DIMITRI LOGOTHETIS: ENTER THE GREEK
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.”