When the supernatural martial-arts series “Wu Assassins” hit Netflix in 2019, JuJu Chan Szeto stole the show as the ruthless assassin ‘Zan’. A native of Hong Kong, JuJu’s life in martial arts has taken her from the polar extremes of competitive martial arts to battling sword wielding aliens in “Jiu Jitsu”. How many of us can say that?
Testament to her energy and knack for thinking outside the box, JuJu’s upcoming martial-arts reality series “Fightn’ Chance”, was born out of, as she puts it, boredom from being locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conceived with her husband Antony Szeto, “Fightn’ Chance” is planned to be a deep dive into the culture and training of martial arts conducted by two people intimately familiar with both.
Today, JuJu sits down with KFK to share her story on starting out in the martial arts, along with her beginnings in the action film industry and work on action hits like Netflix’s “Wu Assassins” and “Jiu Jitsu”, along with a look behind the scenes of “Fightn’ Chance”!
Hi JuJu, how are you doing? Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! It’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well. How have you been holding up during the coronavirus lockdown?
I’ve been well. I’m lucky that my husband is actually a certified martial arts coach (he studied wushu at the Beijing Sport University), so even with all the martial art schools closed down he’s been here to train me.
Glad to hear that. Our mission is to encourage 100 million people around the world to get into martial arts for all the positive benefits that it brings to individuals, physically, mentally and socially – your impressions please?
May we get your views briefly on what you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (or KFK for short)?
I guess Kung Fu Kingdom has an old-school feel about it whereas the acronym ‘KFK’ has a faster, more modern feel.
Actually this reminds me of that line in “Cobra Kai” where they were thinking of a new name for the dojo and suggested changing the “C” in Cobra Kai Karate to “K”…your KFK is definitely less offensive! (Laughs)
Ah! Thanks JuJu. Okay, well, we love to understand fighters’ personal narratives which drive them to want to pursue becoming a martial artist. At what point were you inspired to take up martial arts then?
I wasn’t inspired so much as I was sent off to learn martial arts because I was an overly active little girl! My parents saw me copying fighting moves from TV, so I was sent off to learn judo, because that’s all they had in terms of martial arts in my area.
A Real-Deal Warrior ‘Femme of Fu’
As a young adult though I was spurred on to become a serious martial artist after having a chat with a director of action films. He pointed out that, at the time, there were no established female martial arts actresses of my generation. There were actresses who did action films, that required stunt doubles, but the real thing like Cynthia Rothrock and the Hong Kong action actresses of the 80’s, didn’t exist for the young generation. That’s when I upped my game to compete in martial arts.
JuJu has Trained in Karate, Hung Gar, Wing Chun, Taekwondo & Muay Thai
So, what different disciplines have you studied?
So, I started with judo first. In university I started training in Shotokan karate. When I returned to Hong Kong I did Hung Gar, then later Wing Chun and Choy Lee Fut. I went on to do Taekwondo a couple of years after. After competing for Hong Kong I then started training in Muay Thai for competition.
JuJu is Always Keen to Learn New Arts like Silat & Jiu Jitsu
Nowadays I do a mix of training, always trying to learn new styles from whoever I get to work with. Silat has been lots of fun, and of course Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is trained by lots of people, so I roll when I can. But kicking is still my signature.
So, who would you say has been your biggest inspiration, hero or mentor on your martial arts journey so far?
JuJu Draws Inspo from all the Kung Fu Greats & Hubby, Antony Szeto!
The inspiration started with the people I saw in film. People of course like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and so on. And having worked with fantastic on-screen fighters like Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, they definitely push me to be better at what I do. Marko Zaror has been very inspiring for me too, but as a mentor I definitely have to say my husband.
Stacks of great influences there! Looking at your career in movies now, you appeared alongside Scott Adkins, Cung Le, and Marko Zaror in Jesse Johnson’s “Savage Dog”. How was your experience of making the movie with these well-known martial-arts actors?
It was both fun and annoying for me. Of course, I loved working with all of them. I knew Cung from before “Savage Dog”, and after the film Marko and I became good friends, and even training partners in L.A. But I was so jealous that I couldn’t fight in the film! Okay, I appreciate that I had a good role, but as an action girl I felt like I was standing outside of a candy store watching the other kids inside eating all the candy.
Well, that’s unfortunate, but obviously, new opportunities have risen!You also appeared in the movie “Fist of the Dragon”, which was a remake of Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s “Moving Target”, set in Ireland with Don. How was your experience working on that? What’s your fondest memory?
