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If not famous, Karl Adhihetty has nonetheless offered to the 7th art an unforgettable performance as a grinning henchman in the two best Canadian action movies we know: Twin Dragon Encounter (1986) and Dragon Hunt (1990). 20 years later, he was kind enough to come back for us on his meteoric film career with the McNamara brothers. Put on your rangers and your mullets, we are back to the 80's!
Interview conducted by Kobal and the Nanarland Team in February 2011.
First, could you tell us a bit more about yourself? How did you meet the McNamara brothers?
I was born in Sri Lanka in 1959. My mother is German and my father (now deceased) was a Sri Lankan. I came to Canada in 1967 and started training in Karate / Kung Fu in the summer of 1972 under the late Alistair McNeilage. Subsequently, I moved on to train at Twin Dragon Kung Fu and Kickboxing Club in the late fall of 1973 where I trained with Mick and Martin McNamara in Kung Fu Kickboxing until 1997. I had spotted them in a local martial arts magazine and my instructor in Karate / Kung Fu (at the time) held them in high regard. When my club went bankrupt I no longer felt bound by loyalty so I sought out the Twin Dragon Kung Fu Club and joined immediately.
What's your impression about the McNamara brothers, their martial arts skills and their personality in general?
The Twins martial arts skills were extraordinary for that time. When everybody else was still training in classical martial arts, the Twins were way ahead of everybody. They combined boxing techniques with kung fu techniques to come up with a new style they called KUNG FU KICKBOXING. All this occurred around 1972/1973 around the same time that Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do. The Twins style was in every way as revolutionary as Bruce Lee's was back then!
Karl, next to one of the Twin Dragons.
From 1978 - 1985 I also trained in Hung Gar Kung Fu and Chinese Wrestling under David Lee in Toronto and Boxing at Sully's Gym in Toronto from 1973 till 1975. In 1997 I took over the Twin Dragon, Ajax, Ontario franchise. We left the franchise in 2000 due to financial reasons and now operate as Iron Dragon Kung Fu Kickboxing Club in Ajax, Ontario.
How did you come to act in their films?
I became involved in both films because I was a senior student of the Twins and they asked me if I would like to be in the movie.
Regarding the Twin Dragon films, what can you tell us about their genesis? They appear to be very personal projects of the McNamara brothers: what drove these martial arts instructors to make movies? Do you know who financed those films?
I can recall that Mick McNamara was the driving force behind the Twins venture into films. Mick aggressively pursued acting parts for the Twins throughout the time that I have known them. They got a small part in the film "Title Shot" starring Tony Curtis in around 1978/79. In 1980/81, the Twins got quite a big break with a part in the film "Dirty Tricks" starring Elliot Gould and Kate Jackson (filmed in Montreal). Mick grew increasingly frustrated that he could not get anybody interested in producing a film that would put the Twins in the Lead role. After years of ridiculing Chuck Norris' acting and fighting ability, Mick decided that he would produce a film and finance it himself.
The McNamara brothers portraying some aggressive henchmen in "Diry Tricks" (1981).
If I remember correctly, Twin Dragon Encounter was filmed on a budget of around $35,000 in around 1984! This is the number I remember but I have never confirmed it. I think Mick financed this film on his own by taking a mortgage on some real estate that he owned. In fact, it was the island property where we filmed the movie!
The film was shot in super 16mm to save money and was going to be blown up to 35mm for release in theatres. Ultimately the film was not picked up by any major film companies so Mick sold it to one of the existing Pay Per View Channels - I forget which one - and it played on Pay Per View in Canada. Later, the film was sold to several Middle East and Asian countries where it played in theatres to surprising acclaim!
Emboldened by the surprising success of the first film, Mick proceeded to lay plans for the sequel "Dragon Hunt". That movie was filmed around 1989 and had a larger budget (though still minuscule compared to mainstream films). I believe (although I'm not certain) that Mick financed the film again with a mortgage on his real estate holdings and / or received some financing from Shapiro / Glickenhaus Productions for this film [Nanarland: James Glickenhaus has notably been Frank Henenlotter's faithful producer, but also the director of exploitation movies such as « The Exterminator »]. Either that or he sold the film to them immediately after its production. This film actually made it to the big screen. I recall going to the opening screening in Toronto around 1991. The film has since been seen on local television stations and has recently been spotted on "The Drive-In Network".
What was it like working with the McNamara duo and the other actors? From the credits, it seems Michael McNamara was more involved than Martin in the making of the films. How did they split the various tasks between themselves?
When filming "Twin Dragon Encounter", I sensed that Mick McNamara was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Being the man that he is, he kept this all to himself. When I saw him by himself sometimes he seemed in his own world as he plotted the next days filming. The McNamara's are tremendous jokers and the time we spent on the set with them was lighthearted and loads of fun.
