DIM­ITRI LO­GO­THETIS: EN­TER THE GREEK

Black Belt - - SCREEN SHOTS -

When was the last time a film ex­tra was dis­cov­ered by an A- list di­rec­tor who hap­pened to be im­pressed by the ex­tra’s gump­tion and abil­ity to mix things up with a great ac­tor and said ex­tra is now on the brink of chang­ing the face of Amer­i­can mar­tial arts cinema? In 1977. That’s when a Greek im­mi­grant named 'im­itri Lo­go­thetis got the break of a life­time.

With a dou­ble dose of hard work, a film­mak­ing ca­reer was born, and 40 years later, the Lo­go­thetis- directed Kick­boxer: Re­tal­i­a­tion is rais­ing the bar in the fight-film genre. It all started when he quit play­ing col­lege foot­ball and picked up a new pas­sion and pur­pose cour­tesy of a seed planted years ear­lier by Bruce Lee.

´ Back then, a friend told me about a guy — Ed Parker — who does this thing — kenpo — and we signed up at his Santa Mon­ica stu­dio,” Lo­go­thetis said. ´At that time, I also saw En­ter the Dragon. To see Bruce Lee do all he phys­i­cally could do on cam­era and see the other mar­tial artists in the movie was like watch­ing a su­per­hero film.”

Lo­go­thetis was one of the for­tu­nate few who got a chance to train with Parker pri­vately, which ex­plains what hap­pened next. ´ In 1975 Mr. Parker called and asked me to work out with a pri­vate client,” Lo­go­thetis re­called. ´ In comes Elvis Pres­ley! I was blown away. We did forms — kenpo has a lot of them — and then I let Elvis beat me up. It was amaz­ing.”

Years later, Lo­go­thetis learned tang soo do from for­mer kick­box­ing champ Howard -ack­son. The fu­ture pro­ducer went on to com­pete in the Long Beach In­ter­na­tion­als. Then in 1977, Martin Scors­ese cast Lo­go­thetis as a desk clerk tasked with man­han­dling Robert 'e Niro in New York, New York. ´ 'e Niro told me to do what­ever I [had] to do to stop him. I was 19, played foot­ball and did mar­tial arts. I said, ‘ Bobby, re­ally? I will stop you.’” 'e Niro re­port­edly replied, ´ No, you won’t.” The scene started, and 'e Niro be­gan ad-lib­bing, ´ He screamed at me, and I screamed back, leaped over the desk and landed in a karate stance,” Lo­go­thetis re­called. ´ He looked at me, then took off. I ran him down and tack­led him onto the stair­case. I heard the crew moan — they thought I broke his leg. I fig­ured I’d be fired, but 'e Niro said that he told me to stop him. Then I had him in a back choke­hold and be­hind-the-back arm lock. Scors­ese loved it.”

With a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion from Scors­ese, Lo­go­thetis at­tended Loy­ola Mary­mount Univer­sity in Los An­ge­les, where he earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in film and TV di­rect­ing. He pro- duced his first film Hard­bod­ies 2 in 1986. The fol­low­ing year, he broke into tele­vi­sion by of­fer­ing a money- back guar­an­tee to En­ter the Dragon pro­ducer Fred Wein­traub if Wein­traub would hire him to di­rect an episode of The New Ad­ven­tures of Robin Hood.

Lo­go­thetis’ of­fer was ac­cepted. His episode was called ´ Robin Hood: Rage of the Mon­gols,” and it wound up be­ing a crazy mar­tial arts slap­stick com­edy ca­per that starred five-time world cham­pion Keith Cooke as a ruth­less Mon­gol who uses the dou­ble broadswords, gi­ant shuriken, taek­wondo kicks and bo skills. Wein­traub loved the mar­tial wack­i­ness so much that Lo­go­thetis’ episode be­came the show’s pi­lot. He didn’t have to re­turn his pay­check, and a new di­rec­tor was born.

With his old- school back­ground, fight ex­pe­ri­ence, le­git­i­mate de­gree and Robin Hood TV de­but, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Lo­go­thetis would helm a movie one day. He’s a mar­tial artist’s mar­tial arts film di­rec­tor with a solid film and mar­tial arts back­ground.

In 2014 Lo­go­thetis be­gan re­vamp­ing Kick­boxer (1989) into a fran­chise that would star Alain Moussi. Kick­boxer: Vengeance was re­leased in 2016, fol­lowed by the highly suc­cess­ful Kick­boxer: Re­tal­i­a­tion in (2018). Lo­go­thetis pro­duced both and also served as di­rec­tor on Re­tal­i­a­tion.

´ I wanted to mod­ern­ize Kick­boxer,” he said. ´ To­day’s mar­tial arts films use a shaky cam­era dur­ing the fights, and that drives me crazy. My guys do ev­ery­thing, so I don’t need to hide an ac­tor’s in­abil­ity to move or fight or use stunt­men or crazy in­ter­cut­ting. I went back to Sam Peck­in­pah, who did ac­tion se­quences in slow mo­tion, then com­bined that with to­day’s speed ramp­ing — start with slo-mo, speed up, back to slo-mo. Plus, ev­ery­body in the films is an au­then­tic mar­tial artist.”

I pre­vi­ously wrote in Black Belt that 5HWDOLDWLRQ·V fights broke new ground when it came to Amer­i­can mar­tial arts films, and I meant it. Alain Moussi’s three-and-a-half-minute bat­tle in a prison and the phys­i­cal bash­ing, smash­ing and crash­ing in­volv­ing him and Haf­pór Björns­son were mag­i­cal.

´ Be­cause Haf­pór is so big, in­ter­view­ers asked if I used forced per­spec­tive or cam­era-lens tricks,” Lo­go­thetis said. ´ No, he’s that big. Yet I did en­hance his abil­ity to move faster. Al­though he’s not as fast as Alain, all he has to do is hit him once, then you see what hap­pens. This fight might go down in cinema his­tory.” I agree.

Ap­par­ently, crit­ics and fans do, too. On Rot­ten Toma­toes, the film has a rat­ing of 91 per­cent, and re­views by Forbes, Hol­ly­wood Reporter, Vil­lage Voice and the Los An­ge­les Times have all been pos­i­tive. Even Va­ri­ety touted it as ´ well- crafted good fun.”

What’s on tap for Kick­boxer: Ar­maged­don? ´One of my fa­vorite films about vengeance is Clint East­wood’s Un­for­given,” Lo­go­thetis of­fered. ´ Peo­ple said it wouldn’t win an Os­car be­cause it’s a Western and too vi­o­lent. Iron­i­cally, the movie is about non­vi­o­lence, and the way it’s writ­ten and plays out, East­wood’s char­ac­ter’s soul is de­stroyed be­cause he was a vi­o­lent killer. This is $UPDJHGGRQ·V un­der­tone: Vengeance and Re­tal­i­a­tion lead to Sloane’s soul de­struc­tion, and the only way to stop vi­o­lence is to stop vi­o­lence. His char­ac­ter arc will shock you as to who he be­comes in or­der to do what he has to do.”

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