Dimitri Logothetis is something of a legend in the martial arts community. He’s experienced in several fields of combat and has worked with incredible talent in the past.
Logothetis is also a filmmaker at heart. He started directing films back in 1987, working on films like Pretty Smart and Slaughterhouse Rock. Eventually, Dimitri got to a place where he could combine his passions for filmmaking and martial arts, as he was hired to work on the Kickboxer franchise.
The first Kickboxer starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and was released in 1989. Becoming something of a cult-classic, the film went on to earn multiple sequels. In 2016, the property was rebooted with Kickboxer: Vengeance — which Logothetis served as a producer on. Following Vengeance, Logothetis was then brought on as a director for the sequel: Kickboxer: Retaliation — which is available for streaming right now.
Starring Alain Moussi, Mike Tyson, Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Kickboxer: Retaliation brings Kurt Sloan back into the action when he’s forced to fight a 400 pound beast named Mongkut.
Dimitri Logothetis recently took time out to talk to Brandon Schreur of The Celebrity Cafe about Kickboxer: Retaliation and all the hard-work that went into it. Dimitri is an incredible humble and hard-working man, one whose passion for the project clearly shows.
He also gave some details about the upcoming Kickboxer: Armageddon — which Dimitri is also directing and is due to be released in 2019.
Read the full interview below.
Brandon Schreur: Thank you so much for meeting with me and for giving me some of your time, how are you doing today?
Dimitri Logothetis: Excellent, how about you?
BS: I am doing alright. Actually, we have some warmer weather over here, so I’m doing great.
DL: Where are you?
BS: I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
DL: Oh wow, my wife is actually from Lansing, Michigan.
BS: Oh yeah? I know some people who live in Lansing.
DL: Yeah, she’s got a brother that lives up in Grand Rapids.
BS: Oh, so you know all about the winter and snow that we get over here.
DL: I do, and that’s why she moved out to Los Angeles [laughter].
BS: That is definitely the right choice. So I wanted to talk to you about Kickboxer for a little bit. I really enjoyed the film, first of all, and I think you did a great job directing it.
DL: Thank you so much.
BS: Yeah, for sure. I wanted to ask how you got involved with the Kickboxer movies. Were you a long-time fan of the franchise and have you seen all of the Kickboxer movies that came before this one?
DL: I grew up watching Kickboxer, and also with Bloodsport, Enter the Dragon and a number of other Bruce Lee projects. I was a martial artist as a young man in my 20s. I’ve got two black belts — one in Tang Soo Do and one in Kenpo. Bruce Lee also trained in Kenpo from the same man, Mr. Ed Parker.
I had an opportunity as a filmmaker to take over the company which launched and had the rights to the original Kickboxer — a company called King’s Road. I got that about five or six years ago, and then I saw that one of the films that was being remade was Kickboxer. I thought it would be really cool to do a modern-day version of it, which is how I approached it.
The other answer is yes: I’ve seen all the Kickboxer movies, of which my favorite is the original.
BS: I totally agree. So, what about the Kickboxer property do you specifically like so much? It’s a martial arts film, and there are a lot of those from the era when the first one came out — like Bloodsport or a bunch of other Van Damme movies. What about Kickboxer drew you into this specific property?
DL: Well again, when I was a kid and when I was training as a martial artist, we would go and watch every martial arts film that came out.
As for all the martial arts films you’ve ever seen; firstly, they’re the best movie you can make over in Asia because they’re about loyalty, they’re about honor, they’re about family and they’re about doing the right thing. That’s a great premise to start with when you have an action lead. So, it’s a really cool genre to watch.
Secondly, Rocky was one of my favorite films growing up. I thought that having someone who’s an underdog who has to take on someone who is undefeated — the David and Goliath story — was something that I always liked. That’s why I was a fan of doing a Kickboxer remake.