When filming Dragon Hunt, I got the sense that Mick was much more confident this time round. He had successfully funded and produced his first film and had made his money back despite all the naysayers that thought him foolhardy for even making the attempt. There was clearly a bigger budget this time round, although I believe the film was once again shot in Super 16mm so that it could be blown up for theatre showings. It is my opinion that Mick McNamara has always been the "leader" of this duo and that Martin is the loyal brother that supports his Twin in all his endeavours. Mick McNamara typically functions as the management of the duo while Martin usually handles the operative tasks.
What was different between the making of the two films?
It is clear too that there was much more budget for special effects as is evidenced by the large amount of weapons (including a grenade launcher) that was available to us for this film. Also there is a scene that shows one of the Twins getting shot in the leg which is also enhanced through the use of special effects. Several major explosions were also used to enhance the film.
You play the role of one of Jake's henchmen, the main bad guy. What can you tell us about your character, how was he defined and how did you try to portray him?
The role was not clearly defined. I just tried to portray the character as a sort of "Clubber Lang" since I had recently seen Rocky III. Clubber Lang was Mr. T's role as the villain in Rocky III.
Do you still have that same awesome haircut today?
That question is hilarious. Back in the 1970's I sported a huge Afro hairstyle. I had become quite vain about it and the chicks really liked it. Cutting that hair for my part in "Twin Dragon Encounter" was quite a blow! Surprisingly, when we were off film and drove into the redneck town of Parry Sound to pick up supplies, one of the other actors and I (both being visible minorities) were able to meet and pick up some girls despite the fact that we were dressed and looked much the way we did in the film! We had new girlfriends for the duration of the filming!
B. Bob, who plays Jake, gives quite a memorable performance. What can you tell us about this actor?
B. Bob was actually one of the few actual actors that were hired for the film! I was told that he did lots of local plays as a part time actor on the downtown Toronto circuit. He was a fire hydrant inspector for the City of Toronto and would hide his hair under a baseball hat! The hair was a permanent part of his personna! I remember that he was at least 10 or 15 years older than most of us at the time. Surprisingly, the character that he portrayed in the film did not stray much from his actual personality. He was given to outlandish rants at strangely inappropriate times! One thing I do remember from talking to him was his love for his daughter. At the time I believe she was around 7 years old or so. He spoke very lovingly of his daughter very often over the course of the filming.
B. Bob, as Jake.
"Dragon Hunt" in particular sports a rather large selection of colorful henchmen and assassins. Most of the actors there only appeared in the McNamara films, what can you tell about them? Did you know each other prior to making those films?
I knew most of the cast members, i.e. the villains since they were drawn from the students at Twin Dragon Kung Fu club at the time of the shooting of the two films. "Dragon Hunt" sported 3 Kickboxing World Champions amongst its roster of bad guys. Paul Biafore, Rob Borden and Curtis Bush all appeared in the film. Curtis went on to several more roles in US action films and credits "Dragon Hunt" as being his first film role. Actually, several of the main villains in "Twin Dragon Encounter" as well as the sequel "Dragon Hunt" were friends of hired actor B. Bob. They were the members of a Punk rock group from the Kensington Market in Toronto. The name of their group was was "Bunch of F-cking Goofs"! They performed many times in various Punk rock clubs throughout Toronto back in the 80's & early 90's.
Would you have any funny or memorable anecdotes about the shooting?
As I mentioned earlier, the fact that my friend and I were able to stroll into Parry Sound's Canadian Tire and pick up girls despite our appearance continues to be hysterical to this day! As for the other shenanigans, here are a few relating to "Twin Dragon Encounter".
We would film in the day from sunrise till sunset and would then retire to the "villains" camp for dinner and some home made wine. The stuff was disgusting but was it ever potent! The "rushes" of the previous days filming where reviewed every evening on an old projector and screen in the middle of the camp.
The film's budget constraints forced us to reside in the prop tents that had been set up as the "baddies" camp. Food was acquired at the local grocery store and then cooked over the open fires. Bathing was done "au natural" in the cold waters of Georgian Bay. I remember (when we were headed towards the set) that Mick McNamara informed us "there will be absolutely no skinny dipping" because "I don't wanna catch a Muskie"!
In the first week of filming the weather turned unseasonably cold and we bloody well froze in the flimsy tents that had been set up as "props" on the set. Needless to say the alcohol consumption went up as the weather went down. One of the rowdies from Martin's club got drunk one night and was such a pain in the ass that his friends locked him up in one of the prop cages that the "baddies" used to contain their captives. In the middle of the night, one of the guys had to go out and throw a blanket in the cage to shut him up when he started whining that he was too cold!
