Ocean Hou grew up in a tiny village in China’s Shandong Province, idolizing Bruce Lee and China’s many kung fu masters, pushing himself to become as powerful as they were. He never thought he’d one day take his skills to the big screen, but some words of encouragement from his wife changed that and ultimately lead to his duel against Tiger Chen in Keanu Reeves’ “Man of Tai Chi”, which is one of the highlight fights of the film!
With his powerful kung fu skills and jaw-dropping, signature standing split (that he executes as casually as combing his hair) Ocean Hou has joined the ranks of people throughout history who have shown that with enough determination and the right set of skills, anything is possible.
Today, he sits down with us to share his journey so far in becoming the martial arts dynamo he is today, and his path towards taking his phenomenal abilities to the big screen.
Brad: Hi Ocean, it’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well. First of all, welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! Thanks for taking some time out with us. Have you taken a look at our site?
Ocean: Yes, I did. I’m impressed with all the interesting people and interviews that KFK has done.
What do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom?
It’s a great name!
Thank you! Let’s jump into this and kick off with some basics, so, when and where were you born?
I was born in 1979 in a small village in Shandong Province China.
What is your height and weight?
I am 170cm tall and 172lbs.
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
When I was around six years old, my father brought a large poster home to hang on our wall for Chinese New Year. On the poster were pictures of kung fu champions doing all kinds of special movements. At that time, kung fu was quite popular in China, and I was fascinated by the people on the poster. I thought those kung fu guys were really cool, so at 6-years old, a seed was planted.
Nice! So what was the first main style you trained in and what different arts have you studied?
Shaolin was the first style I learned. Afterwards, I studied many styles of wushu, including Baji, XingYi, Tai Chi, and many weapon styles. I’m also able to perform styles of martial arts from other countries. However, I feel it’s important for me to stay true to my heritage and keep the martial arts of my country alive and popular, so when I train martial arts or perform, I train and perform wushu, also known as kung fu.
Sounds good! Who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts and who would you consider your heroes or inspirational figures in this regard?
My greatest hero in martial arts is Bruce Lee. He was a genuine martial artist and it was because of him that the world came to know and love kung fu. Kudos to Bruce Lee who paved the way for every martial artist who has or is currently pursuing an acting career. Each and every one of us martial artists who has ever played a role in a Hollywood movie has in some way benefited from Bruce Lee’s influence on Hollywood.
In addition to the inspiration I gleaned from Bruce Lee, I was also inspired by the movie “Invincible Armour” on which Yuen Woo Ping was the stunt coordinator. There was a movement in the movie that’s similar to doing vertical splits while standing that was performed by martial arts’ actor John Liu, and even though I was just a young boy when I first saw that movie, I was in awe of that movement. Every day I would practice stretching and holding my leg and foot by my head. Practicing that movement was very painful, but I was determined to own it, and eventually I did.
Recently, I have adopted that movement as my signature move, and so far, the directors have given me permission to use it in my fight scenes.
Great to be renowned for a particular move! So, tell us, how did you first get started in the film industry?
Watching kung fu in movies was the reason I started practicing kung fu, but I never thought that one day, that would be me up on the big screen! Since I came from an extremely poor background in a tiny village, I never even considered that I was movie material; the impossibilities seemed endless. I was poor, I only knew those who lived in my village, I didn’t own a computer, I didn’t speak English. Actually, there were many, many reasons why the thought of acting had never crossed my mind.
It wasn’t until I met my wife that everything changed. She said that I reminded her of Bruce Lee and that I could be in Hollywood movies, but I didn’t even know what to do with what she said. After laughing at her, my only response was, “Impossible. Impossible.” At the time, what she said was too far off my radar for me to even comprehend. My wife was persistent in her encouragement though, and little by little I started believing in what she said, and here I am today.
Goes to show that we can’t fathom the results that may flow from genuine encouragement! What advice would you give to martial artists hoping to work in film and television?
Perfect your skills today as if an opportunity will present itself tomorrow. Take a video of yourself doing martial arts and put it online. Watch and study fight scenes in movies. Make as many contacts in the film industry as possible, and never underestimate the power of networking.
Great tip! Your first major role took place in “The Blood Bond”, in which you portray the Tattooed Hotel Assassin. You also served as the film’s Tai Chi consultant. Can you explain how you became involved with the film and your experience of making it?
Quite awhile before “The Blood Bond” started shooting, I took a short video of myself and sent it to Bey Logan in Hong Kong. After watching my video, Bey invited me to go to Hong Kong to teach him Tai Chi. Over a period of several months, I often went to HK to teach Bey. After I had known Bey for about a year, his new movie “The Blood Bond” was slated to begin shooting. In the movie, the leading actress was playing a role that involved Tai Chi, so Bey asked me to join them on set to teach her Tai Chi. It was then that he also asked me to be part of the cast. It was a small role, but a role, nonetheless.
