From visualizing fight scenes for the comic book page to same for the big screen, Kelly Ntep is fight choreographer for Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother]
David KnightView all articles by David Knight
With action films, specifically those of the martial arts (sub)genre, the fight choreography can have a tremendous influence on the finished product. Some past martial arts films have gained popularity and respect from fans, no matter the low budget, the poor dubbing into English (in the Western markets), and any number of negatives that one could think of, as long as the fights feel right, or seem 'authentic'. Some of the films of Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen have capitalized on this very well to critical appreciation in the more mainstream media, but fans have always found these films whether they had big stars, a big distributor, or not.
It would be fair to say that for all these reasons a fight choreographer could be as important as the director, though he must participate under the director's vision to their mutual success. As more and more legitimate releases of Hong Kong, Chinese, and in some cases Korean, martial arts films from the '70s and '80s are released on DVD, the interest of film fans quickly follow the credits after the director, looking for "Action Director", "Kung Fu Instructor", "Fight Choreographer", etc. What is important to the fans is necessarily important to the films.
As a fan of these films, having a forum to express my appreciation of these films critically, it was a most welcome opportunity to discuss fight choreography with Kelly Ntep. Those that have followed my recent writing will recall that I have interviewed Aurelien Henry Obama, the writer/director/ star of Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother], as well as African-American martial arts champion, Robert Parham, who plays the villain in that film. Kelly Ntep is the fight choreographer for Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother].
Kelly Ntep is native to Cameroon, Africa. Like the majority of Cameroonian's he speaks French as his first language -- 70% of the population is French speaking. Those who do speak English doso as a second, or even third language, and it usually occurs as part of their educational pursuits that they learn English. It stands to reason that it is very useful for those in business, the Arts, or both. Cameroonian names often have their origins in three cultures, English, French, and African.
Kelly Ntep has had a broad interest in creative pursuits. His interest and skills in illustration, have seen him produce a number of his own comics and some in collaboration with others, as well as illustrating French language YA novels about Africa.
These include Moundi et la colline magique - 2010, and Le prince Moussa et la grenouille - 2011, by Emmanuel Matateyou, published by L'Harmattan. Ntep's short film made in collaboration with Julian Fouejeu, La Tcham, won both local acclaim. At one time, Ntep and Aurelien Henry Obama had collaborated on somics as well. This logically led to him working with Aurelien on film projects then. For Aurelien's Waka-Waka Man [Lost Brother], which is shooting in English, Ntep will be the fight choreographer.
"I look foward to how the action sequences will use the martial talents of Jean Vidal Ngono and Kelly Ntep... I'm impressed with Kelly," said Obama. " Because he speaks French as does Jean Vidal Ngono. While English is sometimes difficult for them they are trying to learn. It is interesting when shooting a movie to have a crew who speaks English and French, working together for the same goal."
For his part, Ntep had no qualms about having others influence his work. He was very quick to credit those who have inspired him.
"I was inspired by Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix trilogy), J.J. Locco Perry (Undisputed II: Last Man Standing), Corey Yuen (The Transporter, Romeo Must Die), and Donnie Yen (Flashpoint, IP Man, Blade II)," he said.
Most of these influences mentioned have paid their dues to the craft, having begun in the '70s or '80s. It is also a reassuring thing when anyone gives Donnie Yen his due for his contributions to Blade II, which too many overlook in both mainstream and fan press.
Kelly Ntep also draws his influences on the depiction of action from comics, having a backgound in comic book illustration. He has gone sofar as to also draw cast members in the illustration style of the comics. While there is no comic book adaptation of the film Waka-waka Man [Lost Brother] planned at this time, it none the less begs the question, wouldn't it be cool if there was?
"Why not? I think that a comic version of Waka-waka Man wouldn't be just another product," he pointed out, "But a good thing that would also attract many people's interest in the concept of the film."
A comic book style illustration of Jake Damose, the hero of Waka-Waka Man, with the likeness of the actor Aurelien Henry Obama. Permission to use the illustration was arranged through the appreciated efforts of Aurelien Henry Obama.
Because comic books are a visual medium, as is film, it would seem a background in one would assist one to success in the other. That background may give a greater perspective on how a fight should be enacted for the camera, perhaps more than one who does not have that additional background. On this, Ntep conditionally agrees.
"In my estimation it (comic illustration) is a true asset for me. It enables me to not lose track visually, to be more objective and to know exactly what I want seen of the combat, how to plan it, and communicate it to others. For those who do not have knowledge in visual art, I will not belittle, or claim they are unable to do a good job, but just think it would be more of an asset if they had knowledge in this field."
Even before Frank Miller (Daredevil, Ronin, Sin City, 300) made the jump from comics to film, the involvement of comic writers and artists in film was not unheard of, though lower budget and often unsung outside of fan circles. Back in 1962, for example, comic illustrator Pat Boyette (The Peacemaker, Cheyenne Kid, Doctor Graves, The Phantom, Blackhawk) made the horror cult-film Dungeon of Harrow, as writer, director, narrator, and even composer. In the '80s critically acclaimed comic scribe Don McGregor (Black Panther, Killraven, Luke Cage, Nathaniel Dusk, Detectives Inc., SABRE) directed and scripted a film version of his Detectives Inc. characters. AC Comics got into the home video market with company controlled productions of features starring their comic characters Blue Bulleteer, and Nightveil. But, even the comic artist turned fight choreographer is not unheard of either.
Rafael Kayanan, the Filipino born American artist has done work on many American comic book series, including Fury of Firestorm (DC), Conan The Adventurer (Marvel), and Turok (Acclaim) among others. He is also a practitioner of Sayoc Kali, a blade system developed by Chris Sayoc, in New York during the '70s. Kayanan contributed knife fight choreography to William Friedkin's 2003 film The Hunted, starring no less than Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Torro. Kayanan has also done concept illustrations for film, such as Tarsem Singh's 2011 film, Immortals.
Knowing that others have combined similar interests and had it lead to work on big budget films in Hollywood, provides a ready made path for others to follow. While Ntep does not know if his career will lead to similar achievements, he thinks it is a "very sincere goal."
Kelly Ntep will be working with Aurelien Henry Obama again on Obama's next film. Obama is the producer, script writer, and fight choreographer on another martial arts film. Lien Du Sang [Blood Link] will be shot in French. Obama plays the villain, with Jean Vidal Ngono being a hero. For this film Kelly Ntep will be the director.