With awesome action-fest Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear out on Blu-ray on Monday, we sat down to talk to its insanely talented star Scott Adkins about making the movie, his career to date, and what it’s like to work with Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme.
Trust us, if you like martial arts actioners, you will love this movie. But don’t take our word for it, here’s Adkins himself to tell you why you should watch it.
It feels like Shadow Of A Tear is a throw-back to the action movies of the ’80s, did you watch a lot of those kinds of films growing up?
Absolutely, of course I did, it infected my mind when I was a kid. That’s why I do what I do now I think. Big Bruce Lee fan, big Van Damme fan and Stallone and Schwarzenegger and all those guys. I loved it all.
What was the first martial arts film you saw? How old were you when you discovered it?
I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 37, and back when I was a kid we had Central Television and Enter The Dragon used to be on late at night a lot. And sometimes I would stay up and watch it, sometimes I would record it on the VHS. Yeah, I just remember Bruce Lee in that film being so menacing and dangerous.
So do you ever picture that performance when you’re making your movies?
I think all the action stars that I’ve grown up watching found their way into my performance somehow. There’s little bits that come out, you don’t even really think about it consciously. But there’s a bit of everyone in there in some way.
On Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, which fight scene took the longest to prepare for?
It was the final fight scene, I spent two weeks rehearsing with the stunt guys before we started shooting the film. But that fight we spent three days on that fight, that was one of the toughest ones.
One of the toughest elements of making the movie was I badly hurt my back on one of the fights.
And that was the beginning of the second week and it was a six week shoot. So for about ten days I was in a lot of pain and doing my best to recuperate. And it’s still with me now to be honest, the injury. It’s in a strange place I can’t quite get rid of it.
And is that going to influence your choices coming up?
Oh, it’s not that bad it’s just a niggly injury. I just have to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become worse.
What specific move are you proudest of in Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear ?
In the end fight I do like a front kick, back kick… side kick, front kick, back kick, all in the air – three kicks.
And also I do the spin off the wall with a kick in the end fight.
And how long did it take to pull that off? How many takes?
Actually the first kick that I was talking about that was the first take. Which was good cause Kane actually throws himself back into the weapons and they weren’t false weapons, they were real weapons.
And the one off the wall was the third take or something like that. But obviously you train all your life doing these moves so you can pull it off when you need to.
You’ve said that you wanted to make Ninja II because you were so disappointed with the first one, what was wrong with it do you think?
The first one was too cheesy and for whatever reason – and I can’t even think why we did it this way – we made the fights a bit…we were trying to find a different style for myself that was more Japanese and in trying to find that style I think we made the fights a little less interesting.
They weren’t as flashy as what we’d normally make them. So I think that was a mistake and the story was… the character was very weak, the character of Casey in that film.
He’s like a young kid that’s out of his element and he was a bit of a goody two shoes and it just wasn’t a very interesting character. So we tried to fix those things with Ninja II.
What’s your favourite scene in the movie?
I like the final fight. I don’t want to give too much away you see by talking about that, like who he’s with and stuff, but I don’t know if it matters but I like the final fight because of who it’s with.
Shadow of a Tear is quite a poetic title, were there any other contenders?
That’s got nothing to do with me, and to be honest I prefer Ninja II.
Well I know why it’s there it’s shadow because it’s a ninja, and tear because it’s quite an emotional story but, I don’t know, it’s a bit pretentious for my liking. Ninja II: Electric Boogaloo , that’s a good one.
What was it like the first time you watched Ninja II with an audience?
I watched it at Fantastic Fest, and that’s obviously a very, very good audience to watch it with because they like that sort of stuff.
It’s always a bit nerve-wracking, and you cringe a bit at some of the stuff. But then the fight scenes come on, everybody loves it and they hoop and they holler, especially if it’s in America.
Are you a fan of The Raid and, if so, would you be interested in being part of the remake?
I’m a huge fan, I’m a massive fan, and this is no secret: I’m friends with Gareth. And absolutely of course I would love to, that’s all I’ll say at this point.
Is that something you’re talking to people about?
