Reposted from Firstpost. Thank you Devansh Sharma.

In an industry obsessed with deifying the star, the spotlight often evades those who work tirelessly behind the scenes. The success of a film is often attributed to its face but seldom to those who constitute the spine. And so, in this column titled Beyond the Stars, Firstpost highlights the contributions of film technicians who bring their expertise to the table.

The recently released action comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, directed by Vasan Bala, has been hailed worldwide for inventively choreographed action sequences. Firstpost got in touch with its action director, Eric Jacobus, for an exclusive interaction on how he came on board the film, why an action film has a lot to say, and how Mumbai served as a great setting for stunning action pieces.

Devansh Sharma: You are a widely recognised actor, stuntman and martial artist in the US. How did you get on board Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota as the action director?

Eric Jacobus: Vasan Bala contacted me because he had seen my indie action film Rope-A-Dope on YouTube, recommended by Mumbai stuntman Prateek Parmar. In Rope-A-Dope, we, the action team, were responsible for everything from the writing to the camera angles, final edit, and sound design. It was an action film to the bone. Vasan asked me if I could create Rope-A-Dope action in Bollywood. I joked, “I can’t even make Rope-A-Dope action in Hollywood! They don’t like the action team dictating the camera angles or the edit. And the actors have to do their own stunts!” But Vasan was dead-set on making it work for Man Who Feels No Pain (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota).

Jacobus (action director), Dennis Ruel (fight coordinator) and The Stunt People prepping choreography in Oakland, CA at The Open Matt.

DS: Director Vasan Bala has claimed that the film is a tribute to the 1980s action heroes, predominantly Indian film stars like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Chiranjeevi and Mithun Chakraborty. Were you familiar with their work before you came on board? How did Bala familiarise you with the styles of these influential Indian action stars?

EJ: I knew Bollywood action before stepping foot into India. I also knew how Vasan wanted to innovate within that genre. He referenced these ’80s films all the time, and how Bollywood stuntmen had speaking roles and they weren’t just generic bodies being thrown about. He wanted every stuntman to have an acting role. So, similar to how the actors did all their own stunts, the stuntmen had their own acting roles. They show up in later scenes with bandages and can even steal the scene. So the actors and stuntmen are playing by the same rules. The actors aren’t gods, and the stuntmen aren’t dirty. It speaks to a global change, when Tom Cruise is doing stunts and stuntmen like Chad Stahelski are directing movies, a total convergence of the two domains.

DS: Bala has also revealed that global action icons of that era, like Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow and Buster Keaton, have also shaped the action of his film. How did you incorporate the styles or signature moves of these stars into the visual narrative?

EJ: If we only copy moves or gags then we don’t get at the heart of what makes Jackie Chan and Keaton so great. The standard action hero is built within a house of cards replete with shaky camerawork and choppy editing to create an illusion we can believe, but that house of cards falls very quickly today. The global audience is far too smart because they’re all critics and they all make their own movies. We know when it’s a stunt double wearing a bad wig, we see the green screen or when a wire stunt defies physics. Keaton and Jackie didn’t build a house of cards to hide their tricks, but instead used a very deliberate style of filmmaking that helped us believe everything they were doing, and that’s why those films stand up to this day: They’re trustworthy. So we took this same philosophy: We need be trustworthy and not hide anything. The actors need to train to fight like stuntmen, like real action stars. This way we don’t lie. Then we ask, Now what can they do? How far can we push them? Can we have Gulshan fight 100 men in a single-day’s shoot while hopping around on one leg? We pushed and pushed, and the actors were happy to reciprocate. The gags and techniques revealed themselves and it’s all very unique and specific to Bollywood, so we’re not stealing anything directly from Keaton and Jackie, but their influence is all over this film.

DS: How did the central character theme of the protagonist Surya’s (Abhimanyu Dassani) inability to feel pain factor into how you designed the action? Did it lead to innovative Deadpool-esque stunt sequences?

