Don 'The Dragon' Wilson is a kickboxing legend who helped popularize the sport in the '70s and '80s and then launched a successful career in martial arts movie, most notably the Bloodfist series beginning in 1989. After a break to raise a family, Wilson is back at work in films and he makes a cameo appearance in the new movie The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (out now as a Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD combo pack).
Yep, its a straight-to-home-video action picture filmed in Eastern Europe. But it's loaded with a supporting cast featuring old action heroes (Lou Ferrigno, Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn), a couple of UFC fighters (Roy "Big Country" Nelson, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva) and a WWE superstar (Eve Torres). And it's blessed with a sense of humor that delivers on the good time that those overblown Expendables movies only think they offer.
Sure Victor Webster (from the old Mutant X TV series) isn't Dwayne Johnson, but he's appropriately bemused about the challenges he encounters and Barry Bostwick is having a great time chewing up the scenery as the old scientist/wizard who may hold the key to unlocking the secrets of universal power.
Don talked to Military.com about his own experiences at the Coast Guard Academy during the Vietnam era, why he did Scorpion King 4 and why action sequences sometimes make more sense in a low-budget movie.
Hello, Don, how are you?
Well, starting out to be a good day. I haven't gotten hit in the face one time today, so far.
Isn't getting hit in the face sometimes a good day for you,too?
In my old fight career, I fought for 28 years, my day, when I'd wake up, by the time I’d go to sleep, I probably would get hit many times, depending on whether I sparred or not, right? So it's just a joke. I no longer fight.
So tell our readers about "The Scorpion King 4." What's your role in the movie?
Well, I'm not the star of the movie. I'm just, basically, not even really supporting cast. I just do what they would call a cameo.
My interest in the movie was mainly that Mike Elliott is a good friend of mine. He's the director and the producer. As a matter of fact, he produced probably half a dozen, if not more, of my films. We've got a real good friendship going back to 1988. He asked me if I would come on board and just do an action opening on The Scorpion King. I was going to be in Split, Croatia at that time anyway, so it's a short flight from Croatia to Romania. So it all worked out. I had a great time. They were great people.
I saw the movie at a screening. It's a fun, action-packed film. I didn’t realize because I only did a couple of scenes, but it has a lot of comedy in it. It's not taken real seriously, if you know what I mean? It's like a tongue-in-cheek action film.
Guys who served in the 90's, back when they all had VHS players on the bases or on the boats, talk a lot about "Bloodfist" and all the sequels. Your films had a real following among guys who were active service in the military. Tell us about your own military connection.
Times are so different now. Young guys coming up don’t realize that, in my day, they drafted you to go fight in a war. Now, the draft was going on and guys were going to Vietnam. But they never sold that war to us, to the American people. See, that’s the mistake they made. Nobody could figure out why American kids, 18-year-old kids, need to go over there and die for this little plot of land in Southeast Asia.
They had a theory in those days, they call it the domino theory. And they said this is why you’ve got to go over there and die for your country, because if Vietnam goes Communist, then Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, it's just going to be like dominoes. The reality of my generation, is that fifty thousand men went over there and died.
For me, it was not a war that we needed to be in. I went in the Coast Guard because I thought I would have four years I would not be going, but the Coast Guard actually was in Vietnam. I could have possibly gone if the war would have continued, but we got out of the war when I was in the Coast Guard Academy. After we got out of the war, I got out of the Coast Guard Academy. If I had stayed one more year, I wouldn’t have been able to get out. I would have had to go not as an officer. If I tried to get out after two years, you go in as an enlisted.
It's not that my generation was anti-military. We just were anti Vietnam War. That’s basically what detracted or discouraged people from joining in those days. It was a different thing. Now, today, when you're attacked and you see that we do have actual enemies and they can reach us. I don’t remember any Vietnamese guy getting on a boat and attacking San Francisco. We didn’t have that incentive in my generation. Today, I understand young kids saying they're willing to go over there and fight, because these wars have been sold to the public the right way.
Looking at your IMDB page, it looks like you’ve got a lot going on right now. It's like you took a break and now you decided to work again.
I had two kids. And my youngest now, my daughter just turned 13, my daughter. As men, if you're going to spend time with your kids, the best time is when they're the youngest, because as soon as they get older, things change. My son is 15. If he's got free time, he doesn’t want to spend it with his old man. He's gonna go out with his friends and hang out.
My oldest son is now 26. I missed his whole childhood because I did all those direct-to-video movies. At one point, I did 5 in 13 months. I guess people just got used to seeing five Don Wilson movies come out in 13 months. All in the same genre, all martial art movies, and all me starring in them. And no actor does that. I missed my son's childhood. He's 26 now. So for my kids with my second wife Kathleen, I took the time off. I would not do a movie if it was not done in Los Angeles. And most of the movies in my budget range, independent films, are being filmed overseas. On a movie like Scorpion King, you could make the money stretch much further in other countries than you can in LA.
I just agreed to do a movie in February in Manila. That’s where I started my career. My first two movies, Bloodfist 1 and 2, were shot in Manila. So I've come full circle. Now, 30 years later, I'm going to go back to Manila.
One thing I’ve noticed is how much more sense the action scenes make in a movie like "Scorpion King" than they do in a lot of big budget popcorn movies. Everything that happens in these movies makes the fights seem like real fights. They're carefully staged and there seems to be a lot more pride in the work from the people who are making the film.
Mike Elliott has produced probably a hundred films. He gets good people. You figure I've starred in 30 martial art movies. If I've done five fight scenes per movie, and I've done many more than that in one movie, but that’s a minimum of 150 fight scenes. So I know fight scenes. I know how long it normally takes to do them. I know safety factors and where the camera should be. I'm experienced with these fights.
The crew that Mike had, the guys we had, I believe they came from South Africa, but they were great. They were professionals. They kept things safe, moved quickly, because this was not a 100 million dollar budget movie. This was not one of those blockbusters. They have a budget and so they have a time limit. These guys were able to get good quality in those fight scenes, as well as in the other stunts. There's high falls and all kinds of stuff going on in this movie.