The Action Ethos of Ken Zheng

Talent is a requirement in the film industry but it does not ensure success, the essential determiner here is commitment. Whether it’s an actor committing to a role or that same actor approaching their body of work with a tenacity that leaves no question as to their eventual notoriety among peers and the public, the ability to steel one’s own resolve is truly the means to manifesting dreams. As a writer, Ken Zheng is as focused and tenacious as any actor you’ll ever see on the big screen. The same attributes that led to Ken’s notoriety as the youngest kickboxing champion in Indonesian history are present in his career throughout a number of works ranging from feature films to streaming and online productions. Actors often speak of the importance of not letting obstacles stand in their way professionally and mentally in order to reach their goal; it’s something a kickboxer relates to quite well. Having also spent some time in front of the camera, Zheng transferred this approach to his writing talents and has attracted fans within the film community as well as the film-viewing public. Ken Zheng sees much further down his professional path than the two action films he’s most widely known for, Insight and Brush with Danger, while being adamant about how proud he is of both. It is obvious that he is calculating his next move and enjoying the demands of this professional “dance” that tests him similar to his kickboxing matches of past years.

Brush with Danger is a film that Ken Zheng was born to star in, almost literally. He wrote and stars in the film alongside his own sister, Livi Zheng. They play Qiang Ken and Qiang Alice, siblings who have made their way to America by stowing away in a shipping container. When Alice’s extraordinary painting talent is recognized by a seemingly benevolent benefactor, their lives seem to be transformed overnight. Ken is a talented in the fighting arts, a trait that becomes particularly important when they discover that Alice’s benefactor has a scheme to use her ability to forge famous works of art. Brother and sister find themselves running from and battling the criminal infrastructure of Seattle in hopes of simply escaping with their lives and freedom. As star and writer of Insight, Ken was able to utilize his “action” attributes in a story that is mind bending. Zheng appears as one of two brothers who are clairvoyant. This remarkable ability result in them being recruited by a counter terrorism agency. As they mature into adulthood and the world changes around them, the siblings grow apart while the motives of those around them effect their relationship and interaction. Working on these two thrilling films both in front of and behind the scenes certainly shortens the amount of “shared vision” explanation needed. Ken relates, “There are times when I’m cast in a film as an actor without taking part in the writing but it’s still my job to realize who the character is to me. If I’ve written a film, it lessens the amount of time I need to be familiar with the character but I don’t think there are any real shortcuts to being authentic on camera. As a writer, I always keep the characters rooted in the reality of their emotions and relationships. Acting is simply the very real presentation of that on camera.”

Ken started somewhat ahead of the game, writing and starring in Brush with Danger at seventeen-years of age. Film investors are not inclined to take chances on artists without a long list of successful (translation=big box office returns) productions; they’re even less inclined to take a chance on someone who is technically still a teenager. Leaning back on the strategy of his competitive experiences, Zheng notes, “It’s a Catch 22. You’re supposed to be an adult and be industrious but they want you to have experience to prove that you’ll handle it well. It’s an unfortunate cycle but I didn’t get upset or let it defeat me, I just kept making my own opportunities. I learned from my mistakes and that’s a great way to learn. I explored creative approaches that someone more experienced might not have attempted. It was an important crash course in filmmaking. I could not find a better teacher than learning to overcome the challenges and difficulties I faced during production of these movies.”

Stunt coordinator David Boushey (known for his work on the Oscar Nominated film Blue Velvet and with such actors as Denzel Washington, Tommy Lee Jones, and others) aided Ken in navigating the demanding action scenes throughout Brush with Danger while the famed Nikita Breznikov (who served as an advisor on The Wrestler which was BAFTA and Golden Globe awarded as well as recipient of two Oscar nominations) has starred alongside Zheng in both Insight and Brush with Danger. Working with the same Hollywood professionals that were a part of so many of his favorite films was certainly a boon to Ken’s early filmmaking experience as he relates, “Working alongside these talented people, you not only see the final performance they deliver but also their process in getting there. In Nikita’s case, he was so accurate in bringing to life the character that I wrote. When the director needed a change, he got there very quickly. I’m a better actor and a better writer for witnessing that first-hand.” This statement reveals that Ken Zheng is true to his nature, improving and calculating his next moves in a strategy that will result with his conquering Hollywood and all obstacles.

Writer: Cecil McCoy