Shane Ryan, one of the producers of and one of the villains in the new film Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, may just be the definition of The Jean-Claude Van Damme Fan. Or fan-addict.
Ryan's JCVD collection dates back to the 80's (and he never stopped adding to it - a large portion is stored in his closest due to a lack of room) after witnessing Bloodsport. He was already into filmmaking (his father is an editor) as well as karate and gymnastics (his mother, who is blind, was a brown belt at the time and a horse vaulter), and favored cult martial arts classics like Shô Kosugi's Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja. But when a classmate introduced him to Bloodsport, it all changed. Ryan knew right then and there, he wanted to be Van Damme. He didn't dream of acting anymore, it was going to happen. It took more than 25 years, however, for Ryan to get a role in an action film (might we add the sequel to what is argued to be the best worst action film of all time). And when he finally did (just this year) he referenced...wait for it.............Bloodsport.
"I think what drove me towards JCVD was his emotion," says Ryan. "He's a very emotional guy, unlike Schwarzenegger or Seagal. And his characters always get hurt and beat-down real bad. They feel real. They are the underdogs. And then when he comes back kicking, it's so unreal it just makes you want to jump up and cheer with everything that you've got. He suddenly becomes this super human pumped full of adrenaline, and you feel like you're fighting this impossible battle with him."
Ryan began learning about film at age 5 and was making his own short films by the time he was 7. He didn't start taking karate lessons until he was 12, however (he gave up gymnastics when he was about 8), after years of bullying. "I unfortunately was not comfortable in my own body, and I gave up on karate pretty quickly." By 14 he quit, and the bullying continued. He was beaten so badly by a group of kids at school freshman year, that he can barely even chew his food to this day. "My jaw's ruined, but you can't tell unless you're kissing me, then it might pop."
Due to the bullying, and experiences in foster care and issues with the law when he was 16, Ryan began focusing on dramas and stories about troubled kids instead of action, and by the time he was 20 he finally realized he wanted to be a filmmaker. He made several uncompleted feature films and then on his 7th attempt, when he was 24, he succeeded, releasing a feature film shot in 3 hours on a 45 dollar budget. The film was a smash hit on the indie scene, acclaimed by everyone from MTV to Mr. Skin and (sort of) launched Ryan's career as an auteur director. His worked leans towards the controversial side which caused him many ups and downs (mostly downs) over the past decade until Ryan finally appeared to have given up on both acting and directing in early 2014.
"I was 34," says Ryan, "had never profited a cent from my films despite them being some of the most pirated movies on the internet. My last film, My Name is A by anonymous, had taken nearly 5 years to come out. 'Discouraged' can't even begin to describe what I was feeling. I wanted to make a living, possibly make a family, but I only new film and nothing else. I just didn't know what to do with myself anymore."
Suddenly Ryan got a call from Albert Pyun (the director of Cyborg, which Van Damme filmed right after Bloodsport). Pyun cast Ryan as the lead male role in an experimental one-shot take feature film called The Interrogation of Cheryl Cooper. A month later, Ryan received word that he would be in Samurai Cop 2 (he was cast based on the fact that he had been in Pyun's film). The director, Gregory Hatanaka, had his actors take fight training lessons for the sequel. When they learned that Ryan had the best coordination of the bunch, he got the hardest action scenes. At one point Randy Couture (of the Expendables franchise) even helped out as Ryan trained with Couture's better half, Mindy Robinson (who plays Ryan's better half - sort of - in the film).
However, having never done a fight scene, and knowing that the film was a sequel to the "worst martial arts film ever made," Ryan was struggling to figure out how to portray the role. "I needed to be ridiculous, without knowing that I was. Aware without being self aware. A bad actor, who thinks that he's a good actor. Now, how in the hell do you do that?"
This is where Ryan's childhood dream and origins really factored in. "I saw a screening of Bloodsport in 2013, my first time with an audience. I never knew it was a comedy. Van Damme is so over-the-top, but in the best way. He's a great actor, but he's ridiculously emotional. I love it, but you just can't take it seriously in today's film world. Greg had told me to reference Ichi the Killer and one in particular Bruce Lee fight scene (where Lee takes on at least a dozen opponents at once), so I studied that a bit, but when it came down to it, I got no prep or rehearsal for my actual scenes - our fights were changed or choreographed for the first time, sometimes not even 5 minutes before filming them - so I had to just flip a switch. Since I like to method act, that was very scary. I panicked, and just pictured Van Damme's final fight in Bloodsport. From there I knew what to do; go back to when I was 8 years old, picture who I wanted to be in life, and unleash all the rage I've built up since then after 25+ years of failure, all while I'm battling the Samurai Cop and spitting out gibberish Japanese. There's no way that that can be taken seriously, but I'm so off-the-hook lost in some mental crazy world, that I'm doing anything but being self-aware. I felt mentally ill, and completely free, wild and crazy. It was the best time of my life," claims Ryan.
Since his biggest scenes were shot backwards, his craziness got so intense that his most mentally disturbed moments actually had to be cut from the film since they peaked in his opening scene and took away from his final scene (which was shot first).
But whatever Ryan did, it seemed to work. While he is not in much of the film, which also features very well known cult actors like Tommy Wiseau (creator of smash hit cult film The Room), Bai Ling (The Crow, Crank 2), Mel Novack (Bruce Lee's Game of Death) and many more, audience members at last week's theatrical debut applauded Ryan's crazy character. What this means next for Ryan, "I haven't got a clue. Trying to figure out how to pay for my car, insurance, food, etc. The usual headaches of being a filmmaker/actor. Hopefully this movie gets me some work. Either way, I loved doing it, and I have to thank a lifetime of dedication to my Van Damme collection."
If Ryan could make any movie what would it be? "A Death Wish remake with Jean-Claude Van Damme. I don't care much for remakes but I think he'd be amazing in it. Like a Man on Fire kind of film with JCVD at his most violent and emotional best, embracing his age, displaying his angst and acting ability full-throttle but for today's generation; a realistic JCVD, - the ultimate action anti-hero."
Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance is currently showing in select cities nationwide.