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8 Things You Need To Know About Joe Taslim, The Indonesian Action Star Of The Swordsman

He's also starring in the Cinemax series 'Warrior'.

Joe Taslim first came on the radar of moviegoers in The Raid, the 2011 Indonesian bone-cracking, blood-letting action thriller where he and Iko Uwais played cops tasked with capturing a drug lord hunkered down in a decrepit apartment building. Since then, the erstwhile member of the Indonesian national Judo team (1997-2009) has also appeared in such Hollywood flicks as Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Beyond, and the upcoming Mortal Kombat. He’s also in Warrior, the Cinemax series based on Bruce Lee’s writings, about the gangland disputes in 19th century San Francisco Chinatown. Taslim’s latest is the Korean period actioner The Swordsman. Jang Hyunk plays a blind pugilist embroiled in a skirmish involving slave traders from China. Taslim co-stars as Gurutai, the leader of the bad guys giving hell to the locals. Speaking to 8days.sg via Zoom — first in a press conference and then a one-to-one chat — Taslim, 39, shares with us his experiences of making his Korean movie debut.

1. On sword fighting in The Swordsman...

Not only is Swordsman is Taslim’s first Korean movie, it’s also the first time he uses a sword onscreen. “I am very thankful that I made this movie because I got to train with the best swordsmen in Korea, the masters of Kumdo [Korean martial arts]. So in the future, if I have a role that requires me to use a sword, it’s not going to be something new for me.” Did he get to keep the sword after production wrapped? “They didn’t give me the sword,” he says, with a guffaw. “I wish I had asked [for it].”

swordsman jang hyuk 1
Slash and furious: Taslim faces off Jang Hyuk in 'The Swordsman'. In the climactic clash, Taslim says, “The fight got faster and faster and we got lost inside the characters and I got so into it I accidentally hurt Jang Hyuk. But Jang Hyuk said he was okay and straight away came back to fight, unlike what other big stars who will need a lot of time to recover.”

2. On playing the bad guy …

Taslim struggled playing a menacing meanie in The Swordsman because in real life, he’s more of a comedian. “In Indonesia, my fans know me as an action guy but they also know me as this funny guy because I did a lot of ridiculous commercials. I’m blessed and happy that people get to see two sides of me.” Even when he plays a baddie, “I don’t want to play a bad guy who has no character arc, a bad guy who is bad for bad’s sake.” He would love to play an anti-hero like the one — as a hitman with a heart of gold —  in the 2018 Netflix thriller The Night Comes For Us. “He’s probably the best character for an actor to play,” he says. “You get to see his good and bad sides.”

3. On the best movie sword fight he’s ever seen…

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a few really good sword action scenes,” says Taslim. That’s a golden oldie but for a more recent movie, his recommends Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins, the adapted-from-manga period actioner starring Takeru Satoh. Taslim admires its “fast-paced, impactful” blade choreography: “It’s like The Raid, but with swords.”

rurouni kenshin part i  origins
Chop, chop: Taslim highly recommends the 2012 Japanese movie 'Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins' for his fierce yet elegant swordplay.

4. On his tea of choice…

Like his alter-ego in Swordsman, Taslim is an avid tea drinker. “I drink tea probably every day, in the morning and the afternoon.. “My favourite tea is hibiscus,” he says. “I’ve been drinking hibiscus for two to three years now. It’s really good. I felt like this tea helps to purify my body.”

5. On John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum

What does he think of the recent hitman thriller? “It’s a great action movie,” Taslim said of the threequel which also features his compatriots Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman. Generally, Hollywood action flicks rely heavily on stunt doubles and post-production trickery, says Taslim, who has appeared in Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond. But on Parabellum, he thought the editing was “well executed”. “It is badass because you don’t see any breaks in the fights.” Does Taslim like to be in a John Wick movie? “Well, who knows? You never know,” he says, with a playful ‘I-know-something-you-don’t’ laugh. “I’ll fight John Wick! The saga is still continuing,” he says. “They need to bring in great action actors if they want to take [the franchise] to the next level. It’s just a matter of time before they call Iko [Uwais], me or our action friends.”

john wick 3
Indonesia represent: Keanu Reeves takes on Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman in a scene from 'John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum'. 

6. On his breakout The Raid… 

“To be honest, we did not think this movie would achieve what it achieved,” Taslim recalls. It wasn’t until halfway through the shoot when the cast heard that the movie found a global distributor after a few clips were shown to potential buyers at the Cannes Film Festival. “That’s probably the moment that forced us to go, ‘Really? We need to work harder.’ We didn’t see it coming. It just boosted our mood and energy. The movie opened the door for all of us. For me, Iko and Yayan, The Raid is very special.”

the raid
Raid alert: Jang Hyuk had wanted to work with Taslim ever he saw him in 2011’s ‘The Raid’. Recalls Jang Hyuk: “I thought, ‘This guy’s amazing, it would be great if I would with him!’ And maybe it was karma, it all worked out and I got to work with on this project.”

7. On his friendship with Iko Uwais…

“After The Raid, we became great friends; he’s like a little brother to me,” says Taslim. “We’re still in touch and we’re always looking for projectors to work together.” They last collaborated on The Night Comes Us For. “The director asked Iko, ‘You want to do something different? Want to play a bad guy for a change?’ Iko goes, ‘If Joe were to do it, I want to be part of it.’ That’s how special our relationship is. I want to work with him again before I get too old.”

the night comes for us
Blood brothers: Taslim with Iko Uwais in ‘The Night Comes For Us’. “We shot that final fight for eight days and then for us, to be honest, it was very challenging,” says Taslim. “I got injured; Iko got injured. But because our chemistry is so strong, we didn’t mind the injuries and kept on filming.” Taslim likens action scenes to a dance. “Because everything is choreographed in action scenes, “ he says. “Everybody needs to understand the flow, the impact, the tone of the scene. When you are dancing the tango with your partner, both need to work together. If one is a good dancer, the other one is not really good, you are not going to see a good fight scene.”

8. On his next project….

The live-action version of Mortal Kombat where he plays Sub-Zero. “I think it’s going to be the most badass Mortal Kombat movie, I’m pretty sure,” says Taslim. “People talk about the video game curse, but judging from what I have seen —  the costumes, the choreography, the director’s vision — this one is probably going to break that curse. Fans and non-fans of the game are going to enjoy the movie. For the fans, they would [be cheering at] the movie. Non-fans are going to get into the Mortal Kombat world and probably play the game after watching it.”

The Swordsman (NC16) is now in cinemas. Warrior airs Sat, Cinemax (Singtel TV Ch 424 & StarHub Ch 611), 10am (same day as the US); it’s also streaming on HBO Go. Mortal  Kombat opens in cinemas in January 2021. 

Main photo: TPG News/Click Photos

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