BS: Definitely. So, Kickboxer: Retaliation feels like an homage to the genre and martial arts. You mentioned Rocky, the other Kickboxer movies and Bloodsport, but were there any other ‘80s films or anything from that era that really inspired you or made you say ‘let’s pay an homage to this when we’re making Retaliation’?
DL: You can see several homages to Enter the Dragon — one of them being the mirrored scene with the girls. I basically don’t think too much about what everybody else thinks I should be doing. I try to get a story that I think is really interesting and something I can wrap my arms around. Then I try to do some really cool stuff that I personally would love to see on screen. If I think it’s really cool and it looks really great and there’s some amazing martial arts and athleticism to it, hopefully, the audience around the world will respond to it.
And they have in a very, very big way. The thing I was never anticipating is that the critics have also responded to it in a really big way. Normally, critics don’t respond to martial arts movies in North America, but I think we’ve got 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s crazy.
BS: That’s awesome. I think that definitely comes across — it feels like something you wanted to make and something that’s a lot of fun, which allows the audience to have fun with the movie. Last year, you were a writer for the previous Kickboxer movie, Kickboxer: Vengeance. What was it like changing from a writer to the director? Was it your dream come true because now you had all these creative control over the property?
DL: Well, I was a writer and a producer on the first one. I brought it to the screen and was really busy working out a number of things that producers work out at the time.
When you’re doing a remake or a reboot, you’re sort of locked into the original story. You can change it a little bit, but, for the most part, you have to kick it off with that original story. The thing that was really exciting was, after we finished the first one, we could now go in all kinds of different directions with our second version. There was a lot more creativity and latitude to do all kinds of different things — which we accomplished. I think it succeeded in a big way.
BS: Sure. One of the most noticeable things about Kickboxer: Retaliation is all the fighting and violence. Like you said, it’s a whole lot of fun, there’s a lot of it and it’s incredibly well filmed. I know the film to beat when it comes to filming action movies is often considered to be John Wick, and I saw a lot of similarities in the filming between Kickboxer: Retaliation and John Wick. How do you approach this kind of filming? Is it tough to do? Are all the actors doing their own stunts and everything?
DL: For me, I couldn’t approach a martial arts film without having an authentic martial artist involved. I met and was really impressed by Alain Moussi — who is a sixth-degree jiu-jitsu master. He also happens to be a gymnast. The kinds of things he can do physically, without any special effects or wires, is the starting point for me. I think that there’s a little boy and a little girl in all of us that, when they watch a martial arts film, they’re in awe. They think to themselves ‘boy, if I could train with that person, I too could become a real human superhero.’
I think when you watch the Marvel movies and a number of the other special-effects oriented movies, you can put a harness on anybody and fly them around with green-screen. In my movie, everything is authentic. My guys really hit each other, my guys really fly through the air.
Alain can do a front aerial and a back aerial. From a standing position, he’s six-foot-one and weighs over 200 pounds — that’s unheard of. He defies gravity. He does a standing triple. When you see him run, he takes about five big steps and leaps in the air and does a triple kick. When he spins three times in the air, he does that without any wire work. That was really what I wanted to approach.
We have a oner in the opening — two oners actually; another one in the prison sequence, where he has over seventeen hits in over four minutes without ever cutting the camera. All that physicality I wanted to put on screen is authentic, so the audience could go ‘oh my god, wow.’ I think that’s one of the things we achieved.
BS: Yeah, definitely, and I think that each action scene stands out with its own vibe. It’s not necessarily getting bigger and bigger and bigger each time, instead, you change it up with a new setting and style each time. How do you go about in approaching that? With the filming and everything, do you find it really challenging to do those long takes? How do the actors do it?
DL: Well, I’m a planner. I’m not one of those people who walks on set without knowing what they’re going to do that day. Especially with the action scenes, because I’ve done a lot of action directing throughout the years in television, you have to prepare it.
