By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—A new contender has stepped into the lucrative action movie field. It’s called After Dark Action, a partnership between After Dark Films and Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment. The partnership will debut its initial five original films in select theaters nationwide and through Video on Demand ((VOD) starting Friday, May 11.
According to After Dark Films president and CEO Courtney Solomon, “Our mission is to create innovative, first-rate entertainment for action lovers everywhere.”
The company definitely has the star power for its films including iconic action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Peter Weller. The action franchise also nabbed UFC/Mixed Martial Artist Cung Le as its lead character and fight choreographer for the film “Dragon Eyes,” which also stars Van Damme and Weller.
The other films on the Dark Action roster are “Transit,” starring Jim Caviezel, James Frain, Elisabeth Rohm, Harold Perrineau and Sterling Knight; “The Philly Kid,” starring Wes Chatham, Neal McDonough and Devon Sawa; “Slash House,” starring Lundgren, Sean Faris, Briana Evigan and Jon Huertas; and “El Gringo,” starring Scott Adkins, Christian Slater and Yvette Yates.
Starring as Ryan Hung, Le’s character is a stranger who arrives in the gang-infested town of St. Jude. Realizing he has super martial arts skills, locals vie for his attention. Ryan, though, must honor a promise to use his skills for good and resists the gangs’ instigations. Landing the role was a dream come true for Le, who has wanted to expand his horizons beyond martial arts to include acting in films.
“To work alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme and Peter Weller of ‘RoboCop’ is amazing,” he says. “And John Hyams is a great director.”
Le also predicts moviegoers are going to love the melding of western action with eastern martial arts.
“You’ve seen all the western action filmmaking like (the Jason) Bourne (films) and eastern filmmaking like the Shaw Brothers,” he continues. “You gotta see ‘Dragon Eyes’ because it’s the happy medium between the two styles.”
Also starring in “Dragon Eyes” is Kris Van Varenberg, Van Damme’s son. Van Varenberg was drawn to his character as Weller character’s sidekick, who is all talk and no action.
“My character is similar to the snake in “The Jungle Book,” he says. “He’s all talk. When he’s grabbed by the neck he’s like, ‘Please! No! No!’”
It was also a delight for the jovial Van Varenberg to work with his father, since he has long respected him and admired his craft.
The Philly Kid
For “The Philly Kid,” Sawa and Chatham liked how the story was grittier and less flashy than most mixed martial arts film. Chatham plays Dillon McCabe, a former NCAA wrestling champion sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the killing of a police officer. Released after 10 years behind bars, Dillon must help save his friend Jake (Sawa) by going back into fighting to help pay a loan shark debt.
No one had to twist Sawa’s arm to convince him to join the cast.
“I’ve been training in Muay Thai and Jujitsu, and when my agent showed me the script, I was like great,” he says, enthusiastically. “It’s an MMA script with a great story, and the rest is history.”
Chatham welcomed the challenge of the film.
“I’m really attracted to different challenges and things that going to make me better and make me grow as an actor,” he says. “The gritty and raw power of the fight scenes without much choreography also attracted me to the film.”
The lovely Rohm loved the raw power in her film “Transit,” which stars Caviezel. She previously worked with a company backed by producer Silver. She plays Caviezel’s wife Robyn. On a family trip, Nate (Caviezel) hopes to win back the respect of his estranged wife and children. However, the outing turns into a nightmare when four ruthless killers come after the family to get their hands on $4,000 stashed in their luggage rack, unbeknownst to Nate or his family.
Filming in an actual alligator preserve was a bit scary for Rohm, yet she still enjoyed the experience.
“Working for Joel Silver and starring opposite Jim Caviezel, James Frain and Harold Perrineau was a dream come true,” she says.
Filming “El Gringo” wasn’t terrifying for Yates at all. As Anna, she arrives in the border town of El Fronteras, A stranger simply known as The Man (Scott Adkins) must fight off various thugs that are trying to take his satchel filled with $2 million. Mistakenly thinking The Man is just another gringo (a Spanish derogatory term for “white person”) passing thru the town, Anna soon realizes he needs someone to help him out.
“My character runs a cantina in El Fronteras,” she explains. “Scott Adkin’s character is just trying to grab a margarita, catch a bus and get out of there, but end up getting into trouble. There’s more to him instead of being a bad guy and I start helping him out.”
The project also marked her first venture into the action genre.
“It’s such a different character—to have the physicality, emotional aspect to it and the dialogue and to deliver it to the audience was challenging,” she says.
Jon Huertas, who stars in “Slash House,” was excited to play bad guy Ray Jaffe who is trying to retrieve his stash of heroin that is lined within the walls of a foreclosed house purchased by an unsuspecting young couple, David and Emma Nash, played by Sean Faris and Briana Evigan.
“When you’re playing a good guy, you really stick to the parameters of what a good guy is,” Huertas says. “To play a bad guy, you can go to the director and say here’s something crazy that this guy could do and usually the director will be more open to it.”
It was also an exciting opportunity for Huertas to work with action screen legend Lundgren.
“He’s someone I watched when I was really young; I mean he was in ‘Rocky,’” he exclaims. “Working with Dolph was pretty surprising. I’ve never worked or met him before. He’s very intelligent, very clean cut and very healthy. First of all he was so good in ‘The Expendables.’ It really made me believe he had gotten strung out. You see a lot of actors that had their heyday and they end of getting strung out. In ‘Expendables,’ he (convincingly looked like he) was strung out. When I met him, he was so put together and so smart. I found out he was a Rhodes scholar and a chemical engineer before he ever got the job in ‘Rocky.’ He’s a highly intelligent man and he’s freakin’ bad ass.”