Working with Don “The Dragon” Wilson on “Fist of the Dragon”
This film was very memorable for me for different reasons. In fact, I was originally cast to play Zhen, the kickass female fighter who was played excellently by my good friend, Maria Tran. But the lead female role was available so the director (now my husband) had me read for it to show the producer, Roger Corman.
After he saw my casting tape, I got the job. Though this was definitely a step up I still really wanted to play Zhen, so I had very mixed feelings. Of course, it was better that I played the lead as it kinda helped in getting my role on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Sword of Destiny”. Shooting was super hectic but there was still so much fun working on “Fist of the Dragon”.
Punching Strikeforce Champion, Josh “The Punk” Thomson in the face!
One of the memorable moments was when my character accidentally punches the lead, played by Strikeforce Champion, Josh (The Punk) Thomson, in the face. Well, for the shot Josh just asked me to really punch him in the face…and so I did. That was fun! But I also got to meet and work with great people like Chris Pang (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Xin Sarith Wuku (“Warrior”).
Working with Max Zhang & MMA Legend, Anderson Silva
Well, on that note, you were also recently seen with Max Zhang and MMA legend, Anderson “Spider” Silva in “The Invincible Dragon”. What’s a standout memorable moment or story from making the film with them?
Unquestionably, the huge, stand-out moment was shooting the fight scene in the light-rail car. It took about 10 days to shoot it because of all the time needed to move the full-sized car around while we fought in it.
The producers ended up loving that fight scene, calling it one of the signature fight scenes in the movie. Also, both Max and Anderson were super nice and great to work with. Of course, it was also an honor to work with the director, Fruit Chan. He is recognized as one of the top art film directors from Hong Kong, having won some major international film festival awards. This was his first action film so I think it was quite a challenge for him too.
Playing “Zan” on Netflix’s “Wu Assassins”
It sounds like making the film with, Max, and Anderson was really something. Moving ahead, you featured as ‘Zan’ in the Netflix series “Wu Assassins”. How was your experience of making the series alongside such incredible martial artists as Iko Uwais, Mark Dacascos, Byron Mann, and Lewis Tan? What was the most physically demanding move you performed on the show?
First and foremost, I loved working on “Wu Assassins” mainly because everyone was just so super nice. It was like one big happy family. Not only Iko but his entire stunt team from Indonesia were all great, and fun, people. And the Canadian stunt team were really amazing as well.
Getting Silat Tips from Iko Uwais
I took the chance while there, to learn as much as I could from all of them. Actually, every time the Iko team were trying to have a rest I would go bother them so I could learn more Silat…sorry guys! Both Byron and Mark were friends of my husband from way back, who joined me for the shoot (and proposed to me there) so we all hung out whenever we could.
Then of course Lewis is a super cool guy and lots of fun to be and work with. It’s just that everyone is all so super talented, hardworking and professional, yet we all felt like brothers, it was just the biggest pleasure to be a part of it.
JuJu’s One-Shot “Kitchen Fight” Scene
My favorite fight would be the “Kitchen Fight” in episode 3 (actually shot in one take), which lots of people talk about. However, the most physically demanding was probably the least impressive fight, which was Zan’s underground fight against Jenny. It wasn’t particularly difficult to shoot, as it was shot in vignettes, but we had no pads on and we kept on having to roll and fall on concrete. I had so many bruises from that fight and I was black and blue all over for weeks!
Well, Zan definitely was one of the breakout characters from “Wu Assassins”. Speaking of which what can you say about the status of “Wu Assassins”, season two? Tzi Ma has said that season one will apparently be followed up with two Netflix movies?
Working with Nicolas Cage, Tony Jaa & Frank Grillo on “Jiu Jitsu”
Sounds great! Going off of that, you were most recently seen as ‘Carmen’ in the sci-fi, martial-arts action-packed movie, “Jiu Jitsu” along with a superb ensemble cast. How was your experience of making the film?
I got to work with Nicolas Cage and Tony Jaa, so there’s that! Both of them were so hardworking, talented and professional, as were Alain Moussi, Marrese Crump, and Frank Grillo. It was just great to see such big names be so humble. The fight choreography was done by Alain Moussi and Ryan Tarran, both of whom are really at the top of their game. Everyone was just wonderful to work with and it would be a pleasure to work again with any one of them!
