UFC Fighter Cung Le Talks RZA's 'Iron Fists,' Bruce Lee, And Facing Off Against Rich Franklin
Who’s the best fight scene partner you’ve ever had in a movie?
He’s actually my trainer, because we know each other so well – his name is Scott Sheeley, he played a Russian in Dragon Eyes and helped me put the fights together and teach the actors who didn’t know how to punch and kick that well, just to make sure that the guys I was fighting against were on the same page and didn’t throw a wrong punch or kick. But when we had our fight scene, everything flowed like how a real fight would.
On Iron Fists you were surrounded by a lot of martial arts legends – Kuan Tai Chen, who played Gold Lion, your clan leader, is a veteran of the Shaw Bros. heyday. What was it like to be immersed in this atmosphere, in China, on these elaborate sets, with so much history and homage around you?
It was everyone there, not just the legends of Shaw Bros. – you had Russell Crowe, who’s Maximus, but I think when I realized that Gold Lion was in that movie Executioners from Shaolin… the one scene I remember the most is this couple who got married, and they’re both masters in kung fu. But it’s time to get busy on their wedding night and the lady’s like, “You must get through my kung fu!” He hits some pressure points and her legs open and I think that’s when I realized, hey – you did some cool stuff! I was like, “Gold Lion, we have the same hair! You’re my real dad, forget about X-Blade!” We had a good time, and after a while he was like, “I want you to be my son!”
We have to talk about your hair.
RZA described it as ‘80s-influenced. I might describe it as Tina Turner hair. What was it like to see yourself in Bronze Lion’s glorious mane for the first time?
You know, when I got my wig on I was like, “How do men or even females deal with all this hair?!” I was working some kung fu moves out and it kept getting in my eyes. This would not work in a real fight! Everyone was like, “You should do a shampoo commercial!”
Have you considered entering the ring as Bronze Lion in any of your real fights?
I’m getting people on Twitter and Facebook saying, “You should walk out as Bronze Lion!” I would do that, but you don’t understand that you have to put glue all in your hair and it takes two or three people to help get that armor on. So I’d walk to the cage and have to say, "Wait, hold on -" Pull the hair out, get the armor off, and by the time we’d get inside that octagon I’d have to warm up again. So I don’t think that will happen. It’s a great idea though.
You have a big fight scene in Iron Fists against Lucy Liu, who’s obviously done action before in Kill Bill. She’s one tough lady. What was it like filming that and what she was like to fight with?
Let me tell you how this all happened. My fight scene was supposed to be with Russell. I was in full armor, I had my hairdo on, and Russell had just come to set. I came out and RZA introduced me to him and I was like, “Maximus! I’m a big fan. Looking forward to doing battle.” When I got back on set RZA’s all, “Brother Cung, I have bad news and I have good news: Russell only has 10 working days here and he won’t have time to rehearse. So I changed things around; Russell now is going to fight someone else… but you can fight with Lucy Liu.” I go, “Oh! Is there a love scene?” Kidding! It was that fast. There was one scene Lucy was getting ready to do and she was on wires, running away from me and jumping over these stairs and table. She got over the stairs and crashed into the table, and it looked like it hurt. But she got up like, “I’m ready to do that again.” Corey Yuen was ready to put in the stunt double but she wouldn’t let him. She wanted to do that scene. I was like, “Oooh, tough lady!”
Does that make Lucy Liu tougher than Jean-Claude Van Damme?
[Pauses] Because it’s Lucy Liu, I’ll say yes.
Looking forward to your fight, how have you been preparing and juggling your movie commitments at the same time – and what are the chances we’ll see glimmers of your Iron Fists character come out during the fight?
I’m getting ready to fight former UFC champion Rich Franklin, most likely a Hall of Famer when he retires. It’s a main event fight, and main event fights are five 5-minute rounds – 25 minutes of battle. My last fight I was supposed to fight Rich Franklin but they changed it so Rich could take another fight, so I fought Patrick Cote. That was a three-round fight. Now the biggest thing is preparing for a five-round fight because my last camp, the first six weeks I spent preparing for Rich. So I had a change-up against a different opponent who was a standard fighter which is left leg lead, but Rich is a right leg lead, which is a southpaw. So since we prepared for it we just went back to our old game plan, pushed hard on my cardio – I recently ran a 4’8’, which is NFL-speed, and I’m 40 years old, so I’m pretty happy about that. I’d say my condition is the best it’s been in a long time and maybe that it’s ever been, but only time will tell. When I step into that octagon we’ll see how good of a shape I’m in. Rich is known for his cardio, he’s big for the weight and fights at 205 and I’m 185. so he’s definitely going to have the size advantage, but what I see is the bigger they are, the harder they fall. And you will see a Bronze Lion with a Cung Le flair in action.
You’ve worked with many of the contemporary greats in martial arts cinema, but once folks like Jackie Chan and Jet Li officially retire are you ready to step up and follow in their footsteps?
Jet Li has broken into the film world in a different way than Jackie – one’s more serious and one’s comedic. But they have paved a path for other Asian actors to follow. But I feel like for me, I consider myself the Bo Jackson of entertainment. I’m an actor, a martial-artist, and a real-deal UFC fighter that fights and headlines events. I have something that’s a little more unique. So when I do a move or throw someone, the audience can really believe that I did that because I can do that without the help or assistance of a wire. So I plan to follow in their footsteps but pave my own way when I cross that path where I don’t need to go in the same direction. I feel like I have a different direction, I bring a different element to the screen. I understand movement and flow and am versatile in different martial arts. I feel like I’m growing as an acting but I’m a better athlete than Jackie and Jet. But I look up to them. We’ll see where it goes, but from how I look at it, you go big or you go home. And I’m going big.
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