EJ: This “disability” that Surya has is why I took the job. When you’re given a job directing action for a typical action scene, you’re always looking for that variable which drastically affects the action. You could almost call it a ‘multiplier’ in that every single movement from the hero calls back to that variable. Zatoichi’s multiplier is his blindness, and Surya’s is his ability to walk head-first into a punch. But whereas Deadpool heals over time, Surya is a young man who pushes himself too far, and when he runs himself into the ground, he gives out. That’s a major disability. So his choreography involves a lot of mental calculation: how not to get dehydrated, how to check whether his body is injured, how to react appropriately to pain (“Ouch”). It’s no longer a matter of technique; it’s all character. That’s a choreographer’s dream, when choreography keeps popping up everywhere you look.

DS: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota also boasts of a leading lady who is anything but a damsel in distress. But she is also not a dominatrix. Through her action sequences, how did you strike the balance between contemporary sensibilities and the template of a B-grade action movie from the 1980s?

EJ: As coordinators, we’re always tempted to make feminine women into better, faster, stronger fighters, because that’s the easy way. But she’s fighting men much bigger than her, and we had to avoid descending into fantasy. And her co-stars have these insane “multiplier” effects like painlessness and fighting only on one leg. So if she’s not vulnerable, she’s not human, and we lose her. So we play her as smart and more determined than anyone, which was exactly her character. She uses props like her jacket and a glue bucket, anything she can get her hands on in the environment. We paint average guys as real threats because that’s the reality for a woman half their size, no matter their skills. We push her to failure because that’s how she became so smart and capable in the first place.

Radhika Madan in Man Who Feels No Pain

DS: How did you design action around the various props in the film? Can you talk about the most frequent ones like the water tank and pipe of Surya (the only chink in his armour), Supri’s stole and Karate Mani’s crutch?

EJ: Vasan created the water pack and Mani’s crutch, and we created Supri’s shawl with the sharp metal charms during the pre-visualisation process. These are the multipliers that open up so many action opportunities. We then ask: What happens when they lose these things? Karate Mani is a tactician and a precision kicker with his crutch. We based it off the one-legged man in Born to Fight. But without his crutch, he’s a one-legged raging bull. When Surya has his water pack, he’s cocky because he can go for hours. Without it, he treads on thin ice, or he exhausts himself. Supri’s scarf can be used to wrap and tie up weapons. When it’s cut in half it becomes like brass knuckles, and without it, she grabs the next available object and improvises.

DS: Mani is the only character that is in constant pain because of his one legged stunt scenes. How important was it to also show pain and fallibility in an action film essentially about a man who feels no pain?

EJ: If our heroes don’t feel pain, we don’t feel pain. You have to hurt the audience so they know what it means to feel good. Surya’s pain is mental because he takes on such insane odds. We give him extreme highs so he can have extreme lows. Mani’s dedication to Karate created a strong façade that’s saddled with a mix of shame and resentment toward his brother. The pain experienced in a fight goes to another level when it comes from the story.

DS: How did the landscape of Mumbai lend itself to the action? Can you talk about how you used settings like an office floor and an under-construction building compound?

EJ: We didn’t know any of the locations until a few days before shooting. We choreographed all the bits and pieces (the words and phrases) in a gym, but the location is what shapes the words and phrases. We did a walk-through a few times to figure out how to integrate all the gags, where to build walls, place desks and tables for stuntmen to fall into. Then we take all that and re-shoot the pre-vis, which is more like a reference-vis, cut out half the choreography that simply won’t fit, integrate all the new environmental factors, block it out with all the performers, and even add some dialogue with Vasan’s help. I then shortlisted everything, taking into account the size of the crew, sunlight, fixed lighting, and makeup continuity. Then we shoot, and it goes smoothly. The fight in the office is a great example. There’s a gag that the elevator is taking too long, and all the bad guys decide to take the stairs. Then the elevator comes. We did this because the elevators in that building were called “High Speed Elevators” but they’d take four or five minutes every time. It was a natural fit into the scene. Vasan’s agile and can incorporate things like that very easily.

Eric Jacobus (right) on the sets of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Jacobus and Ruel On the set of Man Who Feels No Pain

DS: Vasan has maintained that cinema begins from action films and that even a B-grade action flick is laced with social commentary. Do you also echo the idea that action films have a lot to say?