On set, everything was new to me, and I was fascinated by the many facets taking place in front of and behind the camera as well as all the craftsmen involved. I played the part of the Tattooed Hotel Assassin, but that wasn’t the role I had been asked to play. I was originally asked to do a small talking part, but, unfortunately, it didn’t make the final cut. Regardless of how small the original role was, or that it was cut from the film, I had tasted the excitement of the movie industry, and I knew straightaway that being in front of the camera was where I wanted to be.
In “The Blood Bond”, you had the opportunity to work alongside Bey Logan, Michael Biehn, and Simon Yam. Can you tell us more about the experience of making the film with them?
For this being my first movie experience, it was quite exciting just to be on the set, let alone being there with Bey Logan, Michael Biehn, and Simon Yam. Simon was interested in learning some Tai Chi movements, so being able to show him a few things was one of the highlights of my time on set. In the end, I was used mainly as an extra many times throughout the movie. My main task of teaching Tai Chi to the leading actress never really came to fruition. We had, possibly, three or four lessons together, but other than that, I take no credit for her Tai Chi skills, or lack thereof.
That’s interesting. One of your most notable appearances took place in Keanu Reeves’ “Man of Tai Chi”, in which you portray the “Hard Style Fighter” and have a fight scene against Tiger Chen. Describe the experience of making the film alongside Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen. What was the film fight experience with Tiger like?
When talking about “Man of Tai Chi”, I first need to give a shout out to the great Mike Leeder (Actor, Producer, and Casting Director) for giving me the opportunity to audition for the movie. Mr. Leeder took a big risk by sending me to audition in front of Keanu Reeves and Action Director Yuen Woo Ping. I had never done a fight scene in a movie before so Mr. Leeder had no idea of what I was actually capable of doing. I felt confident that I could deliver, but Mr. Leeder stuck his neck out for me, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Keanu is such a nice guy, very polite and down to earth. He is also very serious, and I might even go so far as to call him a perfectionist. As a result of Keanu’s paying attention to details, we probably did around thirty takes per movement of Tiger’s and my fight.
Tiger is a great actor, and he learns the movements fast. We worked well together, and our fighting movements felt very natural. Although, after that many takes, my legs and ribs took a beating from Tiger’s kicks, and I did end up at the hospital having my ribs x-rayed.
When I first went to Beijing to audition for Keanu and Yuen Woo Ping, I had confidence in my ability as a martial artist, but I was a little nervous about what they might expect from me. After our introductions, Yuen Woo Ping told me to do kung fu. Next, the stuntmen were instructed to teach me movements so they could see if I could execute those movements to their satisfaction. When I finished that part of the audition, they asked me to do a 360 degree sideways flip and fall to the floor. Since this particular fight scene would use wires, my final test involved wearing the wires.
When I assumed the audition was over, Yuen Woo Ping told me to stand in front of Keanu and hold my hand perpendicular to and in front of my chest and in a slight bowing motion, speak directly to Keanu and say, “Thank you for giving me this opportunity.” I was glad to do that as I was really appreciative for the opportunity to audition, so I was happy to oblige them. Because of the hand motion and slight bow that Yuen Woo Ping told me to do, the wheels were spinning in my head, and I immediately assumed Keanu was Buddhist. So I smiled, bowed, and, in English, respectfully thanked Keanu for giving me the opportunity. With that, Keanu looked at me quite seriously and said, “Say it very proudly, and DON’T say it in English. Speak Chinese.” I was a bit taken aback and quite surprised by that request and stood there wondering if Keanu could understand Chinese. Since I was told to thank Keanu yet again, I felt as though I hadn’t been as respectful as they wanted me to be when I thanked him the first time. So, at his request, I, again, smiled, bowed, and thanked him, only this time I spoke Chinese. Regardless of how sincere and grateful I was, Keanu still wasn’t satisfied, and he told me not to smile and do it again. After what was now feeling more like torture than a show of gratitude, my thank you was finally accepted. Trust me when I say I was grateful, but that was seriously like the longest and most stressful expression of gratitude I’ve ever offered anyone in my entire life.
At the time of the audition I hadn’t read the script, but prior to shooting the movie, I read it, and I had no speaking part, so I wasn’t overly concerned with the script.
It wasn’t until about two months later when I was actually in the middle of shooting my fight scene when Keanu suddenly instructed me to hold up my hand in front of my chest, bow slightly, and say these words: Xie xie gei wo zhe ge ji hui.” (Thank you for giving me this opportunity) That’s when it suddenly hit me. In my audition, I was not thanking Keanu for the opportunity to audition. That line was just another part of the audition, even though that line was nowhere to be found in the script.
You’re also seen in “The Man with the Iron Fists 2: Sting of the Scorpion”, in which you play the character Shou. Can you tell us a little more about your involvement there?
Once again, my deepest appreciation and gratitude goes to Mike Leeder for yet another awesome opportunity for me to use my fighting skills in front of the camera.
