In KFK’s review of 2015’s “One Million K(l)icks”, I made the observation that the film’s leading man Mike Moeller “can move like a ‘Street Fighter’ character”, and to this day, I’ve yet to meet anyone who would find any grounds whatsoever to disagree.
A veteran stunt man, Mike’s gravity-defying, out-of-this-world martial arts abilities are beyond astonishing. To see Mike in action is to see Germany’s answer to Tony Jaa do everything but walk on air – and make it look slightly less difficult than blinking!
Now, Mike sits down with KFK to share his story; his beginning as a martial artist and his experiences as a stunt performer, along with a peak behind the scenes in creating the incredible fight sequences in “One Million K(l)icks”!
It’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well. Thanks for taking some time out…Have you taken a look at our site?
Yes…I love it!
What do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
Thanks! Now let’s start out with some basics, like where were you born?
I was born in Bad Lobenstein, East Germany
What’s your height and weight?
I’m 5’2” (1.60m) tall and weigh 9st 6lb (60kg).
So, how did you first get into the martial arts, how old were you? What was the first main style you trained in and what different arts have you studied?
Well after the fall of the Berlin Wall (I was born in the former GDR -German Democratic Republic) a completely new and unknown world opened up to us, and with all the video stores we now had access to, we were able to enjoy all the great films from all over the world. I started watching a lot of martial arts and action films which influenced me a lot.
They motivated me so much that I began to train by myself intensively and purposefully. In addition to strength and conditioning, I started with martial arts. Unfortunately there was no martial arts club in our area at that time, so I learned a lot from books and movies.
Later on, when I left my village to learn a trade, I joined a very good Taekwondo club.
I also taught myself a lot of acrobatics and different fall techniques. Today I workout with martial artists from different styles such as judo, karate, boxing and wrestling.
An autodidact…I see. So, how did you first get started as a stunt performer?
In 2000, Donnie Yen shot a TV series called “Der Puma” in Berlin. I’ve always been a big fan of his and I wrote a letter to the production company, asking them to visit the set as an observer and maybe get a picture of my idol. Together with the letter I sent a VHS tape of the short films I made growing up, in the hope that they’d recognize that I am a real fan.
Three days later, I got a call from the stunt coordinator inviting me for a training session with the Donnie Yen Stunt Team. It was a dream come true for me. I was very surprised when I learned that there was no training but a casting for the last part of the season. I was very excited, I also made mistakes, but I did my best. For me, it was only important to meet Donnie Yen and his team. In the end I got my photos with Michael Woods, John Salvitti, Kenji Tanigaki and of course with Donnie Yen. I was so happy and drove back home.
Two days later I got another call, this time from the production manager of the series and he told me that the Asian stunt guys liked my performance and my VHS tape a lot. They liked my sense of humour and my skills and wanted to cast me in the series. I had one rehearsal day with Donnie Yen and his team and three shooting days, where I fought against Mickey Hardt, the main character of “The Puma”.
This was my entrance into the professional film business and I owe that especially to Michael Bornhuetter and Kenji Tanigaki.
That’s quite a place to start off at with Donnie Yen. On that note, some of your credits as a stuntman include “Resident Evil”, “Unknown”, and “Inglourious Basterds”. Can you tell us a memorable experience from each?
“Resident Evil” was one of my first jobs. I only worked on the film for one day, I was playing a zombie who gets knocked down by Michelle Rodriguez.
Here’s a little side story from the film. At our lunch break we were playing around doing acrobatic moves together with the other stunt guys, then the second unit director saw it and came to me and said “That was a good move, can I film it?” So we did a little previz of that special move. I heard nothing from them for a while so I called the local stunt coordinator, and asked him what’s going on? I learned that the second unit director liked the move I did and he said “Oh, we already shot that but they could not do it without a wire so we put Milla Jovovich and her stunt double in a harness”.The move appears in the movie when Milla runs up the wall with two steps, turns in the air and kicks the zombie dog away. At that time I was very disappointed that they did not inform me they were using my move or gave me at least a day’s more work so that I could do it myself. But nowadays this is unfortunately normal.
For “Unknown” I had the great opportunity to work with Olivier Schneider and Gregory Loffredo. I had a few days’ work but wasn’t involved in creating the film’s action.
“Inglourious Basterds” was great to work on. To see how Quentin and all the actors work for what they love was fantastic. Together with a lot of other stunt guys we delivered some good action, although the final version doesn’t show everything we did.
You’ve also appeared in “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” under the direction of the Wachowskis. How was it making these movies with them?
“Speed Racer” was a great experience for me. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch from 87Eleven were responsible for the action. I had the honour together with Mathis Landwehr and Wolfgang Stegemann to work on the previz of the Ninja fight. It was a wonderful gig. A few years later, David Leitch brought me back again, this time for the “Hansel and Gretel” previz. Together with Sam Hargrave, Maja Aro and Jackson Spidell. It was such a pleasure to work with them.