I’ve spoke to Gareth about it, he’s an executive producer, he’s gonna let other people create their version of it, he’s not going to get too involved. I know Gareth would like to work with me in the future – hopefully that does happen. I’m a massive fan, I cannot wait to see Raid 2. Just yesterday we watched that deleted scene, how amazing is that for a deleted scene? The guy is a poet, he’s so much more than an action director.
There are similarities between The Raid 2 and Ninja II…
I love Gareth, he’s an amazing director and it’s much more than the action, but man he’s has a lot more days to accomplish that than we do.
What timescale were you working to with Ninja II?
We shot it in six weeks, working six days a week. Each fight scene takes two days to shoot and on one particular week I was doing three fight scenes, so it was just like… it’s so much action, such an amount of work to get through.
And when it comes to a day when you’ve just got a bit of drama you’re so tired it’s hard to act because you’re just so knackered. So it really is quite difficult.
What did you learn from working with the Expendables guys?
To be honest I learnt that they’re much more protective of what goes out on the screen.
They really like to check what’s been shot and if they’re not happy they’re going to do it again and I guess in the past I’ve been a bit… I didn’t want to say, “Oh can we do another one?” because you know how precious time is on a film set and… but if they’re not happy with it you do it again and they’re in a position to make you do it again.
And at the end of the day that’s why I think you watch them and they’re as cool as they are because they make sure the finished product is cool.
You’ve worked with Jean-Claude the most, what have you learnt from him?
He said, “Well tilt your head more towards the camera and they’ll be able to see our face better.” So little movie star tricks like that. I can’t say that I actually did that one but that’s what he does I suppose. Maybe that’s what they all do. But if the other actors were doing that to me I’d be pretty distracted to be honest. But that’s what he said.
How long did the Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning sports store scene take to put together – it’s insanely cool…
I think we shot that in two days.
Yeah, it was really difficult because I tore my ACL six weeks before we made that film, which is a really bad injury to have, especially if you’re a martial artist, and it was just really difficult to shoot the whole film.
But yeah it was great working with Andrei Arlovski, he’s really good with the choreography.
What was funny was the baseball bats – we had a load of fake ones – and we kept breaking them, so we ended up using real baseball bats.
Because the other option was to wait for them to make another one, which was going to take two hours so we were like, “Fuck it, let’s use real ones, don’t tell the Screen Actors Guild.” And that’s what we did.
Which must have hurt a bit…
It really hurts, listen, I’m fighting Andrei Arlovski the heavyweight champion in the USA, I can’t say that it hurt him much but it definitely hurt me.
The film is called Ninja II but there’s not a lot of sneaking around or general ninja behaviour, but obviously there are a lot of explosive fights. Was one sacrificed for the other?
You know what it is? Me and Isaac both think that ninjas can easily get cheesy.
If you’re going to be running around in a ninja suit in the daylight it’s kinda hard to make that look cool we think. If you’re gonna do ninjas and make them look really cool you need to do in feudal Japan. So I think there’s less ninjaness because we just didn’t want it to be too cheesy and we wanted to make more of an old-school eighties martial arts film.
And also Kane, the character is in a state of mind where he’s a bit like a bull in a china shop anyway and that isn’t very ninjary. That’s where the character was at. If you get a chance to do a third one I think we can address these things. To be honest I would like to put more ninja stuff back in.
Have you been discussing that at all?
Not really. We’re trying to do Undisputed 4 next.
That’s another popular franchise, what do you enjoy about making those films?
It’s the character of Yuri Boyka, a character that I love to play. He’s really cool and he’s a bit of a fan favourite as well, people really enjoy watching that character. Yeah it’s all based around him really.
But also it’s nice to do fights in a location like a ring, it’s kind of easier to do because you’ve got a padded floor and when you do other modern martial arts films they like to use objects and stuff and smash into things. Which looks great but it does take more time. Time is something that we never have.
Finally, if someone’s planning to buy Ninja II on DVD what would you say is the best way to watch it? So who with? What kind of snacks?
I would get it on Blu-ray. Maybe play a drinking game where every time I kick someone in the face you’ve got to take a big massive gulp. You should be pretty twisted by about a third of the way in.
You realise this might kill people?[laughs] It might but that’s how I felt making the movie – like I was going to die. So it would be good for people to experience that.
Lionsgate UK releases Ninja: Shadow of a Tear on Blu-ray and DVD on the 12th May 2014