James Z. Feng is an actor and director, having worked both in China and the United States. Currently living in the Bay Area, James has recently filmed Fight Life , a documentary about the often unheard lives and stories of Mixed Martial Arts fighters, to be released in the summer of 2010.
Kevin: Did you have some previous background in MMA before you filmed Fight Life ?
James: I’ve done some BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), but not much. I did come from a martial arts background though: jiu-jitsu (Japanese), kendo, and kung-fu (wushu). So I’ve always dabbled in martial arts and then I played sports.
K: Ah, I see.
J: So I’ve gotten the competitive stuff from sports and took martial arts as a hobby. I think that’s why I get along with everyone. I get where they are coming from, especially since MMA is more of a sport than an art nowadays.
K: In what ways?
J: When I was growing up, martial arts weren’t necessarily competitive; not everyone was the “Karate Kid.” We just did it for fun, and not to compete on weekends, you know? But MMA is a sport: BJJ tournaments, wrestling tournaments, kickboxing, Muay Thai; all these are competitive sports. I got an e-mail the other day. A 15-year-old aspiring MMA fighter who trained since he was 12, and now trains with Guy Metzger out in Texas, asked me to be in the film. I looked at his resume and it was pretty crazy. Only 15-years-old and he’s already done a lot. It’s crazy.
K: And that wasn’t you when you were growing up, huh?
J: No. I trained hard, but I didn’t know about wushu tournaments and such. I was playing tennis competitively and was 30th in the state, so I had that going for me. I couldn’t take on two simultaneously, so martial arts was a hobby of mine. I’d train at home, hit the heavy bag, do some kicks, go to the dojo, train some, and it was fun.
K: So when did you make that transition from MMA as simply a hobby to it being a serious passion?
J: I think when MMA came out I wasn’t sure what to think of it. To be honest, I didn’t really get passionate until right before I made this film when I met my neighbor who was a fighter. He was going to his first fight and invited a bunch of family and friends to watch. It wound up being a small MMA fight in San Francisco in some rusty old gym with strippers everywhere. It was crazy.
J: And then after he lost one day I talked to him and he told me he made $3,000, and said they were going to give him $2,000 for his next fight. He was trying to debate whether or not it was really worth it. He had to lose 30 pounds for that last fight, trained like hell, and had to take daily supplements. And he was saying to me, “Dude, I paid more than $3,000 in the last six months.” That was when I started getting into MMA, and trying to understand what it took. I started my research reading all the books, the history of the sport, watching documentaries, and read all the autobiographies. I watched the fights and was very fascinated.
K: How did you begin building relationships with many of the fighters in your videos?
J: It’s been a trip. I did some research on fighters in the SF area and found Jake Shield’s website, so I asked some of my MMA friends if he was legit. They said he was good and so I hit up his dad, got past his dad, and then eventually got to him. I went and met him during training, along with Gil [Gilbert Melendez] and all the guys. We got lunch and eventually I just started showing up at their training sessions. We’re all good friends now. But I’d always be there at the gym filming and after they’re done training we’d go out and eat. It was like I was part of the crew. At Jake’s fight in St. Louis they didn’t have a car and I had a rental, so I had to drive those hobos around for three days, haha...
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Find out more about Fight Life at http://www.fightlife.tv
Watch the second trailer here.