The Wachowskis are very cool, very relaxed people, so a lot of great memories from making “Speed Racer”. For “Cloud Atlas”, I was involved in the parts directed by the co-director, Tom Tykwer. There was a big brawl choreographed in a bar with a few comedy elements that we did, even though half of it was cut out in the final version!
Sounds like you’d gained some solid experience making those films. In 2009, you also appeared in the movie “Coweb” alongside Luxia Jiang and Kane Kosugi. What fun or memorable stories can you remember working alongside them?
Very challenging. Every day was twelve hours of fighting and falling in the heat of Hong Kong. After four days of shooting I had the biggest muscle pain of my life!
Together with Eskindir Tesfay I had a fight scene with Luxia Jiang. Xin Xin Xiong was the director, I’d worked with him before on “Half Past Dead”. He‘s such a great guy with a great sense of humour who knows how to bring the best out of you.
I didn’t have the opportunity to fight in my own style. The fight scene they choreographed was a mix between Breakdance and Capoeira. Shooting in the heat of Hong Kong was the hardest but also one of the best experiences I ever had. Kane Kosugi is a great martial artist, a very nice and humble person, and so is Luxia Jiang
Agreed! You also performed stuntwork in the film “Pound of Flesh“, with Jean-Claude Van Damme and the late Darren Shahlavi. What was it like making the film alongside Jean-Claude and Darren, under the direction of Ernie Barbarash and fight choreographer John Salvitti? What interesting, fun or interesting things happened behind the scenes?
John Salvitti called me and offered me a job on his fight team. I was very proud and honoured. John is a passionate guy, very talented and a true fighter. He combines honour, respect, and passion; he loves it, he lives it, he stands for it. Every day he comes up with new stuff, he always tries to improve the choreography and make it better. Together with Brahim Achabbakhe (the main double for JCVD who also played the character ‘Nardo’ in the film) and a bunch of local Chinese stunt guys plus real MMA guys from Kimekai MMA Australia, we gave the film our best.
To make a good movie a lot of factors must come together. From pre to post-production: you very often have to face big problems, especially during the shooting of a low budget movie. Then you must make compromises, you can’t have everything go the way you want in every department. That’s why it’s important to have a good team in front and behind the camera.
As for JCVD, what can I say? I grew up with his films, he’s an idol for me. Of course I was happy to meet and work with him. However, the script was changed shortly before we started shooting, so they cut the fight I originally had against him out. Ernie Barbarash is a nice person, it was great working with him. Mike Leeder was also a producer on this film and supported and helped me out a lot. Darren was a great guy, he gave everything for the movie. I talked a lot with him about training, movies and life. I was shocked when I heard about his passing, it was a great loss for all of us.
Totally understand, he’s sorely missed but left us some awesome action that’s captured forever…In 2012, you had your first lead in “Urban Fighter” aka “Arena of the Street Fighter”, which you also directed. How did the film come about and how was the experience of making it?
Since we’re all fans of action and martial arts movies we had the idea (after all the short films we made) to make a full length movie in the tradition of all the ‘B’ movies.
We wanted to reach martial arts fans across the world, not just the German market.
We wanted to show what we could do in a short amount of time with limited money.
A lot of my friends, family members, stunt guys from different teams and martial artists from all over Germany were involved.
Unfortunately, we ran into some problems during the shoot, specifically creative differences between some of us behind-the-scenes, which eventually led to a few people on the creative end leaving the film. We still really wanted to finish the film, and it was important to me that the material we already had was not in vain because everybody gave their best. That’s why I stepped in to direct the film. I brought some new people into the project and we were fortunately able to finish it. All of us who worked on the film are proud of the result, especially because of the long haul and all the circumstances we had faced in order to complete it!
Fantastic, reason to stick to it. In “One Million K(l)icks” you play the lead role ‘Mike’. How did you get involved in this film?
After all the experiences we had with “Urban Fighter”, I wanted to make a film with a good story as well as great action. A film with heart where the audience can identify with the lead character. I started trying to come up with a story that’s easy to realize because I knew it would be hard to get the necessary budget. Finally, I had an idea I really liked and I pulled in Marko Theiss to write the script. Then, with the help of Mike Leeder from Hong Kong I got in touch with Ruediger W. Kuemmerle, who came aboard to produce the film. We made it on a very low budget, but I was once again able to bring in many friends, stunt guys and actors for the film.
You do an absolutely phenomenal amount of complex, even incredible martial arts manoeuvres here which we know action geeks and connoisseurs simply love; what kind of training was involved in preparing for it, were any of the moves difficult for you to perform?
