Celine Tran has experienced many sides of the entertainment business. Mike Leeder finds out why she’s moved into martial-arts and finds out more about the upcoming ‘Jail Break’…
Cambodia’s first full-blooded martial arts action movie Jailbreak is about to start shooting. Joining the cast will be French Vietnamese actress Celine Tran. Formerly a superstar in the Adult Movie Industry, Tran has embraked on a serious acting career, proving her action credentials and cinematic fight skills in a number of projects before her action movie debut. Impact’s Far Eastern Editor Mike Leeder caught up with Tran for the following chat about her martial arts background and what we can expect from this project…
IMPACT: Celine, can we begin with you introducing yourself? And telling us a little but about yourself?
CT: My name is Celine Tran, I’m a French Vietnamese actress, comic book author and a DJ… I just played at the Cannes International Film Festival. After spending a few years in Los Angeles, I’m now based in Paris but I’m very attracted to Asia and Asian Cinema… where I’m currently connected to several projects in various stages of development.
What initially attracted you to the martial arts and why?
CT : Bruce Lee of course, and also Jackie Chan! I grew up watching their movies. I began learning ballet when I was a little girl, but my mother gave me the choice to learn the sport that I really wanted to do. There was a very good Shotokan Karate school near where I lived, so I picked Karate and began training there. I was very shy and it was a very healthy way to build confidence. I studied very seriously from the ages of 15-18, and my teachers asked me to be a part of their Kata-Team and to compete on a national level. But my parents wanted me to stay focused on school. Then when I went to study Political Science, I moved away and followed another path. I stopped training for a very long time. But in 2014, we began prepping to shoot a trailer for one of the comics I co-wrote, Doggybags-Heartbreaker, I returned to the Dojo in order to train and get ready to fight on camera. It made me realise just how much I missed this kind of place. I felt like I was 15 years old again!
When I saw Gareth Evans’ movie The Raid, it made me fall in love with Silt. It lead me to start training in SSBD (Silat Suffian Bela Diri) with Guru Maul Mornie. I also wanted to work on improving my kicks, so I started learning Taekwondo last year. I’ve also returned to training in Shotokan and just got my black belt… I am also planning to add JuJitsu lessons to my schedule. One of my big regrets is that there isn’t enough time to do everything I want! I also really love dance and circus skills, I have trained in both contortionism and aerial silks. I find it’s become something of an endless quest to learn more physical skills, and I love it ! Martial arts are really a big part of my life today, and if I can use it on a professional level, that’s even better.
You’ve shown a glimpse of what you’re capable of action-wise in Doggybags, the short Bladed Minds (where you showed some nice sword play), the stylish Dust Machina Katana demo, and the brutal Burst. What appeals to you about martial arts action movie making and just how have you found making the transition from real martial arts to movie martial arts?
CT : It was taking part in these which really brought me back to the martial arts. I’ve been a fan of action and martial arts movies ever since I was a kid, it was natural for me to be attracted to physical roles and I like to push myself, to go somewhere where people don’t expect me to go, that is stimulating to me. When I came back to France three years ago, I was lucky enough to meet stunt performer/choreographer Kefi Abrikh and began taking lessons from him, in order to learn about screen fighting. But I really enjoyed it, and after we did the first project, I kept training, and we’ve shot more videos with the stunt team and they have become good friends now. I have always followed my instinct and what inspires me, everything has been very natural and spontaneous. I always want to collaborate on projects with people I meet who share the same energy.
What really impressed me with Doggybags is how comfortable you seemed with guns and knives, you looked very much at ease with the action scenes? Is it actually something you DO find yourself very comfortable with?
CT : As always a lot of it is about training and motivation. I was not comfortable at all in the beginning but I always tell myself, that’s GOOD, there’s always room to improve ! We are all beginners at some point, it’s very easy to get frustrated but you have to remember that we all need to start somewhere. Matthieu Lardot, one of the choreographers who I have been training with, has been very patient about teaching me how to move and how to use these weapons. It takes time to get the skill level, so I am happy to hear that I managed to convince you that I was comfortable with the weapons !
For Bladed Minds and Dust Machina, you showcase some very impressive sword skills, what’s the appeal of the blade for you and why?
