jiu Jitsu. And so that was what I wanted to do. Then we go from there.
In Kickboxer: Retaliation, you had so many amazing mixed martial artists in the cache. You had Wanderlei Silva, Renzo Gracie, and you were talking about the Gracie family, “Babalu.” Obviously Mike Tyson, as a boxer, you have such an incredible cast of martial artists in that film. Can you just discuss, you know, what it means to have them representing, and how do you choose? So many people like to act in MMA now. So how do you choose who gets brought on as it’s really cool to see them on the screen?
Well, I appreciate that. I mean, look again, as an audience member and as a fan, I want to see credibility on the screen. So by bringing in people who are really, uh, credible and are world champions in their own, right. I believe instead of just having stuntmen now, suddenly you’re bringing to the audience the credibility. If you look at the most famous martial artists and martial arts actors in the world, they all were real martial artists. They’d spent years perfecting that art form. So I think as part of the genre and certainly part of the re-ignition of Kickboxer which was very successful for us and continues to be. I’m planning a Kickboxer 3, I’m planning to make a Kickboxer: Armageddon. So I think that you really need to bring in that kind of credibility to the screen, and so that the fan base can do what you’re doing.
First of all, we’ve crossed over. We’ve got a bunch of action fans now that are watching the movies. Cause I couldn’t get the kind of numbers that I got on Jiu Jitsu on Netflix. I can’t be number four on Netflix without crossing over and having action fans. And everybody watched the film, we’re number one in Canada, you know? But for the martial arts aficionados, when they really pay attention and they start looking at the Kickboxer films, and they start looking even at Jiu Jitsu, you’ll see some faces that you recognize that come from that background. And I think that adds an awful lot of credibility to what we’re doing.
Are there any MMA stars that you can confirm are going to be in Armageddon that fans can look forward to seeing?
No, I don’t want to confirm it yet. I’m talking to a bunch, but I’m going to go ahead and have almost everybody that has to interact or fight with any of my guys or gals this time. That’s all gonna be from MMA. I’m looking to see if I can beat my own numbers. So if I can go ahead and, and I’m wanting to get Mike Tyson back in and I’ve already had discussions with Mike and he wants to do it. In addition to that, I’m going to see if I can get about nine or 10 world champions to come into Kickboxer: Armageddon in addition to what I’m going to do with Jiu Jitsu, I’m going to do the same thing. I’m going to bring in some real MMA world champions.
That’s awesome. MMA is such a colorful sport, there’s so many characters in the sport. What’s your wishlist of somebody you haven’t worked with before that you’d just love to get in the film?
Well, my wishlist in terms of actors that are credible martial artists are Donnie Yen. I would love to work with him. I think that he’s right up there in terms of number one, I’m going to bring back Jean-Claude Van Damme. I’m going to see if I can get Georges St. Pierre, who has really kicked off his own acting career now based on what we did together in the first Kickboxer. So there’s an awful lot of guys I’m looking at, I’m also looking at a few world champion boxers to bring in. Conor McGregor, wouldn’t you love to see McGregor?
That would be Incredible.
So, you know, he’s not there yet because he wants an awful lot of money to be in a movie. Maybe somebody will pay him that, but hopefully he would love to be part of a franchise. These franchises tend to be evergreens. I mean, right now the Kickboxer franchises themselves, the seven movies that were made before my time before I got involved in the company, they’re playing in over three billion television sets around the world at any given time. That’s pretty cool, I think.
Yeah, for sure. And I did want to ask with the Kickboxer series, we’re seeing such a rise in women’s martial arts and we’re seeing so much of that. Would you ever want to do a female-focused film to kind of change it up?
Sure, sure. We’re considering that right now, we’re considering doing a sister from the brothers. So, instead of just having the brothers from the Kickboxer franchise, we’re considering throwing in their sister that spins off. We’re also looking at a television series. So we’ve got a couple of ideas that we’re discussing with the networks to do a television series because there’s a huge proliferation of martial arts television series that are coming out now and have done very well. So we’re looking at that as well.
You mentioned how authenticity is key, and obviously, you have so many great martial artists when you’re doing these films. How has it balancing the realism of the fights and then also getting the action type of scenes that fans want because it can be very different from when you see an old movie to an MMA fight, but you have a really great blend. How difficult is it to manage that?
I remember that this is a theatrical piece, and so the martial arts that we’re doing are theatrical in a real street fight. I have these, these discussions with the MMA guys all the time. I say, “Look, you know, if I was to a UFC-based story, that would be different because all of a sudden you do takedowns and then you’re on the ground. And, uh, then you spend a lot of time on the ground and there’s all kinds of things you do on the ground and so on and so forth, but that’s not theatrical. In martial arts, they want to see flying, spinning back kicks. They want to see some pretty wild stuff, the audience [does].” And so I blend that pretty well. I think I’ve got a wonderful team out of Thailand that I use.
I try to stay with an awful lot of Thai boxing and Thai kickboxing, muay Thai, because it’s a very aggressive form, and those stunt guys will actually hit and kick each other. So these are guys that I have to stop them from doing it because I don’t want anybody to get hurt, but you’ll see my guys actually kick each other in the head. They hit each other, they kick each other in the chest and they flip each other. They’re pretty aggressive with each other, you know? So, there’s an awful lot of authenticity going on in that regard, but I blend the theatrics. I need to have a bunch of theatrics in there. So that you can have something to just kind of go, “Oh my God. Wow.” You know, we need to get those wows in.