Having successfully conquered Canada with a pair of blockbuster world premieres in London, Ontario and Toronto last month and Brazil with a theatrical release this past Friday, Tapped Out is ready to take on the American market. The Karate-Kid-meets-MMA flick, featuring appearances by UFC legends Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva, will be released Stateside on DVD, VOD, and PPV on Tuesday, May 27.
As I wrote when I covered the Toronto premiere, Tapped Out is a slightly cheesy but thoroughly charming contribution to the fledgling MMA film genre, skillfully blending the best of classic combat movies like the aforementioned Karate Kid and Rocky with both the moves and culture of Ultimate Fighting in a way that we haven’t necessarily seen before. It works because the people who made it and the people who starred in it genuinely—and often geekily—care about martial arts of all kinds, and want to do right by the films they grew up with and by the sport the currently enjoy and participate in.
I got a taste of this when I sat down to talk to Cody Hackman, the five-time Karate World Champion-turned-actor and writer who plays Michael Shaw, a troubled young karate practitioner who joins an underground MMA league to avenge his dead parents, and Krzysztof Soszynski, UFC Light Heavyweight-turned actor (and behind the scenes UFC guy) who plays the villain before the screening. Both were incredibly thoughtful about the way that MMA is currently portrayed in pop culture, and excited to talk about how their film hopes to improve on that. And they were equally happy to get a little sidetracked about the superiority of Shotokan Karate and their training regimens.
Here are some of the highlights of that chat.
Fightland: Cody, you co-wrote the screenplay for Tapped Out. Was the story your idea as well?
Cody: It was mine and Allan Ungar’s. I added the authenticity of the Karate aspect of it, just different terms and that type of stuff. But we were both inspired by other movies, Karate Kid, Rocky, that type of stuff. And these movies are done over and over and over again, but I think that we did a good job of remaking them in a modern sense. It’s Karate Kid meets MMA. In the cage.
What was your background and familiarity with MMA before this project?
Cody: I was actually a Karate guy. I share the same style as Lyoto Machida, Shotokan Karate. I was a five-time karate world champion in the same style. Our style’s a lot of sticking and moving, darting in and darting out, punching at different angles. I’ve had my hand in MMA. I’ve won a couple of fights, I’ve lost a fight. And I love it. I’m a huge, huge fan of the sport. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s huge right now. So mixing that nineties or eighties Karate Kid stuff with the new stuff... it’s awesome.
It is interesting that the fight films you bring up are from more traditional combat sports. I feel like the representation of MMA in film is still in its infancy.
Cody: It’s new. It’s new.
Krzysztof: Absolutely. There’s only been maybe four films done in that style. But, like Cody said, it is the most popular, probably the fastest growing sport on the planet right now and if you do a Karate Kid movie the old style way, people are not going to be into it as much. They want to see what’s new, what’s out there out there and I think MMA is that new sport where everybody’s kind of transitioning into that. You see a lot more MMA movies nowadays. You see a lot more action movies adding that element to it, whether it’s jiu jitsu, whether it’s wrestling...
C: Knees or just, like, different technique.
K: Or Muay Thai style. You don’t see just the wrist controls and the Hapkido and Aikido stuff. It’s more and more MMA style now. That’s kind of happening left and right in movies now. We’re transitioning into a new world.
How do you feel about the representation of MMA in film right now?
K: It’s not too bad. When I did Here Comes The Boom with Kevin James, I was treated really, really well. UFC gave us full support to use their Octagon, to use basically anybody we wanted in the movie, and to make it as authentic as possible. I liked Warrior for the acting part. For the fighting scenes, there was too much professional wrestling going on in my eyes. Never Back Down wasn’t bad. They did a pretty good job of it, as well. I thought we did a really good job with Tapped, really showcasing what mixed martial arts really is.
C: The timing of Tapped was really good, because Never Back Down was kind of the first big one and that was kind of a teeny MMA movie, not really serious. And then there’s the comedy that Krzysztof starred in and then Warrior. Those are the three notable MMA movies. There’s a movie called Red Belt, as well. So Tapped Out was a good time, because there’s nothing like it. There hasn’t been Karate Kid meets MMA, except for in real life. Lyoto in real life is the new karate kid because he’s the guy going in there crane kicking people in the face and knocking them out for real. Not a movie.
