We sat down with Leo Kei Angelos, the director of the upcoming Knockouts film and otaku extraordinaire, to talk about the movie, his background, and his interests and hobbies.
What was your inspiration for becoming a filmmaker? Ever since I can remember, I’ve been trying to make movies. I grew up watching classic Hong Kong cinema and Hollywood action/adventure films. Movies are the greatest entertainment. Sitting in a darkened theater allows one to completely escape from the ordinary and the wearisome grind of life. No other form of entertainment allows you to live vicariously as kick-ass action heroes. That’s definitely why I want to be a filmmaker. To create a world where I can live vicariously through action heroes.
You moved to the States from Vietnam - can you tell us a bit about your background growing up in Vietnam and how you decided to make the move? Growing up in Vietnam definitely gave me a unique perspective and vision that I want to bring into my movies. But while I was living in Vietnam, there wasn’t a lot of room for creative development. Your childhood is kind of stunted by inane amounts of school work and dominating adults. You’re expected to grow up doing what you’re told in the field your parents have chosen for you. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just how society works over there. Fortunately I was exposed to a lot of movies and books as a child. So I craved having the freedom to express myself. By luck and determination I was able to come to America for college… and when I realized it was possible to become a real, working Hollywood filmmaker, there was absolutely no turning back.
Your specialty is action (stunts, choreography, action directing) - how did you learn your skills and what have been your greatest challenges? I’m super passionate about action cinema, because it’s what I enjoy the most. As a kid, I got to study martial arts deeply. So when I came to America, I tried to seek out other martial artists who worked in the movie industry. That’s when I understood those people are called stuntmen and stuntwomen, and they’re responsible for creating the action that’s such an essential part of what I love about films. Getting to work alongside some fantastic stunt professionals provided me with a wealth of experience for when I began shooting action myself.
Interestingly enough, I think my greatest challenge has been learning to work with other people. I love being a team player, it’s just taken a long road to learn how to properly do it. And I’m still learning every day.
You’re still early in your career - what are some goals you have for the future? Make bigger and bigger movies, tell stronger and more emotional stories, have lots of money!
What is your favorite filmmaking experience so far and why? What a difficult question! Every day on set is a blessing and a wonderful experience. I guess if I had to pick, it would be this post-apocalyptic short film I shot as a concept for a feature. We trudged into the desert and shot in this abandoned town we found, building campfires at night and such. I mean, our car tires blew out, a storm was coming in, there were wild dead animals everywhere… It was true zombie apocalypse survival training. Also, I got to work with some really amazing people that I love.
Incidentally this was the most recent filmmaking experience in my mind, so I guess the next set I get to direct is going to be my new favorite filmmaking experience!
You’ve been involved in the Dragonball Z fan film - can you tell us about that experience? I had an amazing time working with the DBZ team. I shot the action sequences with a fantastic stunt team who brought a crane out into the desert to rig up these actors (we trained these awesome actors instead of using stunt doubles) and had them flying around punching each other in mid-air. I think the real physicality of the performance will sell the fans that this is a respectful, gritty, believable Dragonball adaptation.
“Knockouts” is a fun, action film featuring university women - can you talk to us about your vision for the film, and what you’re excited about? KNOCKOUTS is like Buffy and Animal House and Karate Kid and The House Bunny all rolled into one. There’s a very honest, down-to-earth quality about the women depicted in the script, and I’m very excited to see them find their strength throughout the course of the film and become true badass action heroes.
Finally, what Asian pop culture has influenced you the most? Hong Kong action cinema. John Woo’s movies and Jackie Chan’s stunts and action filmmaking. I also have a soft spot for Japanese rock stars. They’re just so wild and out of control, in an awesome way.
Anything else you want to add? The road goes ever on and on, live long and prosper, may the force be with you, and you’re a wizard, Harry.