Director Jesse V. Johnson on ‘Triple Threat’

ATM: How do the character perceive pain in the fight scenes and emotionally?

JJ: This is an interesting one. When making an action movie, you are aware of not creating a character who is impervious to pain. The fact that they have to show pain is important. This is what makes the action scary and puts the audience in the driver’s seat vicariously. These characters keep getting by without a scratch on them. The film takes reality and adds 10 to 20 percent fantasy. You cannot have your characters in continuous pain. They must endure the pain that the average person would not. So, you do stretch fantasy or pain by a little bit. In terms of emotional pain, it is always important for your leading characters to have anger. It brings the audiences into participation with them.

Iko loses his wife in the beginning in a very tragic scene. It is his drive and motivation to find the people responsible for her death. In many ways, it is his spirituality and pain that drives him. Tony Jaa took this job as a missionary for money. He goes to a village that is different than he grew up in. He is faced with killing the villages there. He breaks with his employers and tries to rescue them. He ends up getting put in jail with them. His pain is a very motivating factor in the story. Later, we are introduced to an old criminal of his who has spent most of his life running away. Tiger sees a flashback of his father being killed by gangsters.

ATM: Are you aware of Hippocrates, who is considered the Father of Medicine and around during 460 BCE?

JJ: Yes, he is from medicine. This is where the term Hippocratic oath comes from. This is what the doctors take.

ATM: He used the four temperaments such as Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic to figure out his medical patients. Assess the lead characters in line with the following temperaments.

JJ: I met with my actors ahead of time. I judged what kind of people they were and spent time with them. I got them to chat and talk. I looked for their strong point. This is what I covered in the movie. I connected the depth of the characters to the actor’s strong point. Rather than trying to toss them into anything. We were dealing with five different languages on set. I spent time with Tony Jaa. He has a wonderful sense of humor. He had a big incredible spiritual nature. He is so much like a monk. He is a religious and like a grandmaster. Tiger is a very straight man and he is stiff. This is seen when he talks and walks. We made his character like this.

Iko’s manager said he had to miss the rehearsal. I learned very quickly that he was very spiritual. I worked this into his character. His character was drinking and puts the alcohol aside and says no. He never talked bad to anyone. He is a religious and spiritual human being. A lot of his was cut out because they felt it might turn off Chinese audiences. It is a terrible shame. I have a relationship with a man upstairs that is mine and unique. I find it interesting in this world of entertainment where there is a lot of money, temptation, and bad things happening that an adult faces his faith. Celina Jade is an intelligent woman. She left Hong Kong at 15 without even telling her parents. She is fearless.

ATM: In a melancholic way, how were you a deep thinker on the shots and locations?

JJ: This is a very difficult question and it deserves a good answer, Gabrielle. I would like to say, “You interest your artistic vision on everything around you.” But it would be lying if I said this. This is what you do, you look at what you do and what is available. You are very careful about how you chose your location. Often it sees itself in the movie. In the final battle scene, you walk around and notice this would work well with the film. You are looking to be inspired by the location. If you are too rigid in what you are looking for, then you will overlook something that is wonderful to have an open mind. The ability to see this requires the ability to open your eyes to a degree that is battling. To the point you become fixated to obtain what is written in the script and missing what is in front of you. I sat down with location people in Thailand.

I said, “Look do not worry too much about the script. Take me to something that is interesting. Take me to something you see and that blows you away.” If you do not care for it, then it is like neon lights and market places. This is what the average tourist or Westerner sees when going to Bangkok. They do not see beyond this. This is boring because we have seen it so many times.

ATM: In what ways, was the Sanguine temperament used with how your social behavior reflected impacted the actor’s performance off scene onto on scene?

JJ: My first film was at 15 or 16. I left school with an 8th grade education. My first film was in East Slovakia. I then worked in Mexico with a Spanish speaking group. A great part of my life has been with people who do not speak English as their first language. You create a way of communicating with anyone. You learn the languages and you learn what to do with their languages very quickly. You develop a shorthand. I had to communicate when working with the teams. The bad guys who got along well and the good guys who got along well. These people sat in green chairs and told jokes all day long. I tried to encourage them as much as possible.

