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American Made

25 Jan, 2006 By: John Latchem

Dr. Zee Lo

An authentic English-language martial arts film dubbed into Chinese?

That's what audiences can expect with the initial releases from new distributor Reel Asian Films, which kicked off its product lineup in December with a trio of DVDs from indie producer Dr. Zee Lo.

The films — Martial Medicine Man ($20.95), Chasing the Dragon and Combat Mortal (both $19.95) — were directed by Lo over a period of 10 years. He also stars in them and choreographed the fights.

Lo, a Hong Kong native who lives in San Francisco, was a follower of Bruce Lee and trained with Lee's late son Brandon for six years. He said the emphasis in these movies is on “authentic martial arts” that don't rely on over-the-top wire rigs or special effects.

In doing so, he hopes to pay respect to the classic films of Lee and introduce new viewers to martial arts.

“Martial arts strengthen character and can point someone in the direction of what's right and wrong, especially young kids,” Lo said.

He also wanted to break cultural stereotypes and present Asian-American characters in a more realistic light, as opposed to being a passive “model minority.”

“Certain people in American culture think Asians are kind of mellow, quiet citizens,” Lo said. “But some of the meanest people I know are Asians.”

The films were shot in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Lo said American fans of martial arts films can enjoy the artistry of the fighting and stunt-work without being distracted by poorly dubbed English dialogue, since the movies were shot in English. A Chinese-language dub also is included.

Combat Mortal is a spoof, Lo said, in which he plays three characters, including an Asian version of Inspector Clouseau. He said the plot is similar to Star Wars: Episode III and features two brothers who wind up on different paths — one good, the other evil — with an inevitable final confrontation.

Martial Medicine Man is of particular interest to Lo. He stars as Lew Jin Fan, a Chinese army officer on a mission to find his master's missing son in America. Lo said the character is a modernized American version of Chinese folk hero Hwang Fei Hung, a warrior and healer played by Jet Li in the Hong Kong classic Once Upon a Time in China.

Lo hopes to spin his version of the character into a TV series and other avenues of merchandising.

Chasing the Dragon tells the story of a character very similar to Lo, and his experience of making a movie in America.

A set of Zee Lo's entire trilogy is available for $39.95 through reelasianfilms.com. Lo also offers a “No Nonsense Self-Defense” video series for women, with the $12.95 first volume aimed at beginners and intermediates.

Spokesperson Weber Lau said Reel Asian's focus is on “independently produced films that portray Asian stories and culture in an authentic way, unlike the caricatures produced on both sides of the Pacific by mainstream studios.”

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