Recently, I had the chance to sit down with the stars of the latest indie film, "The Paper Tigers," Alain Yu, Mykel Shannon Jenkins and Ron Yuan. We discussed what brought our leads to the project, how they got their fantastic chemistry and what it was like to shoot one of the film's funniest sequences. Spoilers for the film below, but what I'll say is that if you haven't seen it, you definitely should!
Gabe: Your come-through experience was pretty impressive. Did any of you guys have any previous experience beforehand?
Alain Yu: I personally always dreamt of being in a Kung Fu movie. Watching "The Last Dragon," you learn everything you need to know by growing up on all the Bruce Lee films. I took martial arts when I was younger and got into dance, but to have this come around where you're in a Kung Fu movie was a dream come true. I'm like, "guess what? I'm going to be in a Kung Fu movie." My brothers all just looked at me and said, "well, you don't know how to do any of that stuff." It really is one of those bucket list things where you're like, oh, I can really check this off and say, I've done a Kung Fu movie.
Ron Yuan: Alain has a lot of experience, plus with the combination of his and his dad's background. He killed it. I've had a lot of experience in different martial arts styles, but this is the first time you have to be below average. It's okay that this is the first time I felt like I don't need to train or get my stretch better. So yeah, let's, let's gain weight and go for it.
Mykel Shannon Jenkins: And for me, I boxed a lot, had a little krav-maga, I've done action martial arts films. I've only dabbled in things like Jiu-jitsu because I just wanted to learn how to put someone to sleep. Then they (stunt coordinators) started working with me, and I was like, "Oh my goodness. My respect for it is tremendous. The footwork will help you with lipping kicks, and taking people down and putting them in situations where they surrender is a real art form." Hats off to Ken, Sam and Carrie. They took their time with us, and they let our bodies tell them what it looked like and how it felt. And then they began to build the story around that."
Gabe: The karate is just as much of a character in the film as your characters are. What I love so much about this movie is the chemistry the three of you guys have with one another. Can you walk me through what the first meeting was like between the three of you, and did that chemistry just kind of hit right off the park? Cause it sure feels that way watching the film.
Alain Yu: The first time we all met together was prep for fighting a couple of weeks before filming. I remember I found out that Ron was going to be in it, and he is a legend in this industry and the Asian community in terms of actors. And I've worked with him before. So there was a bit of that sort of history. But the minute I saw Mykel come in and we all started to do an improv scene, all of that chemistry happened organically for us. You know, being in the same space, 24/7 for like six-plus weeks straight. I mean, it was kind of instantaneous. There's a lot of commonalities that we shared in terms of interest in music, and of course, sports! I'm so happy that you saw the chemistry on-screen because we created a bond that will last us for the rest of our lives. I mean, I call these guys my brothers for real. It's going to be there for a lifelong time.
Mykel Shannon Jenkins: But we're not going to put it all on just the opportunity. These are special guys. Watching them do improv, open themselves up, honestly put forth not just the minimal amount of serviceable information, but try to cut the moment out. I've always felt like I worked too hard, but when you see two other artists working just as hard, just trying to get at the truth, there's an admiration that immediately starts. And then we met in that open space, and then it just, it's magical; no question about it.
Gabe: I have to ask about one particular scene that gave me my biggest laugh in the film the two times I watched it. The scene where you fight Carter is one of the funniest sequences involving physical comedy, which is surprising and unexpected. Can you guys talk about what it was like filming that and maybe how much improv was involved, or was it all just in the script?
Mykel Shannon Jenkins: It's all Ken, Carrie and Sam. It was really an experience because I was in it, but I wasn't really aware that the beating would be that bad. But to Matt's (stunt coordinator) credit, he took all that damage because he obviously knew it would end in this defeat. He took full advantage, and it became really funny because it's the truth that we held onto makes it work. Unless I broke my neck, I was still getting up. And then he (Carter) just went there after watching Ron get his ass whooped. I took that on the chest. I was like, "okay, well, if y'all going out like that, good! I'll go out with my bros." I had to see a couple of butt kickings first before I gave in.
Ron Yuan: It was a lot of fun, even in the prep and during the choreography time. So, all our stuff was mapped out by the stunt team. They were so great. And you know, them along with Boa (the director) allowed me to improv a little bit, you know, with the little gastric stuff that was happening. And yeah, so it was a lot of fun.
Gabe: Well, gentlemen, thank you so much for your time today. And all I know is I'm ready for Paper Tigers 2!
Alain Yu: Let's do it!
Mykel Shannon Jenkins: Oh, homeboy! We'll let them know. Bro, I'm going to put your name down. There you go, first in line.
Gabe: I'll be there!