When B-List Goes Hollywood: Ten Random Appearances by Martial Arts Actors in Mainstream Media

Partly because I have too much free time, but mostly because of this blog (which was more or less born out of having too much free time), I often pore over the filmographies of martial arts b-movie actors to track down films to review. Because of the niche skill-sets that these actors brandish, many of them have done little else but martial arts or action film and television work. Thus, most of my searches reveal no surprises. Every once in a while, though, I’ll stumble across an acting credit that’s unique because of the role the actor is playing, or because of the visibility of the production itself. When an actor jumps from PM Entertainment to an 8 PM prime-time television slot, it’s cause for celebration. Plenty of martial arts b-movie actors have logged screen-time in mainstream film and television productions. Some of these I knew and some were new to me, but compiled below is a short and random list of some of my favorite examples.

Dale Jacoby - Step by Step (1994)
The owner of one of the most incredible early-90s pompadours in action film history had few roles where he didn’t play a raging, Zabka-lite douchebag. So it’s no great surprise that he visited familiar territory for this supporting television role on a 1994 episode of TGIF’s saccharine stepfamily sitcom, Step by Step. Jacoby plays an evil and arrogant karate coach opposite Sasha Mitchell’s Zen-surfer martial artist, Cody, who’s trying to instill the fighting spirit in his nerdy step-cousin. The casting is a little less random when you consider that Jacoby and Mitchell worked together on Albert Pyun’s Kickboxer sequel in 1991.

Chuck Jeffreys - Pootie Tang (2001)
It was a bit of an inevitability that the Shaolin Wushu expert and Bloodmoon co-star would appear on this list. His list of various stunt credits in Hollywood productions is impressive and he’s one of the most prolific American fight coordinators of the modern film age. In a two-decade career that’s found him training Wesley Snipes for sword battles in the Blade films and choreographing fights in Spider-Man, perhaps none of his cinematic contributions were more memorable than selling the awesome power of the belt in the 2001 cult comedy Pootie Tang. Sine your pitty on the runny kine!

Jeff Wincott - The Wire (2008)
Jeff Wincott is probably the most “actorly” of the bunch on this list and has had a ton of mainstream film and television roles (The Invasion and last year’s Unstoppable among them). After combing through his credits, I’d narrowed it down to his role as an undercover "homeless" cop on HBO's The Wire, or his part in 2008’s Lake City, where he plays a menacing drug kingpin who slaps the shit out of Dave Matthews and strangles his balls, striking a mighty blow for jam-band haters everywhere. Odd as that might be, it gets no bigger than the series finale of the best television show in history.

Cynthia Rothrock - Eye for an Eye (1996)
More than any other part listed here, Rothrock’s role as a self-defense instructor is so short and fleeting that you will literally miss it if you blink. A Sally Field revenge thriller is pretty much the last place you’d expect to find a martial arts actor of Rothrock’s stature, but you can’t blame her for taking a break from the Herculean task of carrying Jalal Merhi to watchable movies.

Matthias Hues, Big Top Pee Wee (1988)
If you can find something more random than Matthias Hues running around in a lion-tamer’s outfit acting alongside Kris Kristofferson in this oft-reviled sequel to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, I will give you my last can of Crystal Pepsi.

Loren Avedon - In Living Color (1991)
What makes Avedon’s cameo on the legendary Fox sketch-comedy show interesting is not that he plays a redneck cowboy, or even that he has to sell a terrible stomach punch by Damon Wayans (playing hilarious vocabulary manipulator Oswald Bates). Rather, this guest role came shortly after what arguably remains his best and most popular film, The King of the Kickboxers. Avedon shouldn’t feel too bad though; Wayans pilfered his co-star for a role in another mainstream production on this list.

Don “The Dragon” Wilson - Stealing Harvard (2002)
I was ready to put The Dragon down for his role as the gang leader who sets his day-glo goons on Robin in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. However, because the skull make-up turned him nearly unrecognizable, and “gang leader” isn’t quite so strange a part for a martial arts actor, I had to give top prize to his even more random role in the 2002 comedy Stealing Harvard. Wilson counted the late Chris Penn as one of his best friends in Hollywood and plays one of the Reservoir Dogs star’s drug gang thugs. Seeing him as a neon nightmare in a superhero summer blockbuster is pretty cool, but the viewing experience of the Bloodfist star trying to kick Tom Green’s head off while adorned in not much more than flip-flops and boxer shorts is fucking surreal.

Gary Daniels - The Expendables (2010)
There’s nothing unusual about a prolific DTV action star playing a supporting role in a Hollywood action production. What makes Gary Daniels’s role in the 2010 action throwback The Expendables unique is that Sylvester Stallone had literally dozens of actors he could have used to stoke the flames of action b-film nostalgia. While most of Gary’s action scenes in the film fell victim to choppy editing and the dreaded Hollywood shaky-cam, his inclusion suggests that Stallone has at least some admiration for DTV action of the 1990s. This might portend more interesting casting choices when you consider the rumor that Stallone’s vision for the sequel will be a “love letter to martial arts.” GASP.

Billy Blanks - The Last Boy Scout (1991)
I apologize to those of you who have been unable to fit this film into your viewing schedule at some point during the last 20 years, but Blanks might have the most impactful screen time of all the parts listed here. As star football running-back Billy Cole, Blanks has the joy of doing a bunch of PCP at halftime during a game and then shooting several would-be tacklers with a firearm during a breakaway running route in the film’s opening. After scoring a touchdown, he blows his brains out. Umm... Tae-Bo anyone?

Jerry Trimble - Heat (1995)
In his film debut, champion kickboxer Jerry Trimble played a mulleted drug dealer who gets his face burned with a space heater in The King of the Kickboxers. Five years later, he had a speaking part in some marginally successful crime drama directed by Michael Mann, and starring actors like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, and Natalie Portman. Um...so...yeah. Jerry Trimble rules this list forever.

I know that I’ve missed a ton of equally deserving parts, so feel free to contribute your favorites in the comments below.


  1. Karl, That opening to The Last boy scout with Billy Blanks is still one of my favourite openings to any film ever! Awesome post.

  2. Awesome rundown! I almost don't know what to say... It made me realize that we've had Jalal Merhi and Billy Blanks in several movies together, and Cynthia and Merhi in several movies together, but never Blanks and Cynthia. I'm pissed now.

  3. If I may put on my Pedantic Douchebag hat for a second here -- Eye For An Eye is a 1996 joint, not 1994. I know this because that was the same year the same director made Cold Comfort Farm, which also could've benefited from a Rothrock appearance.

    Funny thing is that with some readjustments in the script (and a dramatic cut in the budget), Eye For An Eye probably could've been an awesome Cynthia Rothrock vehicle -- even better the Sally Field flick.

  4. Amazing post! Love the Gary Daniels appearance in The Expendables and the Billy Blanks's role in Last Boy Scout.

  5. Thanks party people. Believe it or not, there might actually be enough out there to do another installment of this (maybe more)! Would love to hear some of your other favorites.

    @The Goodkind - IMDB tells me that Blanks made an uncredited appearance in China O'Brien 2, but you're correct that they've never teamed up. Haven't seen it myself, maybe you could verify?

    @EFC - I didn't know they gave out hats for Pedantic Douchebaggery. I imagine it'd go well with my Creatively Lazy Prick mesh tank-top. I think I'm so accustomed to putting dates prior to 1996 in parentheses that it slipped in there.

  6. this is just great. i totally didn't know about the last boy scout and heat appearances. both classics.


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