The cold weather prevented us from taking our daily bath in the frigid waters of Georgian Bay. That, together with the dampness in the air, caused most of us to develop a nasty rash of pus filled nodules on our bodies, particularly on the genital regions! After some initial concern that this was the manifestation of a sexually transmitted disease, I was assured by Martin McNamara that this was just a result of being wet all the time and not being able to bathe! Let us say that I was very much relieved. Later, as the dampness finally broke, we all happily bathed and discovered that he was in fact correct.
As filming continued, we realized that we were all fortunate to be fully trained martial artists. The lack of stunt men required us to accept the occasional mistimed punch or kick to the face. For the most part we were able to avoid injury because of our training. There were a few exceptions however.
The storyline required the use of a Hovercraft in one of the scenes. The Twins were able to barter the use of a Hovercraft by agreeing to put the owner in the film. The owner of the Hovercraft was supposedly the "Canadian Hovercraft Champion", although I highly doubt such a title even existed! Anyway, this guy was scripted into a fight scene. Here's how it unfolded. The two Twins beat the crap out of our gang at our base camp. I attacked Mick with a stick and was quickly dispatched when he blocked the stick and kicked me in the head! Then Martin jumped down from a platform and planted a punch on the jaw of the "Canadian Hovercraft Champion" knocking him out cold! The fight scene continued with various combatants stepping on the prone "Canadian Hovercraft Champion". Finally the director yelled "cut". All of us stood up and dusted ourselves off with the exception of... the "Canadian Hovercraft Champion"! The man was so shook up he refused to simply lie in the scene for the continuity to the next scene. We had to dress up former World Champion kickboxer Paul Biafore as his lookalike so there would be a body laying in the next scene after the previous fight!
World Kickboxing Champion Paul Andrew Biafore...
...who turned musician.
Now, here are some funny things that happened on the set of "Dragon Hunt".
As with "Twin Dragon Encounter", the cast and crew of the film were housed in the prop camp of the film's "bad guys". Garbage on the film set was cast into a giant pit and then set on fire. One of the pyromaniacs from one of the other clubs got in the habit of throwing a cup full of gasoline into the pit to start it. The resulting explosion felt like a bomb being dropped at close quarters! The shrapnel from the explosion flew out dangerously close to our encampment each time the gasoline was thrown into the pit! I quietly stewed about this idiotic behaviour but bit my tongue. One day I could take it no longer! I stormed towards the pit to confront the idiot just as he was throwing his "Molotov cocktail" into the pit. Just as I was about to throttle him, he dropped the gasoline into the pit. The explosion blew me back from the pit! Bits of burning shrapnel flew everywhere and my clothing caught on fire. As I felt the flames climbing up my jacket towards my face, I hit the ground dropping and rolling! One of the other members ran to my aid and helped put out the flames. I emerged from the incident with singed eyebrows and moustache! Needless to say, from that point on I took over the garbage burning duties!
All meals were prepared onsite by any cast and crew that were not involved in the afternoon filming schedule. With the diversity of the people that were on set, the dinner menu was always a surprise. One evening we sat down to a delicious beef stew. It was so good and there was so much of it that we all returned for additional helpings. At one point someone commented on the tastiness of the beef and how fresh it tasted. Somebody asked Mick where we got this great tasting beef and then the story came out... The Twins were in town gathering supplies two days earlier. On their return to the film set, they witnessed a bear getting hit by a truck. The bear was mortally wounded in the accident and was gasping its last breaths as the Twins came across it. Unfortunately, bear hunting was out of season so they were hesitant to put the bear out of its misery with a bullet. Luckily the bear only lived a few minutes. Sensing an opportunity, the Twins retrieved the body and on the pontoon trip back to the set, they gutted and skinned the bear and prepared the meat for consumption! It was the Bear meat that we were eating in the stew!!! Needless to say there were a few turned stomachs and suddenly sick individuals amongst the more squeamish! I recall seeing longtime member Al gagging at this point! One of the "Chef's" that day thought it would be appropriate to bury the entrails within sight of the eating area... the bears paw was positioned sticking out of the ground in a classic "up yours" salute!!
On one occasion, I was left alone in the camp with Jack (a Twin Dragon member who was cast as a villain) and Sheryl, the part-time actress and strip joint waitress. It would be our turn to prepare dinner for the rest of the cast and crew! Jack was a long time member of the Twin Dragon North location run by Mick McNamara. He had trained with us since he was in his early teens, Jack had lived a somewhat sheltered life and was not very experienced with the opposite sex at that time. Anyway, we were all peeling potatoes when I mischievously suggested that Sheryl had got some dirt down her top. "No I don't!" said Cheryl. I continued to bait her "yes you do". Suddenly she lifted her top and said "No I don't. See!" Young Jack's eyes nearly popped out of his head as she nonchalantly pulled her tube top back over her best assets! We then went back to preparing supper for the cast and crew. I'm sure this will forever be a "coming of age" moment for Jack!
