Director/Martial Artist Tells All!
by Don Warrener, Combat,
vol.25 n°6, June 1999
What martial arts movies and
TV shows have done the most for the martial arts?
The answer is quite simple,
number 1 is of course Enter The Dragon and right behind this
comes the Karate Kid Series and then there was the Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles. The only problem is that these were all produced
in the 7O's and 80's and this is the 9O's.
So what has there been lately to boost the martial arts interests?
There has really been only Walker Texas Ranger and of course
'The Power Rangers' and the WMAC Masters series. Who was behind
those last two?
The man was Isaac Florentine an Israeli filmmaker who studied
classical Shito Ryu karate in his home country and in Sweden.
Then at the urging of his parents who wanted him to become a
C.P.A went to University to attain a degree in Fine Arts (Film
and Television) at the University of Tel Aviv.
We caught up with Isaac at The Dragonfest here in Hollywood California.
Dragonfest which is organised by Gerald Okamura is held here
every year to promote the martial arts in the film industry.
This year the show was packed to standing room only for over
We cornered Isaac and got him committed to sit down with us and
do this interview.
Isaac is well known in the film industry here in Los Angeles
as a budoka who has turned director. Isaac has just finished
a movie called 'Cold Harvest' starring Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai
practitioner Gary Daniels and Barbara Crampton. This futuristic
is western is jammed pack full of martial arts Isaac says and
he loves putting martial arts into his films especially, when
he can add his signature type of directing which is influenced
by Hong Kong Cinema and the old spaghetti westerns of Sergio
Leone. For those of us who don't quite understand the Hollywood
lingo this means the martial arts moves that are impossible to
do, but with the aid of camera angles, and wires illusions are
created to make the viewer believe the impossible actually does
happen. When you see Isaac's latest feature 'Bridges Of The Dragon'
starring Dolph Lundgren and Carry Tagawa which he is just finishing
off you will understand instantly when you see Dolph kick a table
and it goes about two stories high. Isaac said you would never
know that was done with a wire?
I asked Isaac how if it did has his martial arts background helped
him in his second love directing films. He said if it wasn't
for karate and his Sensei Tamas Weber of Stockholm, Sweden he
would have nothing as it was he that developed his Budo spirit,
passion for life and the film industry. "It was he that
taught me anything is possible if you are determined to work
hard for it" said Florentine. I met my Sensei in 1975 and
his zeal for the martial arts motivated me to become the best
I can be in everything I do.
Although Tamas Weber was a Swedish citizen when they met he was
born in Hungary and grew up in France where he joined the French
Foreign Legion. He fought in the Algerian War and was wounded
and earned several medals for his bravery. The karate he taught
us was very close to Classical Shito Ryu Karate. It was very
efficient especially for close in fighting. It is my opinion
that it is very close to the karate developed in Okinawa.
Isaac, no slouch as a martial artist did his share of competing
in Israel ! during the late 1970's when he Won several tournaments
in both Kata and Kumite, and although he is very humble about
this aspect of his martial arts he is very proud of the top quality
students he helped to develop in the 12 dojo's he was chief instructor
of. Although Isaac did not want to talk much about his own martial
arts background I finally got out of him how his karate has helped
him in Hollywood.
"Don, you know when you practice Budo you develop sensitivity
and you also develop the ability to visualise and think in patterns,
well So is directing a film, a good director must pull the best
performance out of the actors/actresses just as a good Sensei
must pull these qualities out of his students when he is teaching"
.Further more when I am directing a film it reminds me of being
a Sensei once again as I am in charge and I must make the film
come in on time and on budget as well I must make sure that the
crew and actors/actresses are all working together as one similar
again to Kata training. We all must work together to create the
best possible film we can if we want to be proud of our work.
There is also the aspect of functioning under pressure that is
similar to Kumite: to be able to quickly assess the situation
and use the right solution to the problem.
I also think that my Budo training has helped me greatly in my
I to attack the unknown like when I sold my schools in Israel
and moved to Hollywood with my wife Who at the time was pregnant
(now we have four 'I lovely children), and no job when I landed.
Sometimes I think I was very brave or very crazy. But I have
done it I and I have done well.
