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August 16, 2009

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Rugged martial arts veteran kicks on to stardom

VIETNAMESE-AMERICAN martial artist Cung Le will soon emerge on screen fighting fiercely in "Bodyguards and Assassins," a period epic by Hong Kong filmmaker Teddy Chan.

The long-anticipated, action-packed flick follows a group of martial artists who try to protect revered Chinese revolutionary Dr Sun Yat-sen from an assassination attempt during his stay in Hong Kong on October 15, 1905.

Le, once the three-time world champion of kickboxing and now holder of the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship, portrays a henchman pitted against an obsessive gambler played by famed Hong Kong kung fu star Donnie Yen.

Celebrated for formidable skills in such martial arts styles as Chinese full-contact fighting, Japanese taekwondo, Thai boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, Le made his first foray into Hollywood with a feature film "Blizhniy Boy: The Ultimate Fighter" in 2007.

With his electrifying movement and rugged good looks, the fighter-turned-actor, 37, has starred in subsequent productions including "Fighting," "Tekken," "Pandorum" and "True Legend."

"Bodyguards and Assassins" was filmed at an enormous replica set of 1905 downtown Hong Kong in Shanghai's suburban Songjiang District. After a three-month shoot it is due for release on December 18.

Q: How did you start your fighting career?

A: When I was a 10-year-old boy, my family moved from Saigon to San Jose, California, where early bullying finally inspired my mother to protect her little son. So she took me to the martial arts school to learn how to defend myself.

After years of backbreaking practice, I mastered a variety of fighting styles. And then I became a professional fighter as well as a team coach.

Q: You've been billed as a world-class fighter with lots of medals and champion titles. What was your biggest win in this period?

A: I was able to beat Frank Shamrock, a long-time MMA (mixed martial arts) legend, in a fight at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, on March 29, 2008.

I defeated Shamrock by technical knockout in the third round when his right arm was broken after a series of kicks, prompting me to claim the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship, a world title that I still hold.

Q: Did your fighting career benefit your later acting performances?

A: Yes, it surely did. I think my early martial arts practice laid a solid foundation for my later acting career. It made me stronger, more athletic and physical to be a kung fu actor.

Also, the diverse martial arts styles I've grasped help me adapt to different characters.

Q: You've starred in several films over the past couple of years. Do you have a favorite among them?

A: Well, I try not to classify the films as each has its own excitement and strength.

But I'd like to say I'm happy to be part of the historic epic "Bodyguards and Assassins."

I feel privileged to work with Donnie Yen, one of my favorite actors and directors in Asia.

Q: In another Chinese-language film, "True Legend," you worked with director Woo-ping Yuen and actress Michelle Yeoh, both Asian film scene heavyweights. Talk about your collaboration with them.

A: Wow, it was quite an experience to work with two award-winning film personalities at one time. They are just awesome and I learned a lot from them.

I think I'm better prepared to be involved in Chinese-language films after my collaboration with Yuen and Yeoh.

Q: Do you have other planned projects?

A: "Pandorum," a sci-fi action thriller, is the story of a pair of crew members aboard a spaceship who wake up with no knowledge of their mission or their identity.

I starred alongside Dennis Marshall, Ben Foster and Cam Gigandet in the film and I'm going to promote it before its scheduled release next month.


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