Jean-Paul Ly,  is an actor and 2017 Award Nominee Action designer/performer, of Chinese and Cambodian origins currently based in London. Trained at the Identity Drama School of London (UK Double Award Winning Part-Time Drama School), Jean-Paul won the “Clive Dailey Award for BEST ACTOR 2014” , for the performance play of “Constellations” (Nick Payne).

With more than 25 years of martial arts practice, Jean-Paul started his work in the film industry in the action / stunt dept, for which he has been nominated twice in 2017:

– The prestigious American SAG Awards, regarding his work on critically acclaimed “Doctor Strange” (Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble).

– followed by a nomination for TAURUS Awards on his work for “Now you See Me 2” (Best Fight).

On the occasion of his latest film, “Jailbreak” screening at Fantasia International Film Festival, we speak with him about Bokator and martial arts in general, the film and his role in it, his career and many other topics

Why did you decide to participate in “Jailbreak”?

I wanted to do “Jailbreak” for several reasons. Being Cambodian myself, I felt it was important to be part of what is historically the 1st action blockbuster of Cambodian film history, so I brought my knowledge and expertise for the cause. Additionally, it was my very first opportunity to act as one of the lead in a feature film, other than simply being a stuntman.

What is your martial arts background?

I practiced Karate at the age of 5, then moved to Hapkido (8 years), Capoeira, Tricking, Boxing etc… My goal is to blend it all to make it unique.

How was the shooting of the action scenes like?

It was tough! But a good challenge. I was previously working on Marvel’ Doctor Strange before flying to Cambodia, so you can guess how the transition must have been!

“Jailbreak” marks the beginning of the action film industry for the country, meaning that we had to start from scratch. With the great help of the Bokator stunt team and Cambodian stunt coordinator Jammy Chhun, we were able to conduct training for large groups of background artists (approx. 80 people), from various levels, to become stuntmen for the movie. They did amazingly well! Their passion and hard work made it happen, and they have nothing to envy from European stuntmen. I am very proud of them.

The shooting itself was great, we had some difficulties based on time but we managed to do our very best, which what’s matters!

Did you got hurt at any moment?

Several times but it was all bruises (my record for this film was 13 at one time)! More seriously, nobody got injured whatsoever, which is a success in itself, knowing the conditions!

Can you tell us a bit about Bokator?

Bokator is a Cambodian martial art, as I call a complete art using various styles of fighting. From elbows to knees, submissions, ground fighting (using styles based on nature such as Eagle, Monkey etc) to weapons mastery (swords, “Krama” Scarf, sticks)…

Jailbreak is the first movie showcasing this amazing martial art for the screen. Most of the Cambodian cast are Bokator practitioners, Dara Our uses a traditional form, while Tharoth is going for “sporting” approach of it (she participates at ONE FC competition). I really hope that Bokator will get the attention it deserves!

 Your character gets beaten unconscious, slapped, and in general, suffers a lot in the film. How did you feel about this?

The environment of Jailbreak story is obviously in a prison, so we wanted the audience to feel the threat and the vulnerability of the characters, who helped each other in order to survive. If it helps the story then it is all good!

Recently, you were nominated for an American SAG Award for your work in “Doctor Strange” Can you tell us a bit about this accomplishment? Are you proud? 

I got very lucky to be nominated for Best Ensemble work on Strange. I was assisting choreographers Jonathan Eusebio and Vincent Wang, and it was one of the best experience I’ve had on a film set. I was assigned to be sparring partner to the main cast, and was involved into practicing most of the fight choreography of the entire film, train the background artists, etc I’ve learned a lot from this, and I brought this knowledge to Cambodia when I went there for Jailbreak.

How was your cooperation with Jimmy Henderson?

I love having a good relationship with directors I work with, and it was a great one with Jimmy. He’s a visionary and a good listener, I really felt that we were building something significant, despite all the difficulties we met on the road, and we faced them all.

We bounced ideas on how to create compelling fight scenes, with attention to details. I am very grateful to have met him. (I would like to thank Loy Te, Michael Chai, Gina Tan, Godefroy Ryckewaert, these compliments are for you too!)

How did he guide you for the role, and how did you interpret your part? 

It was fine, even though we had some changes through the film shoot about my character. Jimmy gave me much freedom on how to interpret it.

What is your opinion of the Cambodian movie industry at the moment?

The films are quite similar, producing the same kind of content that remain local, with no international exposition. We need Cambodian films that can go above the frontiers, and step up in terms of production value. I believe that “Jailbreak” is a great platform to show locals that we can achieve more, and greater results, especially by what it symbolises as being the 1st. I hope it brings Cambodia on the map now, by bringing future investments/productions to come and film in the country.

Which are your favorite movies, actors?

My favorite actors are Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio. They are both tremendous actors that I look up to. In terms of action, I really respect Donnie Yen and the work he has achieved, over 33 years  in the industry.

As surprising as it is, my favorite movies are not action films!

I love animation such as “Le Roi et L’Oiseau” (Paul Grimault), “L’illusioniste” (Sylvain Chomet), “Mary and Max” (Adam Elliot), “Coraline” (Henry Selick) .. and lots of (old) Disney animated films!

My favorite action movies are “Leon The Professional”, “Flashpoint”, and “John Wick 2” !

What are your plans for the future? 

I am co-directing a 25min action pilot with Laurent Plancel (that we’re going to send to Fantasia next year!) called “The Division”. See it as an indie Fast and Furious mixed with some insane martial arts scenes! I am working on it to become a feature and/or TV show.

I have 2 other feature projects coming early 2018, but I can’t talk more in details until they are greenlit… But I can promise you some great action scenes for sure!

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.