For our final review of 2012, we looked at a gory, over-the-top, straight-to-video release called Psycho Kickboxer. The film starred professional boxer and kickboxer, Curtis Bush, a champion whose 20-year career in the ring saw him collect various titles in the welterweight, light-middlweight, middlweight, and super welterweight divisions. A native of Virginia, his first film role came in 1988's Canadian martial arts film, Dragon Hunt, starring the McNamara brothers (first seen by yours truly in Back in Action). Soon after, he appeared as a Foot Soldier in the first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, and various roles in television and film followed.
Through the magic of social media, I recently connected to Curtis and he agreed to participate in an interview to share his thoughts about his life and film work.
Fist of B-List: Several competitive kickboxers -- Don Wilson, Ian Jacklin, Kathy Long, Jerry Trimble -- turned into actors during the late 1980s and 1990s. Did you look to any of these people as potential models for what you wanted your film career to be?
Curtis: I grew up loving action movies and heroes like Clint Eastwood, Bruce Lee, and Charles Bronson. I wanted to be them. I fought Trimble in his retirement fight in 1988. We fought to a 12 round draw, and Trimble retired and moved to California where he scored big in action movies.
Fist of B-List: How did you become involved with the production of 1990’s Dragon Hunt? Could you describe the experience of working with the McNamara brothers?
Curtis: I fought and knocked out the #1 world welterweight contender Paul Biafore in Toronto, Canada in 1988, and his managers Mic and Martin McNamara invited me to play a Poacher in their film Dragon Hunt. The twins, as they are known, are two hyper energetic fun loving guys who make movies. We filmed for two weeks on an island in Toronto and I loved it. One outhouse and 30 Canadian crew/actors made for fun times.
Fist of B-List: Psycho Kickboxer has a very homegrown quality to it. You’ve said in interviews that you used some of your students in the film, and some family members and friends contributed towards the production budget. Did that add to the pressure of making the film, or did it put you more at ease?
Curtis: My mom and sister invested and a lot of my students’ parents invested as well. I did not want this film to fail. Even if we made no money, I wanted a 100% finished product that they could watch and say they were a part of. And of course, we did not make a dime!
Fist of B-List: In an interview with DVD Verdict, you described how you wanted to make a Death Wish film, but with kickboxing. Do you think you succeeded in doing that with Psycho Kickboxer?
Curtis: I met a producer in 1992 and we started planning Psycho Kickboxer, where I would be the lead. I wanted the film to be Death Wish, Chinese Connection, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly all rolled into one low budget masterpiece. My students and friends played bad guys and victims and we signed with EI Cinema to release the film on video in 1997. Took 5 years to get a release on home video. EI re-released the film in 2008 on DVD.
Fist of B-List: What other film or acting experiences stick out for you?
Curtis: In 2000 I was chosen to do the motion-capture for the Xbox video game, Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon released in 2002. I played the character Cobra who fights Bruce Lee in the game. Had so much fun filming in California and having my face scanned at Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Terence Masson selected me and James Teal directed. In Hawaii I have worked on the TV series Lost, North Shore, Hawaii 5-0, and a few films including Battleship. My acting skills suck but I am determined to be an actor. Love the film business, big time.
Fist of B-List: Could you talk about some of your memories from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films? What was that film set like, compared to others you've been on? If you worked with Pat Johnson, what was that experience like?
Curtis: I never heard of the Turtles until I went to the open audition in Wilmington, NC where it was filmed. About 300 martial artists from around the country and Canada were there. I auditioned in front of Pat Johnson and all I could think was: "hey, that’s the referee from Karate Kid and one of the bad guys in Enter the Dragon.” I then proceeded to beat the shit out myself with my nunchucks. They must have liked it, and called me the next morning to tell me I was one of 30 Foot cast in the film. Pat was a great Fight Coordinator and man. He talked to the Foots and Turtles in a friendly voice. Everyone loved him and wanted to do their best to please this great martial artist. But on the first day of filming with the Foots, one of the Foots showed up about an hour late. He was fired in front of all the other Foots and had to do a walk of shame out of the studio. No Foot was ever even a second late after that! One day during off time, Pat had me hold the mitts while he punched and kicked. I was in awe and proud to be helping him work out. Great memories. My friend, World Champion Dale Frye, and Jimmie Lee Sessom of North Carolina were also cast as Foots and we had a blast.
Fist of B-List: Were there any martial arts actors with whom you would have liked to work in a film, but didn't get the chance?
Curtis: Love Chuck Norris. That would be cool. He was my instructor’s instructor so I had the chance a few times to meet and talk with him. Great man!
Fist of B-List: What is your personal opinion on the influence of MMA and jiu-jitsu in modern fight choreography? Do you think it makes the fights better or do stand-up styles translate better for the camera?
Curtis: Stand up fighting looks better and is more exciting than ground fighting. Flashy kicks and punches always sells.
I'd like to thank Curtis for sharing his experiences and being so generous with his time. Be sure to check out Psycho Kickboxer and keep your eyes peeled for his appearance in 2012's Battleship!