EJ: Action films are the artist’s resolution to a cultural crisis, which he solves by directing human bodies. Bodies (and their language) speak to the audience in a way the royal drama can’t. A man’s mouth says, “I’m only a peasant” but his body says, “I am royalty”. The pleasant, ritualistic movement of Crouching Tiger and The Matrix in the year 2000 spoke of a time when violence was predictable and pleasant. Then, only a year later, after the terror attacks of 9/11, the violence became random, and Jason Bourne’s movement in The Bourne Identity has to reflect that. Tony Jaa’s body reflects Thai rage against human trafficking in Ong Bak. Iko’s constantly moving body, violently cutting apart enemies, reflects anger and rage against drug cartels and police corruption in Indonesia in The Raid. When the physical action language and all its filmmaking modes reflect the current crisis, that’s called “code-making”. Human bodies needed to code-create to reflect that cultural mindset. This way the audience doesn’t have to decode anything because the code underlies the very experience of watching the movie. With Man Who Feels No Pain, we code-made the action with this in mind: This Bollywood film is confidently hitting the savvy, global market. We’re 100% percent confident it can compete with the best out there.

DS: With CGI-dominated huge action sequences taking the foreground globally, what scope do you think hand-to-hand combat or forms like martial arts have in movies around the world?

EJ: There will always be a demand for physical bodies to take on the current cultural scene. This is how Kayfabe works in the WWE or Japan Pro Wrestling; a body acts out the audience’s pent up resentments and trauma. He’s their cathartic outlet, the way the warrior dance was. As the news media globalises, people in the US, India, China and everywhere else in the world are beginning to experience the same news stories and live the same trauma, so they demand the same movement from human bodies. Global hits are made by teams who can successfully code-make according to that cultural crisis, and by performers who can successfully embody that code-making.

In light of his performing stunts for Kratos in Sony’s 2018 hit God of War, Eric Jacobus was invited to participate at FestiGame in Santiago, Chile in early August. Jacobus was first asked to give a stunt demonstration and motivational talk, but then he saw the numbers: over 40,000 video game fans from all over Latin America would attend FestiGame, and he had a stage to work with. So he quickly brought together some teams to do something that’s never been done before: a motion capture stunt show starring a live video game character.

Jacobus knew that the right tool for the job would be Xsens MVN, a marker-less motion capture system that utilizes sensors and can be utilized anywhere without the optical cameras one requires in a Vicon or OptiTrack system. He originally saw the Xsens suit at E3 in 2017, and now he knew how to apply it. All he needed was a character to embody in the live show, and he discovered that the upcoming Chilean fighting game Omen of Sorrow would be at FestiGame. The show coordinator contacted AOne Games, and they agreed to let Jacobus use their Dr. Hyde character.

Chris Adamsen of Xsens rigged the Dr. Hyde character in Unity, and using an Xsens plugin streamed Jacobus’s movements in the Xsens suit directly into Unity and manipulate the Dr. Hyde model. The result was a stunt demonstration in which Jacobus brought a video game character to life in front of a live audience. (Video shot by Zac Swartout)

Jacobus plans to bring live motion capture stunt shows to other venues and hopes to portray other video game characters in the near future. If this is of interest for your show or if your video game character is a good fit, perhaps you can both make it happen.

Eric Jacobus is reachable at theericjacobus@gmail.com.

DMR: Talk about rehearsing the various fights: what are some of the new techniques and action you learned along the way?

EJ: We start with the story. Walter has a sword, these guys have guns. You can’t make a long, intricate fight when it’s a sword versus a gun. We could do “gun-fu” or flail the sword around for five minutes like a Rurouni Kenshin fight scene, but that would only service our egos as stuntmen. You lose people with that mindset, so as stuntmen who are creating from the ground up we have to pull back and ask, “What’s the story here? What are the key moments to capitalize on?” Takeshi Kitano made memorable fight scenes out of a single move – jamming the hammer on a revolver with his thumb, or putting a bullet in a guy’s mouth and socking him. This is smart film-making, so we start there. The choreography falls into place effortlessly then.