Shooting it in Cyprus was also another huge plus. I would love to go back there again to shoot another film.
Were there any injuries or mishaps that occurred in the making of it?
Injuries of sorts always occur in making any fight-action film. We just hope that they’re minor, which was the case for “Jiu Jitsu”. Just the run-of-the-mill bruises and grazes.
I see. So what was your most memorable moment in making “Jiu-Jitsu”?
Personally, I just found the location most memorable. Cyprus is such a beautiful country. I went out to visit as much of it as I could when I had days off. And there were times when the cast all went out together and everyone had so much fun. We all got along so well.
Well, if [the alien] ‘Brax’ returns in 6 years for “Jiu-Jitsu 2”, can the world expect the return of Carmen too?
Well, [spoiler alert] Carmen was one of the few who survived at the end, so there’s always a chance!
Up Next…Reality Show: Fight’n Chance
Well, that’d definitely be great to see. Moving ahead now, what other projects do you have coming up in 2021?
2020 was a crazy year. There were quite a few projects set for then that are now pending, so I’m unsure if all of them will happen in 2021. But right now, I’m in Thailand shooting a film for Netflix.
Yes, we heard about that. You’ve also produced a reality show with your husband Antony Szeto called “Fight’n Chance”. How did the show come about and what does it entail?
Basically, because nothing was happening during 2020 he just became bored, and started looking into what we had and what we could make with it.
There are already heaps of reality shows made about martial arts, but we figured out that there weren’t really any for people who don’t know much about it…just the typical mamas and papas with a family. So we put together a brief together to pitch to industry people we know, partnered with them, then went ahead and started shooting it. There are still some more shots needed, but we’re starting to edit the first episode now, which is about BJJ.
JuJu’s Top 5 Favourite Martial-Arts Films & Fights
Sounds like a great show, we look forward to seeing it debut! What are JuJu Chan’s all-time top 5 favourite martial-arts movies? Let’s do this!
Nice! On that note, what are your top 3 favourite movie fights?
Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung’s table fight in Ip Man 2, Sammo Hung and Lau Kar Leung in Pedicab Driver, and the Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau echo- drum scene (highlighting how a good director can stitch together an amazing martial-arts fight scene).
Indeed! Which 3 fights from your own filmography are you most proud of and why?
“Jiu Jitsu”, when I was fighting the soldiers. Although you don’t see it in the film, it was actually shot in one take. I wish it wasn’t edited, though, as I thought that the original one-take was a fantastic shot.
“Wu Assassins” Ep.3: Kitchen Fight. Again, though it was edited, it was actually shot in one take when I was fighting with the “Jenny” stunt double, Megan Hui, who’s a fantastic stuntwoman. I really loved that fight, with all its little moments.
“The Invincible Dragon” light-rail car fight. It was such a pleasure working with Max Zhang and famous Hong Kong action director, Steven Tung, putting this huge fight together. It turned out to be one of the signature fights of the movie.
Fun & Leisure
Great selections. Looking ahead to fun and leisure now, what’s one geeky or interesting thing that people don’t know about you?
Haha…My first degree was in computer science, so I’m actually pretty good at coding.
That’s interesting…and if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
You know what, I wanna be able to fly. Who wouldn’t? So any superhero is fine, so long as flying is involved. The rest, I can work out for myself.
Insights & Reflections
Flight’s definitely a big one for a lot of people! So, what other dreams, goals and ambitions are you keen to accomplish?
The very next thing I’m keen to accomplish is to direct. I know that it’s a very long way from acting. I’ve seen firsthand what my husband goes through when directing, but I want to challenge myself and right now I see that as my biggest challenge.
JuJu’s Warrior Philosophy & Message for KFK Followers & Fans
Awesome! Satisfying challenge, directing. So, what warrior-wisdom quote or philosophy has helped you become who you are today?
For me, it’s one of Bruce Lee’s quotes: “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
Words of wisdom from the Dragon! Well, as we prepare to sign off JuJu, what special message would JuJu like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your fans around the world right now?
I know 2020 has been especially tough for everyone, and I know that I’ve had it lucky and feel very blessed for it. But for those of you who are struggling, have faith that things will get better. And be unafraid to reach out for help. You may be surprised by the kindness of others.
Well said. Thank you JuJu, it’s been a real pleasure to interview you and we wish you all the best of success with “Wu Assassins” and your other upcoming action projects in 2021 too!
Thanks Brad, happy to speak with Kung Fu Kingdom today!