Given your Karate background, Cody, were you particularly excited to have Machida in the film?
C: Oh yeah, I’m a huge Lyoto Machida fan. I remember when I would tell people I did MMA and people would be like “Yeah, whatever.” There’s a difference between Karate and our Karate. Our Karate in real, authentic JK Japanese Karate. It’s where kickboxing and all of that stuff came from. Because what [kickboxing] is is Americanized to not go through the belt rank system. So you can become a decent kick boxer in a few months of really training. But Karate is... it takes years to even understand it because you’ve got to learn the forms, you’ve got to learn the philosophy of all that stuff.
How did Machida and Silva get involved in Tapped?
C: It was the producers, They sent the script to Lyoto and Anderson and they thought it was kind of funny. Allan did such a good job of writing those guys in the movie.
K: They get to be themselves as much as you can.
C: They weren’t trying to be actors.
K: They were just having fun with each other. They were talking in Portuguese to each other, hanging out having fun, and ad-libbing some of the stuff and it just flowed really nicely.
And how did you get involved, Krzysztof?
I had a call from Cody. It’s kind of funny, I lived in London, Ontario for about six months with Shawn Tompkins. I was part of Team Tompkins a few years back when I was just getting my foot in the door with mixed martial arts. And Cody showed up at the gym once or twice five or six years ago.
He came in and saw who I was and I think we even maybe spoke a couple of words here and there. He remembered me when they were looking for a bad guy. He just saw me in the movie Here Comes The Boom, saw a few pictures of what I look like and gave me a call.
C: He doesn’t look like a bad guy at all. No.
K: I got a weird call. I’m in California, I got a call from this 519 number... I thought it was a prank at first until he told me that the producer is actually going to call me in about five minutes. I thought “this is some kind of joke!” I got a call from Allan Ungar and the next thing you know, I’m in Toronto, meeting with this guy [Cody] and Nick Bateman. We’re going over our scenes, we’re doing all of this crazy stuff, hanging out just getting to know each other, trying to put that chemistry together and the next thing you know we’re filming in London.
C: It was Alan. The director saw a picture of Krzysztof with blood all over him after the Stephan Bonnar fight and he was just like “This is Dominic.”
Given that MMA hasn’t completely crossed over into the mainstream pop culture just yet, and many people aren’t completely familiar with the intricacies of the sport, did you feel that explaining it within the context of your film was a challenge at all?
C: I’m trying to think back to when I watched Never Back Down. Because MMA was so new then, the were really trying to explain it. like this was this, this is this. And we didn’t really spend time on explaining it too much. The scenes with Anderson, where [Michael Shaw, Hackman’s character] is transitioning...
K: That was actually really good, I thought. That was your explanation.
C: That was the explanation. But not overdone, where we needed to educate...
K: No, no no. It was more about “OK, I have a Karate guy who has no background in MMA whatsoever.” And then you have Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida giving him ground game instructions on how to do armbar, a triangle. So that was kind of the introduction to the world of MMA for him and hopefully for a few of our audience members who are there for the movie, not because they’re MMA fans, but because they want to see what it’s all about
C: One thing I noticed last night was a lot of people were saying that the fights looked gritty and real and... no disrespect to Here Comes The Boom, and I’m a big Kevin James fan, but the fights weren’t as realistic as Tapped’s fights. Not comparing two different movies or anything like that. Here Comes The Boom’s a comedy, anyway. It’s different. The timing of a fight, getting powerbombed or whatever. We were just sticking to the basics. The moves were very basic. Which is what you would do. When it comes down to it, if you want to win a fight, you would do the basics.
K: Yeah. We did a lot of that.
C: He also beat the shit out of me.
K: I tried.
C: This guy has major discipline. When we were working out for the movie, I’m sitting there like trying not to eat a cheeseburger, whatever. But this guy was up every day, doing an hour run, all this stuff. I’m on my cellphone like mr. hollywood over here. He was just like “Get off your phone! You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to get in shape.”
K: I don’t often get a chance to throw a 145-pound guy around, so this was my chance.
C: You fought at, what, 205?
K: 205. I didn’t want to fight a pudgy 145-er. I want to fight a guy who’s actually in shape and looks the part. I was 225 pounds for the role, he was 145. It kind of looks off. But if there’s actually some muscle there, then we can actually work with that.
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