Read the full interview here. Thank you Danny Templegod for the opportunity.

Be sure to check out Blindsided: The Game on YouTube here.

Today we’re releasing our new short film Blindsided, an exciting event not only for marking the third film of the JB Productions franchise, the first 2 being the Rope A Dope series, but also for representing a turning point for this humble stuntman, who started a stunt career in 2001 as a do-it-all-because-I-have-to filmmaker, wearing all hats, and proceeding to shed one hat after the other through various projects, until the moment of finding himself working alongside an incredible team that functions like a fine camera. Whatever role I might have played in Blindsided, all credit is owed to the following people:

The director, Clayton Barber, also my business partner and mentor, introduced me to storytelling with Save The Cat, a huge help in not only creating story but understanding the tradition of the feature film format. Clayton’s ability to find good story has been responsible for all our great short films. His inspiration helped create the Blindsided script, and his direction is why I was able to deliver any lines whatsoever. He always reminded me of who Walter Cooke was. Thank you, Clayton.

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David No is a fantastic stuntman and veteran filmmaker, but he demonstrated his producer skills by putting Blindsided together in ways I’ll never understand. He actually has two phones, one for each ear, one for dealing with shooting locations falling through, and one for everything else. I’m not sure he sleeps either. His deep understanding of martial arts cinema of the world ensured every level of the production would produce a quality action film in the end. David set an example for the team by demonstrating that there was no ego on this shoot, as he dedicated himself solely to producing and shooting, from shooting and editing the initial pre-viz to producing the post-production process, even doing some color and editing himself.

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Roger Yuan, a veteran stuntman and actor, was so good to us to lend us his time as a performer, but he topped it off by coming to every pre-viz session to create the choreography that would end up on camera. Roger helped craft Walter’s movements and it was an honor to work with someone who knew cinema like Roger did. My favorite piece of advice from Roger was, “Smooth is fast.” It calmed my nerves when using the wiley blind cane, which I knew nothing about up until the moment we rolled cameras. While shooting Roger made performing a simple task, always finding the truth of the scene and never walking over anybody, even though he fills huge shoes and has decades of experience on most of us.

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Nicholas Verdi, also a stuntman, and filmmaker, made himself available to not only play the villain Nico but also to act as director of photography. He brought a classic sentiment to the shooting style, often running behind the camera to check lighting when necessary, then running back in front to do his scene. Nick’s a hell of an actor, and as anyone knows, a fight scene needs two players. This performer looks only as good as the people around him, and Nick sold every second.

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Khalid Ghajji, also a stuntman, is a world class breakdancer, boxer, and basically the ideal martial artist, cast in the role of one of Nico’s gangsters. We learned this in China working on Heart of a Champion, when in 4 days of his final fight scene Khalid made zero mistakes. In an alternate universe, Khalid would be doing windmills and 540s in the Blindsided fight scene. But in this world, he was given a character who loses his knife and grabs a broken skateboard, and he perfected it. If you gave Khalid a popsicle stick and two broken legs, he would perfect that. That’s what it means to be a perfect stuntman. Shitty stuntmen do 540s when they’re armed with popsicle sticks.

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Brett Sheerin, also a stuntman, originally came on as a stand-in for shooting pre-viz, but when the other performer couldn’t commit to the part, Brett was an obvious choice since he had already recreated the part from the ground up. When he owned it, he perfected it and began innovating, finding new ideas everywhere, and always being a pro. Brett was also expecting the delivery of his second child during the last day of shooting but he never let that break his focus.

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Steffen Schmidt, our composer, a professional, sat through a dozen arduous meetings where we would tear apart the latest draft of his soundtrack and often leave nothing but scraps. In the end Steffen became the ultimate composer because he never rushed anything and instead let the music find the film, first by creating the perfect theme song, and then with Clayton’s input letting that theme song drive the rest of the soundtrack. Steffen created magic.

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Johnny Marshall, our sound designer, took the final cut and score, locked himself in a cave or some catacombs in the middle of the planet for a couple weeks, and emerged with the final sound design, with every punch and kick sound perfectly tuned, all dialog mysteriously “frontal”, and all mixed so you could enjoy it in a theater or on an iPhone in a crowded subway car. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing this on the first draft before. Can someone confirm that Johnny Marshall is actually human?

