Sunday, March 5, 2023

Interview With Actor-Producer Jonathan Cheong About Award-Winning Action Short Film Bullet For Vengeance

At the age of 26, local actor-producer-action director Jonathan Cheong not only owns a film company called Raging Fire Productions, he already has a couple of award-winning action short films under this belt. Jonathan played a conflicted hitman in his 2021 film “Deadlock”, and he was awarded Best Actor at the World Film Carnival Singapore (WFCS) for the role. “Deadlock” also won Outstanding Crime Film and Best Outstanding Director for Samuel Delitans Lee at WFCS, and was selected for seven international film festivals.

Fueled by his passion for action genre films and ardent admiration for veteran martial arts actor Donnie Yen, Jonathan consistently puts in time and effort to hone his craft. His latest Raging Fire Productions offering entitled “Bullet For Vengeance” is an action thriller about the personal feud between between a criminal and a police inspector over a shooting gone wrong. The short film written and directed by Raphael Lim, stars Jonathan Cheong, Gary Gan, Johanna Van, Agnes Goh and Kris Mavericko.

To date, “Bullet For Vengeance” has clinched an impressive total of 8 Awards, 8 Official Sections and 7 Special Mentions at the local and international film festival circuit. This includes Best Cinematography by Benny Tan at the World Film Carnival Singapore (WFCS), Best Supporting Actor awarded to Kris Mavericko and Best Supporting Actress to Agnes Goh at the Golden Reel International Film Festival (Massachusetts, USA).

Ahead of the official release of “Bullet For Vengeance” for the general international audience, Red Dot Diva grabbed hold of Jonathan Cheong to ask him some nosy questions:

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What was your inspiration for “Bullet For Vengeance”?
Jonathan: Besides the love for the action genre, my inspiration for “Bullet for Vengeance” was because of my hero and role model, Donnie Yen. As someone whom is heavily inspired by him, I have always wanted to make a film expressing all my love for his more modern contemporary action cop films like “SPL”, “Flash Point”, “Special ID” and “Raging Fire”. It is also to thank him indirectly & to show how much inspiration he has over my career. This is however not a Donnie Yen fan film, but rather a film inspired by him.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What were the first steps you took to put this film project in motion?
Jonathan: I approached Raphael Lim (director of the film) back in January 2021 to talk about making a film together. I knew Raphael back in 2020 when he was one of the crew members of the Star Wars Fan film, “Legend of Hope”, and at that time, Raphael spoke about potentially working together someday. After meeting up for a discussion, we then decided to script a project that would allow Raphael to creatively express his directorial flow and for myself to be able to express the way I want to. Which in this case, is to action direct a film that is inspired Donnie Yen’s fight scenes. Raphael then came up with the script that would encompass both our creative desires.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): Is it difficult to find funding for making short action films like these? Did you manage to stay within budget?
Jonathan: I would say that it generally depends on your direction and what you would want out of it. I know some go through a crowdfunding route, while some seek for private funding. But it all depends on the individual, and it also depends on which organisation or association you are seeking funding from. For myself, because my films are made mostly due to my passion, it is usually self-funded. This is because I do not have the ideas and direction adjusted to accommodate external factors. But, even more so, a major reason is that generally, “action” films are still not a very widely accepted genre currently here in Singapore. Therefore, you can say it is a fight against status quo and pushing the boundaries. I am nonetheless still moving towards the goal of funding opportunities or sponsorship some day for my future film projects. We managed to stay on course for the film's budget for “Bullet for Vengeance”. It is a shared cost between myself, Raphael and Benny, who provided the majority of the film equipment. We stayed below budget for the entire film without having to compromise anything, and for that, we were very pleased about it.
Red Dot Diva (RDD): That's pretty impressive. Good job!