There was a female actor who was Thai and did not speak well English. She was sitting on her own and not speaking with them. Great actress and performer in Thai movies. I spoke to Michael Bisping, “You have to pull her in and do not let her be on her own.” The next thing I know she was with the group and sitting in the chairs. She was in the funny conversation and jokes. They had a good existence. The actors turned up anyway when they were not working. They did not want to miss any of the jokes or another half of the movie. If someone had a big scene or fight, then the other actors turn up to watch up.  

ATM: How did you use your Choleric behavior in being goal orientated?

JJ: You have a shot list, but at the end of the day you have to try getting close to it as possible. You have to shoot the film in a certain amount of time. This would be my goal. You are trying to make the best film possible. You are trying to get the best results from your cast and create the best environment for the cast and crew to do their best work. And an environment where some of the best artist could do their work and not be distracted and feel comfortable and safe. This is your job. You are not there to force your will on people. You are there to get the best out of people and force them to follow you. The way to get the best of them is to collaborate with them. They are gentle souls and nice. You have to sometimes be bossier with crew members. They could be rough, and some are not artists.

ATM: Express ways you compromised your ideas in using your Phlegmatic style.

JJ: Compromising is used every day and every hour on a movie. You do not cry about it, but you deal with it. It is the creativity that compromising forces you to have to get the better solution. For example, the hotel scene. The bad guys arrive at the hotel with guns and are trying to shoot. They are trying to kidnap Celina Jade character. This was two days of a shoot. This would have taken any other bigger movie a week to shoot. This is moving parts, explosives, and special effects. We had a week left of shooting and it decided to rain. When you are talking about rain in Bangkok, you are talking about a sheet of water. It is a tropical rain storm like something out of the Bible.

At one point, I said, “Just keep filming in the rain. I will step out.” The whole crew stepped out with me. I looked around and they were soaked to their skins straight away. I said to myself, “I cannot do this to these people. Get back into the rain.” They stepped back under the cover. We waited and shot it in three hours. It was not possible to wait for another way. My compromise is that a two-day shoot had to be compromised in three hours. We did it efficiently. This is compromise and upsetting to deal with. It is the nature of filmmaking.

ATM: How does your international lens make you view life and the world differently?

JJ: I do not think I am terribly different differently than anyone else. Other then, I was born in England and spent a greater part of my life in America. I spent the first 18 years in England. The other 29 years being in the U.S. I travel extensively. I have an American wife and children. I see myself as an island. I do not feel English when I go back there. I have never felt 100% American. I do like America. I associate myself with it more than any other nationality. I tell my children, “to judge everyone on how they treat you. Nothing else and no preconceptions. Do not based on religion, grace, ethnicity, or the country they are from. Be ready to base incredible kindness and beauty from places where you least expect it. Be ready to face absolute facets for people you think and would find it. It is more so how good people are that will surprise you. It is how good the human heart is, it will knock you on your bottom.”

 Occasionally, you run into a bad soul, but they are the minority. I have traveled over a lot of water. I was in East Slovakia months before this country fell into the most horrendous war. They came up with a term to describe what happened. They called it ethnic cleansing. People forget that it was when the Slovakia conflict started which is when this term was created. It was terrifying. My grandmother and grandfather were an example of this. One was a protestant and the other a Catholic. My grandmother’s Catholic parents did not talk to her for 30 years because she married a Protestant. As you travel the world, you have to have an open mind. There is a beauty out there and you must be open to accept the opposite of beauty.

ATM: What values from the Bible do you use in your life?

JJ: The Bible is an interesting one. I was brought up loosely. My grandparents were disowned because of their religion. I used to be a stuntman, well I still am. With any job where you put yourself in danger, it causes you to look at luck and safety. You develop a unique relationship with the man upstairs. It is personal and mine and I do not try to impress it on anyone. It comes from respect and respect from others. It is living in the way you would like to be treated by other people. The important thing is to not judge. Also, in dealing with cultures who were almost prehistoric in the way they lived with no electronics. You discovered the most incredible modern love with these people. Is really anything coming from the technology that people are showing and relying on? Human reaction and beauty do not require any of this. It requires your spirit.

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