Tim Connolly, a veteran stuntman, not only has the most epic beard of any man, but is also the kindest tough guy on the planet. Tim lent us all his equipment, including his cameras and sound gear, and even operated B camera for the entire shoot. I liked throwing jabs at Tim because he’s a nice guy. Then I’d run away because he’s 6’2 and kicks like Van Damme. Thanks Tim, you’re so rad.

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“Hippie Frank” Frank Strick, veteran of the film industry, is one of those guys you hire to play a part, in this case the “bum”, but when you realize how gifted he is with people and the production process you hire him to do whatever’s left undone. By the end of the shoot he was running the set, taking notes on a piece of cardboard he found, calling the shot list, keeping schedule, always treating everybody with respect, and at the same time never to be disrespected. Faced with an extremely limited schedule during the second day of the fight scene, Frank’s attitude and work ethic allowed us to finish with hours to spare. People like Frank are nothing short of superheroes who fix all your problems, and after it’s all done they vanish to do cool things.

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Pete Antico, yet ANOTHER veteran stuntman (there are more stuntmen in this project than people on screen), sports the most expensive outfit in the shoot, thus effectively donating $500 to the budget. Acting with Pete was like being in an improv troupe. Every take was different. As the editor I would have hated him for that, but the takes always got better, and the final take was always magic thanks to Pete. It’s an honor to act with a man like Pete.

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Walter Raineri, our blind consultant and real-life action hero, is the man I train with in the end credits of Blindsided. Walter’s insight into how the blind perceive the world not only crafted the script and performance but gave me some real-life insight that I’ll never forget. Grant Corvin was generous enough to help out for the day I met real-life Walter and filmed the entire meeting. It will make for a great behind-the-scenes video in the near future.

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Renae Moneymaker, a stuntwoman, originally acted in the liquor store scene, but the scene was a late addition, and though her performance was perfect and charming, the scene wasn’t right for the final cut. She’s a world class stuntwoman and she should at least throw a kick next time. Or fight with a popsicle stick.

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Laura Aika Tanimoto, the art director, pulled off a genius move that I didn’t notice until I watched the dailies. There’s an upside-down painting in Walter’s apartment that’s clearly visible when he’s rolling dice. That was Laura’s doing. She envisioned the Walter character trying to fit in with the sighted world and doing his best by buying art and accidentally framing it the wrong way. An art director who knows the character knows the entire film. Laura was also instrumental in crafting the pie scene. During the fight scene, Laura and her assistant Daniel Alverado were always ready during the fight with extra blind canes, some lighter than others, some with the sections taped together, and some with knives embedded.

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Sharon Zhang, our wardrobe pro, had a vision from the beginning of Walter and created what you now see. Costuming is a nightmare, but Sharon makes it look easy because she’s so good at it. She even painted Walter’s shoes. Twice. That’s crazy.

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Jair Holguin was our script supervisor. I never understood the need for this role, until I underwent the hell of syncing external audio and picking shots for the edit and received Jair’s notes transcribed in a spreadsheet, complete with shot and take numbers, file numbers for video, file numbers for audio, and detailed information about every shot that he gleaned from random notes thrown around by Clayton, David, Nick, and myself. I thank you Jair for shaving off hours hacking off days of work in the post-production process because of your work.

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Parker Amberg, our assistant camera, is a prodigy. David would point to something he needed, but before he could mouth the words Parker would have it in his hand. Parker’s like a hitman you bring onto a shoot to annihilate 10 hours of work in no time and save you huge headaches.

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Karen Pang, hair and makeup, and a fitness model to boot who makes an appearance as the jogger, made us look sexy. That’s not hard with someone like Nicholas Verdi, but for me it’s a monumental undertaking usually reserved for people armed with pruning shears and die grinders. Entrusting the entirety of that task to Karen was a wise decision. Thus, everyone looks sexy in Blindsided.