I have a stunt team that’s working months in advance on two different continents — one in Canada and the other in Thailand. After having extensive conversations of the feeling that I want from every stunt sequence, they’ll go ahead and work one out, cut it together and send one over to me. I take a look at both sensibilities and both approaches, and I pick the best moments from each one. Then I share it with Alain, who will throw his input into it, and we’ll go ahead and cut together a sequence that we think is the best. That’s what we’ll approach.
So there’s an awful lot of preparation that goes into stunt sequences. That way, I can prepare the camera people and the set people with all the breakaways and things they need to do for the different sets that we need. Remember, I’m not painting anything. I’m not putting people up against green screens. I really need them to be rehearsed and know what they’re doing.
BS: And it definitely pays off too. You can tell the difference between this and a green-screen movie, which is great.
DL: It drives the insurance company crazy.
BS: Does it really?
DL: Sure, they want everybody to be doubled. So I have doubles for everybody, but my lead — as you can tell — is quite capable. He wants to do everything so that we can authentically say that this is really done by the leading man. In most movies, wonderful actors train and do some of their stunt sequences, but there isn’t anybody who can do what he does on screen.
BS: Which is so awesome. You’re working with some pretty big talent in Kickboxer: Retaliation. You have Alain, and then you also have Mike Tyson and Jean-Claude Van Damme. What’s it like working with those two legends of this field and of film? Are there any crazy behind-the-scenes stories that went down with them?
DL: I tried to coordinate Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mike Tyson’s schedules so I could get them both to pull off an action sequence. I put together their schedules and found a window of two or three days. We designed that action sequence, and they were really excited. They did a rehearsal the night before — again, the stunt guys had planned it all out. Jean-Claude is a professional, too. He really has this great instinct for this genre, obviously. Mike Tyson is a joy to work with.
The problem is that a prizefighter never loses his punch, no matter what age he is. So, Mike, even in his fifties, will turn around and start doing a flurry. Alain and Fabrício Werdum, who is a heavyweight world champion UFC fighter, were doing a couple of sequences with him. Even though they’re really quick and much younger, both of them managed to get clipped in the chin by Mike. Not because he was trying to, but because they just couldn’t move out of the way fast enough. When I approached his sequences, in order to shoot him and capture how quickly those flurries come at you, I rented a rocket-ship camera called a phantom — which shoots at 500 frames per second. I could really slow down the punches so you could see how quickly he flies those hands.
BS: That’s so cool. I didn’t know any of that, but that’s awesome. You’re also working with, and forgive me because I’m going to butcher the pronunciation of this name, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson — The Mountain from Game of Thrones.
DL: Björnsson, yeah. We call him Thor, which is much easier.
BS: Thor, that makes sense. Whew, now I don’t have to attempt that last name again.
DL: What’s crazy is that he’s 28-years-old.
BS: Is he really?! I never would have guessed that.
DL: Right? Just a 28-year-old — a kid! You look at a guy who’s 6’10”, over 405 or 410 pounds, and everyone is intimidated. I’m walking up there, looking up at him, saying ‘you gotta stand over here, you gotta do this and that.’ The crew is looking at me like, you’re telling the giant what to do?!?! [laughter].
He’s only a couple years older than my son too. He was a lot of fun to work with. I mean, look at him. How many people do you know who are actually human and can pick up a man who weighs over 200 pounds, like Alain, and really throw him 25 feet? No wires or anything. That’s what the strongest man in the world can do.
By the way, that stuff you saw on camera — when he throws him — that’s real. Alain has been thrown before, so he asks ‘how far do you think you can throw me?’ Thor looks at him and goes ‘I think I can throw you pretty far,’ [laughter]. So he picks him up and throws him 25 feet across the set. That was wild.
BS: Are you, as the director, freaking out in these moments and think ‘please don’t let them get hurt,’ or are you like ‘yeah! Let’s try for 30 feet!’
DL: Well, the thing is I know Alain. I call him a genetic superior. The one thing about him, over and above the fact that he’s a wonderful martial artist and a stuntman, is that he knows how to take a hit and how to fall better than anybody that I’ve ever worked with — and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some pretty significant stuntman throughout my career.