Red Dot Diva (RDD): The last we had a chat, you were a guest on my Live with Red Dot Diva livestream in 2021. How have you improved your craft as an actor and fight choreographer since then?
Jonathan: I guess with anything in relation to the arts, like martial arts, or fight choreography in this case, it is always a work in progress. You can never stop improving yourself and continue to learn. As an actor, I am always taking up acting gigs whenever I can. With regards to stunts and fight choreography, I would say that I took up more martial arts classes, and am training more constantly, even before I had the idea for this film. Besides, I got to learn even more, and add to the arsenal of knowledge I had after getting accepted into a local stunt team.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): And, do you have a mentor?
Jonathan: Yes I do. His name is none other than Douglas Kung. Some of you might recognise him from “It’s a Small World, 国记交易所”, the hit Mediacorp Channel 8 variety show hosted by Mark Lee. Kung played the Hong Kong student. What most people do not actually know is that he is also an action director & stunt coordinator. He has been choreographing stunts for over 40 years, both in Hong Kong and Singapore. In fact, he has been heavily involved in stunts for our local TV station since the early 1990s. I met him in 2021 when he decided to form a stunt team recruiting a younger generationof stunt men, and I was one of the first two who followed him at the start. Our stunt team is called, “Kung-Yote Action Team” and I have been following him to do stunts mainly for Channel 8 dramas since. Kung, along with some of my stunt team members, were also doing the stunt coordination and safety for “Bullet for Vengeance”.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): Those who know you are aware that you are a huge Donnie Yen fan. Have you ever met your action film hero in real life?
Jonathan: Yes I did. Twice. Once in 2019 when he was in town to promote “Ip Man 4” and the second was most recent in January when he was in town to promote his latest wuxia movie, “Sakra”. The first time I ever asked him for an autograph in 2019, he rejected me due to the amount of crowd then but just as fate planned it out, he signed an autograph for me during his meet & greet here in Vivo city. I was truly nerding out so badly and I wish I could meet him in person again but this time round, to thank him for changing my life.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): I see that “Bullet For Vengeance” has been won awards at a few local and international film festivals, like the Tokyo Film Festival (Japan), Golden Reel International Film Festival (Massachusetts, USA) and World Film Carnival Singapore. Congrats!! How did you get the completed project into the international film festival circuit?
Jonathan: Thank you so much. I submitted the film out through a film festival platform, which shows all the film festivals happening around the world. I have submitted my past films to some of these festivals before, so I also make a judgement based on my own research and experiences for which festival would be best suited for “Bullet for Vengeance”.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): What are your aspirations concerning your film-making endeavours?
Jonathan: I hope I will be able to produce more action films in the future. I hope that one day, these projects will help bring Singapore action cinema to a standard worthy of drawing an international audience, much like those produced in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand. These are some countries which have made quality action films that have wowed audiences around the world. I also really hope that more Singaporeans will enjoy and support our locally-made action films, so that there will be a higher chance that our action films will make their mark internationally.

Red Dot Diva (RDD): When will “Bullet For Vengeance” be released so your action-loving movie fans can get to watch it?
Jonathan: The official film trailer is set for release on 12 March 2023 on the Raging Fire Youtube channel. The film itself will be officially released on 19 March 2023. So, stay tuned on my social media sites! You can follow me on Instagram @Jcheong97, and subscribe to my productions channel, Raging Fire Productions on Youtube. By the way, you can also watch all of my produced action films there. You can also follow my productions Raging Fire Productions Instagram account. I hope the audience will enjoy it!
Red Dot Diva (RDD): Oh, and we also have something special for our local geeks coming up on the last week of March, isn't it?
Jonathan: Yes, we do!! There will be something interesting happening with Red Dot Diva. So, do look out for the announcement right after the film's release date!

Check out the teaser trailer here:

To prepare for this interview, Red Dot Diva was given the chance to catch an early preview of “Bullet for Vengeance”. In just about 16.5 minutes, the thriller manages to pack in both an emotional story and well-staged fight sequences. It is an exciting and laudable piece of work by Jonathan, Raphael and their team.

Getting traction for local films internationally is always tough, but after watching “Bullet for Vengeance”, Red Dot Diva thinks that perhaps there is hope for locally made action films after all. So, show your support, and don't forget to catch the film when it premieres online on 19 March 2023!

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