I then asked him what was it that made the Power Rangers a success?
He said that in the beginning no one believed that The Power
Rangers would last so we did all kinds of crazy impossible things
and above all we tried to be creative. I remember one time we
were filming in a park in Los Angeles and the next thing I knew
there were all kinds of little kids gathered around and they
were cheering at 1 what we were doing. It was then that I realised
we were on to something good. We had stretched ourselves to try
new 1 and different things and this is what made the Power Rangers
I could not help myself but to ask if these stars in the film
industry who project that they are martial artists in I their
films if they really are. Well in my opinion many of them are
not real 1 budoka but rather they are actors who have learnt
a few karate moves and have implemented them into the parts in
films. However there are many who are, especially the fight coordinators.
People like Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Mark Dacascos , Gary
Daniels, and Dolph Lundgren are for real and in fact many people
do not know that Dolph is a Sandan in Kyokushinkai karate in
fact Brian Fitkin, a top Kyokushin Kai instructor and good friend
of Dolph's had a small role in my latest film 'A Bridge Of Dragons'.
But to be very honest with you there is no connection between
what you do in the dojo and what you do on film. On film we do
what is called 'Hollywood Kung Fu' and it has to be entertaining
and it has nothing to do with reality but it is fun, if it is
done properly. Some of the best fight scenes that I have done
were done with actors who have very little martial arts background.
For example, I did a bar fight scene in 'High Voltage' with Antonio
Sabato Jr. and Shannon Lee (Bruce Lee's daughter). It was the
cinematic elements that made it work, what I mean by that is,
it was the rhythm, the editing, camera lenses, angles and speeds
combined with a great stunt team with their top acrobatic skills
that were enhanced with wires, mini tramps that really made the
fight look cool and bigger than life.
On the other hand I have met budoka and I am really talking about
good martial artists who are recognisable names that are also
actors or stunt / fight scene coordinators, who were trying to
make there fight scenes look realistic and unfortunately they
ended up with fight scenes that at best looked like bad demonstrations
of tournament fighting. These people have no understanding that
first they are doing a movie and as I said before realism has
nothing to do with action films.
When I direct a dramatic scene I believe that less is more, but
when I direct an action scene, I will go over the top. This is
what I think is the reason why my films have been so successful.
Couple these facts with the fact that the people I have worked
with are true professionals and great people as well to get along
with I am truly very fortunate.
What about the stunt people you use in your films who are they?
Well I like to use 'The Alpha Stunt Team' and their coordinators
Koichi Sakamoto, Yuji Noguichi, and Tatsuro Koike. They are the
only stunt team here in Hollywood that I know that can do the
'Hong Kong' style stunts and being very honest with you they
always make me look great.
I then asked Isaac who are the directors in Hollywood with a
martial arts background. Well you have Aaron Norris who is very
successful as well as Art Comacho, Koici Sakamoto, Philip Tan,
Jeff Pruit, and the legendary Pat Johnson who was responsible
for The Karate Kid, Ninja and Mortal Kombat.
Let us change the subject a little Don, one of the next projects
that I contemplating involvement in is a project that is very
dear to my heart. The project is very challenging as it is a
documentary which will tell the complete history of Karate right
from its roots in Greece right up to today. I am firstly a budoka
and I love the arts more than anything. I do as it is my job
but my heart is in Karate which I still practice. This project
if we do it will once and for all tell the true story of karate
and where it came from and how Okinawa. I has almost been left
out of the equation and we hope to put the record straight with
this documentary. Who is involved with the project, well many
famous American Karateka like Chuck Merriman, Emil Farkas and
George Alexander are at present working on 1 the logistics of
This sounds outstanding Isaac I for lone can not wait to see
In summary Isaac Florentine is really a wolf in a sheep's clothing
or Karateka in a movie man's clothes. He 1 really is one of us
and he like you and I, loves to just punch and kick for the 'I
shear pleasure and pride of being able to do an art the best
Isaac Florentine or Don Warrener can be contacted at:
Masters Martial Arts Supply"
11734 Wilshire Blvd., C-409,
Los Angeles Ca.,
E-mail at email@example.com