He just blows your mind in what he can do and what he’s capable of doing. I have to stop him a lot of times and say ‘no, no, no, we’re not going to do it that way because you may kill yourself.’ [laughter]
BS: And is Thor as intimidating in real life as he seems like on the screen during these scenes?
DL: Oh no. He’s a teddy bear.
DL: He’s just a big teddy bear — a big kid. If you watch his competitions, which you can see online, he’s explosive — he can lift up a giant tree or pull a 10-ton semi. He’s got this explosive power that he trains for.
Thor is the European world champion strongest man. The other guy who you see in there — Brian Shaw, who Alain trains with in the prison, when Brian picks him up by the neck and holds him against the wall — he is the world’s strongest man now. Brian is also a really sweet guy and a big teddy bear.
BS: That makes me so happy. Now you’re serving as a producer for the next Kickboxer — Kickboxer: Armageddon — which is going to come out next year, right?
DL: Producer and director as well.
BS: And you’re directing it as well! That is great news. Are there any details you can tell us for what we should expect and look forward to for Armageddon?
DL: I can tell you that if you really enjoyed these action sequences and this kind of approach in Kickboxer: Retaliation, I’m going to blow your mind in Kickboxer: Armageddon. I’m going to take it up to a whole other level. It’s all going to be authentic, there’s going to be a oner that we’re going to open the film with that will blow your mind. At the very end, because it’s Kickboxer 3, he’s going to end up fighting three different fighters that all have their own unique fighters that all have their own talents — very similar to Bruce Lee’s Game of Death.
BS: No way. You’re getting me excited now. Last question: Kickboxer: Retaliation is about a bunch of legends going head-to-head in martial arts battles. The previous Kickboxer saw Kurt take on Dave Bautista and this one saw him fight Thor, so is there anyone on your bucket list — an actor or an MMA fighter — that you really want to see him fight sometime in the future?
DL: Sure, I think the fanbase would love to see Conor McGregor go up against him. If you enjoyed seeing him go up against the 20-ton semi in Thor, what I would love to see as a fan — and what I think you would love to see as a fan — would be for him to go up against a Porsche like Conor McGregor. He’s really fast and agile, so that would be on my bucket list. I’d love to see him come into the picture.
You know, we’re going to have some pretty unique and wild stuff in the next one. Again, the kind of environments I’m creating and the kind of settings where they’ll be fighting is really going to blow your mind.
BS: I bet it’s going to be awesome, and Conor McGregor would be a great pick. Is there anything else coming up that you want to promote besides Kickboxer?
DL: I’m launching a brand-new franchise called Jiu Jitsu. I wrote a comic-book last year that got published, and it’s going to literally kick-off this new franchise. It’s going to be science-fiction martial arts. It’s going to be really cool and we’re going to take it a step farther. Its Predator meets Jason Bourne meets Mortal Kombat. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
BS: Insane. And that’s coming next year?
DL: That’s coming next year. We start shooting Armageddon beginning at the end of next month here in Las Vegas for about a week. Then we go to Thailand in May. We’ll do another month and a half in May and then be done by June. In fall of this year, then, we want to start shooting Jiu Jitsu.
BS: Definitely sounds like it will be worth checking out. Are you on social media anywhere where people can follow you?
BS: Great. Well, that was all I had for you Dimitri, thanks again so much for taking the time out to talk to me, I really enjoyed talking to you and I’d love to do it again when Armageddon comes out.
DL: You should come out to L.A. and see the premiere!
BS: That would be awesome, I would actually love that.
DL: We’ll have all the stars here in everything, you should come out. […] We’ll be in touch.
BS: Perfect, I am very excited now. Thanks again Dimitri.
DL: Yeah, thanks so much.
BS: For sure, have a great day.
DL: You too! Bye.
Dimitri Logothetis’ Kickboxer: Retaliation comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on March 13, 2018.