Well, I combined elements from different martial arts, especially; Taekwondo, boxing, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu, I simply try to improve my style of fighting everyday. I definitely owe a big thanks to all my training partners and stunt guys who’ve supported me over all these years.
Stunning results! So, were there any fun or unexpected things that happened on the set or behind the scenes?
Oh my God, yes! It was during the last days of shooting, somebody stole lighting and camera equipment and two hard-drives. We lost four days’ of material that we’d filmed. All the hospital scenes were gone, it was like a punch in my face! After going through the shock of that, I called my DOP, Alois Knapps and then all the actors and guess what – everybody was willing to come back for the necessary reshoots! No bad words, nobody was angry with me, they offered so much love and support. I was so blessed to have such a great cast and crew. Even the producer, who I thought would be furious at me! but everyone was very supportive, so we battled on as a team.
For the hospital reshoots we had to shoot four days’ worth of material in two days and we never found the thief. The police told me it was probably a jealous person from the movie business because he just stole the stuff from our movie. That stuff was important to me, and fortunately, we were able to reshoot the footage that was stolen. I guess a lot of people don’t like the fact that I’m not just a stuntman, I’m a filmmaker too.
That’s an awful thing to have happen. Fortunately, the movie turned out fantastic, so the joke’s on the thief. On that note, the film’s sequel, “Two Million K(l)icks”, will be directed by British filmmaker Ross Boyask and may take place in Hong Kong?
We have a finished script but it all depends on the budget. We hope to find producers to finance the film. Fingers crossed!
And toes! You also appeared in “Ultimate Justice” alongside Mark Dacascos, Matthias Hues, and Mike Leeder. How did you become involved with the film and what was your experience of working with Mark, Matthias, and Mike (again)?
The producer of “One Million K(l)icks”, Rüdiger W. Kümmerle, contacted me about being in the film. Along with appearing in the film, I was also the fight choreographer and my team and I worked hard to orchestrate the fights to match the story and their characters.
I am very proud and honoured to have worked with Mark and Matthias. Since my childhood I’d been a huge fan of the two. I was so happy when I met them personally. They are two of the nicest and humblest people, very down to earth, talented and ready to give everything for the movie.
“Big” Mike Leeder is a real friend, a funny and helpful guy. It’s always been fun to talk about movies with him, he really knows every movie.
Super. Well we definitely look forward to seeing the finished film! Some other films you’ve been involved in include “Atomic Eden” and “Kickback”. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
“Kickback” is still in development. “Atomic Eden” was shot before “One Million K(l)icks”. I play David, a fighter who joins a group of mercenaries lead by Fred Williamson who is on a mission that takes us to Chernobyl. The collaboration with Nico Sentner, Fred Williamson, Lorenzo Lamas and the rest of the cast and crew was a fun ride. I gave my best for the film and I’m excited to see the result.
Interesting! Looking ahead now, what advice would you give to aspiring martial artists looking to use their skills on film and television?
If you want to be a good “Movie Fighter” then always keep your mind and body in good shape. You should train different martial arts and find your own unique style.
Train with like-minded people to develop timing, reactions, learn and execute choreography. Watch martial arts movies from all over the world, observe how they’re filmed or edited and get inspired. The slow-motion button on a remote control is a very good friend of mine! Then grab a camera, learn how to use it and shoot your own little fight scenes, be open to both HK and Western styles. It’s always a challenge to find something new, fresh and never seen before! You will soon see that it takes hours to shoot a fight scene well. And if you have the opportunity, make a demo reel or short films, upload them and send it to every stunt agency and production company you can find. If you don’t try you’ll never know!
Useful roadmap to success. So, what are Mike Moeller’s top 10 martial arts movies?
Definitive classics there. And your top 3 favourite martial art movie fight scenes of all time?
Nice selection! Which martial artists/actors would you really love to work with?
You’d have your work cut out for you: talking of which you have an incredible range of moves – more than your typical martial artist – what is a typical workout for you? How much time do you dedicate to training per day or per week? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training; how important is weight training?
I train 6 times a week, sometimes twice a day. Weight training is very important, so twice a week I hit the gym and lift weights. On the other days I train martial arts, stunts and acrobatic stuff, and I make sure to stretch every day!
Hardcore – that always gets results, brilliant. Thank you Mike for your kind participation in this interview. We hope it gives our readers a glimpse into the life of Mike Moeller. We look forward to your next upcoming dynamic and so exciting-to-watch action projects and films. Keep up the great work and keep in touch!
It’s been my pleasure, and thank you for the opportunity of this interview with Kung Fu Kingdom!
Familiar with Mike Moeller’s stunt work; and are there other hard-working martial arts action men you feel should get more recognition for what they do? Let us know what you think below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. (While you’re here, why not check out our other fu-centric exclusives?)