Heidi Romano & Sheryl Foster.
Unlike the "Twin Dragon Encounter", this time Mick McNamara was able to sell his film "Dragon Hunt" to Cineplex Odeon and the film was scheduled to debut in theatres across the GTA. I remember we went to the premier as a group. I doubt that there was a seat in the house purchased by anyone not affiliated with Twin Dragon as the film promptly sold out. I cannot begin to tell you the thrill I had, seeing our movie unfold on the big screen, nor the horror I experienced when the sun hit my wedding finger and the golden flash from my ring showered the screen like a halo! I had forgotten to take off the ring for the scene! I took my daughter Tasha with me for the premiere when she was 4 years old. I will forever remember that whenever her dad appeared on screen she would chant Daddy, Daddy, Daddy - a la Jerry Springer! After the scene where I was killed, Tasha started to cry! I had to convince her that it was only a movie and that Daddy had survived!
Do you remember the directors of each movie, Paul Dunlop and Charlie Wiener ?
I remember they were both very nice guys. I believe Charles was just out of film school at the time while Paul was quite well known in the industry mostly for his work on nature shows for TV.
Who was the fight choreographer on those movies? In "Twin Dragon Encounter", there's a pretty convincing sequence where you seem to be highkicked in the skull by one of the McNamara brothers. Were some strikes real?
Honestly, there was no real fight choreographer involved in the filming of these movies. Mick would give us all a general description of how he’d like the fight to go and then we would just fight as realistically as possible to make the scene happen as described. Most of the combatants were students at Twin Dragon, so they were quite capable of giving and taking punishment! All except for the one poor guy I described in your earlier question – The "Canadian Hovercraft Champion"!
That scene you describe from "Twin Dragon Encounter" where Mick kicks me in the head is in fact a kick that did land! Damn it hurt too, but I guess I took one for the betterment of the film! That scene appeared on the CBC National News when they did a story about the making of the film! Most of the strikes in the film did in fact land – although there were a few that missed the mark and that were also captured on film. In one scene that takes place in "Dragon Hunt", Mick is kicked in the stomach. The actor/student that threw the kick threw it with such enthusiasm that it lifted Mick almost 1 foot off the ground! Let’s just say that Mick needed an extended break to continue filming that day!
In the films and on their website, the McNamara brothers tend to blur the lines between their fictional characters and their real personas. Could you shed some light on which parts of the films are pure fiction, and which parts were actually inspired by real events or real skills from the twins' life? In addition to being serious martial artists, they're also portrayed as experts in guerilla warfare for instance...
I would say the films are at least 95% true to the brothers personna! Some of the incidents depicted i.e. the girl being attacked by the mugger in "Twin Dragon Encounter" are based on actual incidents that occurred at some point. All of the fighting techniques used by the Twins reflect the actual methods of combat that they teach at their clubs and that I continue to teach at my own club. The Twins have been hunters for many years, so I guess the survivalist skills that they exhibit in the film are pretty much true to life. On the other hand, the guerrilla warfare was pretty much a fictional account. The attack on the Twins by the People's Private Army was purely fictional.
In the films, the twins have a definite tendency to hit their opponents in their most sensitive parts again and again: was it a humorous wink or something that's really part of their technique? (We think that question was worth being asked, since they look deadly serious doing it!)
As I mentioned earlier, most of the techniques you see in their films are definitely used in the fighting system the Twins have developed over the years. The fighting style they have created has come to be known as KUNG FU KICKBOXING. The style combines the dirtiest techniques of Kung Fu with the most effective techniques of Kickboxing. The Twins definitely like to attack those "sensitive parts"!
Did you ever appear in another movie? Did you play a character in the last McNamara's movie, "The Right to Fight" a.k.a. "The Real Twin Dragons"? Do you know if this movie will be released some day?
I did in fact participate in the filming of "The Right to Fight". It was a very small non-speaking part since I did not have enough to participate in a bigger part. The movie has been held up due to financing issues. I'm not sure when this film will be released.
On behalf of the whole Nanarland team, and of all our readers who we know will be glad to come upon this interview, thank you very much for your time, Karl!
You are very welcome! Thank you for taking the time to look me up. It has been a pleasure walking down memory lane to answer your questions! I think I have answered everything as completely as I can recollect - it has been 20 years since "Dragon Hunt" was filmed! If you need anything else don't hesitate to email me and I will do my best to answer any further questions!