This was my first time meeting the stunt coordinator Kawee “Seng” Sirikhanaerut, and I was impressed with the way these fights were shot. They told us the movements that we were to do, and then we were allowed to tweak them in order to make them look and feel more natural and realistic. I much prefer fighting that way as opposed to someone saying to do a series of movements and allowing no room to differentiate. It’s my opinion that movements should always be full of naturalness, that’s where tweaking makes all the difference.
This movie was shot in Thailand so that, in and of itself, was an amazing experience.
I can imagine! So you appeared alongside RZA, Charlie Ruedpokanon, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, and Dustin Nguyen; what was it like working with them?
These guys were all great. Charlie Ruedpokanon and I had an exceptional fight. Seng gave Charlie and I the movements, then he gave us permission to change it up to make it our own and we did just that. Because Charlie and I owned that fight scene, it felt authentic. I also got to fight with RZA and Dustin; RZA is a genuinely nice guy who treats people with respect, and I was impressed with Dustin Nguyen’s movements and his flexibility. I didn’t meet Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa until after Charlie’s and my fight at which time Cary introduced himself to me and congratulated me for a fight well done.
Wonderful insights, thank you! What projects do you have coming up on the horizon?
I recently signed a contract to play a role in a Chinese movie that will be shot in my hometown province of Shandong.
Who do you most admire in the martial arts movies? Give us your brief views on:
Bruce Lee – a legend!, Jackie Chan – fearless in performing his own stunts, Jet Li – classic kung fu movements, Donnie Yen – modern, practical movements , Scott Adkins – very well executed movements, Tony Jaa- difficult movements that look awesome!
Which kung fu movies make it to your list of favourites?
- Fist of Legend
- Way of the Dragon
- Enter the Dragon
- Drunken Master
- Police Story
- Ip Man
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- Iron Monkey
Thanks! Which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?
Of course I’d like to work with all the great martial artists because I’ve watched their movies for years and have studied their movements. There’s so much that can be learned from them. Specifically, if I could pick martial artists to work with right now; Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Jean-Claude Van Damme would be at the top of my list.
Nice! Onto training now, what is a typical workout for you? Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you combine weight training?
Most days, I do a combination of Tai Chi, stretching, and weight training.
What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you really find brings out the best in you?
Tai Chi is by far my favourite exercise. Some styles of Tai Chi are very calming and relaxing, while other styles, such as Chen style, are quite powerful. If people think all styles of Tai Chi have slow, soft, and relaxing movements, then they haven’t seen me perform Chen Style Tai Chi.
Such an interesting aspect, hard style tai chi. So, what’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
The most daring stunt I’ve done to date was in “Man of Tai Chi” when it appeared that I was jumping through a glass window. I was wearing wires when I somersaulted through the window so I had no control over how or where I would land, that was a bit unnerving!
What was your most serious injury, how did you work around it?
I’ve been fortunate to have never suffered any serious injuries. I did injure my knee one time when I was in Ukraine teaching Kung Fu. That injury made me realize how one injury can change the whole trajectory of one’s life.
Trajectory, worth pondering that one! Back to training, what are a couple of your favourite pieces of gym/exercise or training equipment that you absolutely love using and would recommend to others?
I use all the equipment at the gym, but I have no favourites there. I guess I’d have to say that my favourite exercise tool would be my own body because I can get a good workout without having or using any equipment.
Indeed, so, you are your own gym! So, what kind of diet do you follow?
I eat clean on most days, allowing only the occasional day when I eat whatever I want. I stay away from anything that’s been fried or has oil as an ingredient. I mostly eat fruits, vegetables, meats, and egg whites – lots and lots of egg whites.
Which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic and are the best fuel for your workouts?
Foods high in protein.
And, do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
I drink protein shakes. I’ve tried other supplements in the past, but didn’t see results so I stopped taking them. I’m a firm believer that “less is more” when it comes to supplements.
I’m sure many can relate to that. Let’s reflect a little now if we may. What in life do you really like?
I like traveling, spending time with my family, and eating good Chinese dumplings. I’m all about the dumplings!
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
I’ve been blessed above and beyond what I could have ever imagined. I grew up as a poor kid in a tiny village in the middle of China, and the thought never crossed my mind that I could grow up, leave that village, and be cast in movies alongside famous people. So, yeah, I’d have to say that being in movies is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments, but even though I worked long and hard to perfect my martial arts skills, I don’t take the credit for the accomplishment of shooting movies. I am a Christian, and I give the credit and glory of that success to God.
Profound insight, thanks for sharing! So, with that, which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point and have molded you into who you are today?
“The greatest conqueror is he who overcomes the enemy without a blow.” and “Run before you fight, fight before you injure. Injure before you maim. Maim before you kill.”
Wow! I guess it’s easy to forget that sage counsel sometimes in this day and age! OK, so, finally, if people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
My website: www.oceanhou.com
Thank you Ocean for your kind participation in this interview. We hope it gives our readers a glimpse into your lifestyle. We look forward to see more of your action onscreen and wish you all the very best. Keep it up the great work and keep in touch!