CT: Again it all started from watching movies and getting frustrated. This is how I work, I see something that impresses me, and then I start asking myself, ‘Would you be able to this?‘
So of course when I saw Kefi Abrikh using his katana at the dojo, I wanted to try it straight away and as soon as I started playing with the blade, I loved it! We designed some very cool blade choreography for Doggybags-Heartbreaker, but unfortunately time was against us and we didn’t have time to shoot the whole thing. It was very frustrating, so we decided to shoot the Bladed Minds short soon after, a fight only using katanas. Then one day, I saw a video on YouTube of a female stunt peformer who was doing some tricks with a katana blade, throwing it and catching it behind her back etc. I challenged myself to be able to do the same. I talked about it with another stunt man friend, Gart Cothenet who liked the idea, and offered to help me create some choreography based around tricks and flashy moves with the weapon. Gary is super talented, his performances with weapons are breathtaking. After a few months we shot Dust Machina directed by Godefrey Ryckewaert (who made “Bladed Minds”).
With Burst, you showed that you’re not afraid to take a hit or get bloody, its a brutal short film, there’s no beautifying of the action in this short. Was that very much intentional?
CT: Beauty takes different forms, you know, and violence can be a part of it. The challenge for me, was: Can we make it look/feel real? The intention here was to get away from the cliché of the ‘pretty girl’ who dominates a fight without breaking a fingernail or smudging her makeup. The goal was to show that I could deliver some convincing reactions, to fight with different intentions, a different energy, being aggressive and than being weak.
It’s not about looking pretty or ugly, it’s about looking real and being honest with the character and the situation. It was also nice to make something different of the previous video, Bladed Minds which was more stylized and quite funny. My goal is to explore all kind of levels and styles.
What are some of your biggest influences martial arts movie wise, both in front and behind the camera?
CT: Oh quite a tough question. Here is a short list of some of my favorite martial arts movies :
The Way of the Dragon : best classic ever. The Fearless Hyena : hilarious, brilliant, also a classic. The House of Flying Daggers : A true poem. I was touched by the delicacy of this movie. The first scene shows how much martial arts can be close from dance. It’s a true art form! Ip Man 1&2 : So much class. Donnie Yen brings so much elegance. The story, the acting part are really good. They are great martial arts movies but also deliver on the dramatic side. The Raid : Do I really need to say why ? Violence has never been so enjoyable.Rurouni Kenshin : The best movie with katana fights ! Last but not least : Ninja Condor 13 and Miami Connection : if you don’t know them, you’re fired.
How did you first get involved with Jail Break, and what can you say about your involvement in the project?
CT: I was attending the Hong Kong Film Mart in March of this year, and I met the Jailbreak team by accident (Okay, I don’t really think anything happens by accident…) You, yes Mister Mike, I’m talking about you, you introduced me to them so we could talk about or respective projects, and we realized that Jailbreak was the perfect opportunity to work together. They offered me a very cool opportunity to come on board, and here we are a few weeks later and I’ve travelled from Paris to Phnom Penh, ready to work, and to sweat!
CT: It’s definitely a very exciting experience. I’m excited about working with such an enthusiastic and talented team, everyone is willing to and able to do a good job and to bring in their experience. Knowing that its something new for the Cambodian market makes it even more special. It’s a real challenge, we’re the first action movie here, so we have a lot to deliver. I really hope that the Cambodian audience will enjoy our work, and that the film will also be well received by audiences around the world, including from France!
How have you prepared for the role?
CT: First, we (the producers, director and myself) started to discuss the script and the character. Its very important for me to believe in a project whole-heartedly so I can totally invest myself, and that always starts with an exchange of ideas. We’d talked about the character and the way to approach her, and then, since I arrived in Cambodia, I’ve been working on learning the choreography from our main choreographer and leading man Jean-Paul Ly. I also met with the rest of the team, Dara, Taroth, the stunt-team and… guess who? Godfrey Ryckewart again! I had never had the chance to work with Jean-Paul before this and I’m very impressed. He’s a real hard worker, very creative, great ethic and really cares about everyone. It’s a pleasure to work such a talented choreographer. We were able to discuss the different options for the styles of fights and we were totally on the same page. The training has been quite intense, and a little difficult at first due to the heat, the weather in Paris is a little different to that in Cambodia! But it’s all about practice and adaptability, we have all tried to make the training period as efficient as possible. I’ve also been learning my dialogue, my character speaks some of her dialogue in Khmer which is quite a challenge, as I have never spoken Khmer before! But I do like the idea that each and every day brings a new challenge, something new to learn, to adjust to, its a challenge but in a fun way!
What does the future hold for you?
CT: Only good things! The second edition of my comic Doggybags-Heartbreaker 2 is almost done and will be published before the year’s end. I will also be doing some more DJ sets both in Paris and overseas. And there are a number of other projects in the works, more projects as an action actress but I have to keep some of them secret for now… or else I’d have to kill you!
For more on Celine Tran visit: www.iamcelinetran.com or see @iamcelinetran on twitter…