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Don Le, our co-producer, was instrumental in getting the project going from the start. Don’s got that “first push” way about him, where once he gets the cart moving, you better run after it because it’ll finish without you.

Nate Votran, behind the scenes camera operator and stills photographer, followed us around for 5 days documenting everything. He even loaned us his equipment. His attitude is fantastic and I can’t wait to show what he filmed.

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Andrew Lewis, our colorist, slaved away for weeks trying to mask the insane lighting discrepancies of the outdoor scenes. I have no idea how coloring works, but I know when it doesn’t work, and that’s when people notice things. Don’t know how you did it, Andrew, but you did.

Zach Chamberlain, another stuntman, did our on-site sound recording. The sound came out fantastic. Thanks for all the hard work, Zach. Special thanks to Christina Connolly for coming out and filling in when Zach was booked.

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Master Andre Lima was extremely generous in allowing us the use of his Lima Taekwondo schools. Master Lima is a TKD extraordinaire and his story is inspirational. At lunch he told us, simply, “Show up on time, do your work, and you will succeed.” (Having a phenomenal work ethic like his helps too.)

Gil Sanabria, our titlist who also did titles for Rope A Dope, never disappoints and always gets things done super fast.

Jenna Tower, key art photographer, shoots magic. Sometimes she has to shoot schlubs like me, but she makes the best of it and snapped the coolest poster photo of all time.

Kenny Sheard, another freaking stuntman, came and helped pre-viz the action and brought his awesome attitude and epic beard. Kenny claims to be new at stunts but we all think he might have been making action films during his military tour.

Edward Kahana, the last stuntman in this post I swear, dedicated his time to helping create Walter’s style during pre-vizzing sessions in the park. Ed’s good at coming up with choreography ideas, and we happened on a bunch, about 2% of which ended up in the film. That’s not bad! Ed is a dear friend of mine and was the best man at my wedding, and he’s an amazing griller, but most of all he’s been instrumental all of my projects since 2003.

Allen Quindiagan, another stuntman (I lied, there’s more) and production assistant, made time to come and help with the shoot. Allen also dedicated tons of time to some of my side projects and is busting his ass daily as a stuntman in LA.

John Adams, composer of the “Q’s Blues” song playing in the background of the liquor store, stole my heart with his track. I’m a closet jazz fan.

Many thanks to Rafael, Carmine, and Ralph Santos of Grace United Methodist Church in Long Beach for granting us use of their parking lot on such short notice.

Thank you Ron Stehler, Paul Tek, and Nick Nipha of Wine Mess Liquors for being so cool and letting us take over your store for a day and even come in for reshoots.

Cold Steel was kind enough to sponsor our knives, which were fake.

Eone was kind enough to sponsor the blind watch, which was real.

Tasha Day and Emily Scott of Long Beach for helping with putting production on track, Luke Lafontaine for your knife expertise, 87eleven Action Design for loaning out props, David Hoang, Nam Luong, Park Pantry, Don and Cindy Stokes for your constantly accommodating me in my many trips to LA, my wife Chiara for her love and support and watching 72 drafts of this film, and the families of all involved.

Special thanks to the following folks who contributed subtitles:

Arabic – Sari Sabella
Chinese – Grace Wang (thanks also to Pete Lee)
Dutch – Elwin Rijken
French – DL MacDonald & Michèle Wienecke
German – Alvin Vojic
Greek – Manos -The Bro- Kipouros
Indonesian – Dave Christian
Italian – Zak Lee Guarnaccia
Japanese – Ian Erickson
Norsk – Andreas Vasshaug
Polish – Uzi
Portuguese – Helton Carvalho
Russian – Rustic Bodomov
Spanish – Dario Susman
Swedish – Christoffer Frank
Tagalog – Joey Min
Thai – Boripat D
Turkish – Tanay Genco Ulgen
Urdu – Nick Khan
Vietnamese – Lee Entertainment

And thank you Kan Shimozawa, Daiei, and Shintaro Katsu and for creating the iconic Japanese underdog Zatoichi and Phillip Noice and Rutger Hauer for Blind Fury. Your work will forever inspire us.

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Now for the film!