UFC fighter Cung Le has starred alongside the likes of Donnie Yen, and has worked with Wong Kar-wai and Master Wuping as part of his foray into the Chinese film industry. [Photo: UFC Asia]
By Stuart Wiggin1 2 3
Cung Le is an American Vietnamese fighter who in 1994, at the age of 22, began studying the art of Sanda, or Chinese kickboxing, under the tutelage of Master Liu Xiangyang. Le quickly established himself within the world of kickboxing thanks to his traditional wushu background. In 1999, Le earned the respect of Chinese Sanda practitioners when he defeated the previously undefeated Mongolian standout fighter, Na Shun Gerile, at a China vs. America tournament. Since then, Cung Le has risen to fame stateside thanks to his involvement in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and, as a result, his entry into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). However, Cung Le's flashy fight style, based on traditional Chinese martial arts, has also allowed him to traverse the sport and pursue a burgeoning movie career both in Hollywood and more recently in China.
Le has already been involved with three Chinese blockbusters, one of which, "Grandmasters" directed by Wong Kar-wai, is set to be released in December of this year. Le also recently took part in the filming of the upcoming Hollywood film "The Man with the Iron Fists", which was shot in Shanghai. And as part of his foray into the Asian film market, Le was able to work alongside Kung-fu megastar and UFC fan Donnie Yen in the 2009 film Bodyguards and Assassins. He has done all this while managing to maintain a professional combat sports career. As for how he got involved with Bodyguards and Assassins, Cung Le told CRI, "I was requested by Donnie Yen, who asked me to come over and play one of the lead villains. I've always been a big fan of Donnie Yen and when he asked me I was like 'alright'."
Most recently, Le was able to work with the highly respected director Wong Kar-wai on the set of "Grandmasters"; an experience which Le referred to as being "like getting a crash course in grad' school for acting". After initially filming the movie's opening scene, Le was invited back by Wong Kar-wai to film a second scene and was asked to participate in the film's final scene. However, according to Le, his involvement on the set of "The Man with the Iron Fists" in Shanghai meant that he was unable to do so. "For Wong Kar-wai to ask me to come back and be a bigger part in the movie, actually, I would have done that for free if I would have been able to get away," Le admitted.
And despite the fact that Le is still new to the movie industry, the expectations that people have of him based on their knowledge of his martial arts career are still high. While working on the set of "Bodyguards and Assassins", Le was asked to carry out dangerous stunts as part of the choreography. "Donnie knew that I was getting married within one or two weeks of filming," Le says, "but Donnie asked me to do some rooftop jumps, from one rooftop to another, and I was like 'hey, you can't say no to Donnie!'" And it seems that the risks taken as part of an epic fight scene in "Bodyguards and Assassins" have paid off for Le, as involvement in the film led to future film roles and also provided a different kind of opportunity with his previous employer. As the UFC, the organization for which Cung Le fights for, looks to expand into the Asian market, Le has been identified as one of the stars they can call upon to gain some traction among casual fans in China.
The UFC's talent pool is admittedly short of Asian, or more specifically Chinese fighters needed in order to build up a broad fan base across China. Le told CRI that he is currently learning how to speak Chinese in order to develop his acting career and to improve his marketability. Previously, Le admitted, "I just learned the lines that I needed to deliver for my scenes. I know the UFC wants to go into China, and if they go into China, I think they're going to use me as their go-to guy".
Alongside the likes of "the Mongolian Wolf" Zhang Tie Quan, and "the Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jun, Cung Le is a vital element of the UFC's strategy for penetrating the Asian market. Furthermore, Le will be able to appeal to a much larger contingent of fans thanks to his budding movie career. As for Le's thoughts on being one of the faces used to promote the sport of MMA and the UFC brand in China, Le is optimistic; "I've done a lot of movies in China and I think it would be a perfect fit for what they have planned." Furthermore, Le's experience in promoting movies in the Chinese film industry will put him in good stead for being part of the UFC's promotional drive in China. Asked whether promoting a film is harder than promoting a fight, Le was clear in his assessment. "I believe promoting a film takes more effort. Promoting a fight, there's a company that's putting on the fight; they're promoting the fight. You just train hard, do your interviews, and the fans will basically love you or hate you. When you're doing a movie, of course the company behind you is always promoting the movie, but at the same time you want the movie to do well, so you have to put effort into the movie to get more fans aware of it".
Le added, "In a fight, you control what happens in the cage, how you perform, how you deliver your punches, how you deliver your kicks, and how you deliver your game plan. So, I think training for a fight is much harder than doing a movie. But promoting a movie for me is a lot more work because a lot of time you want to promote it a certain way, but you're set in doing the promotion the way the company wants you to do it; and whatever media they have, you do it. But I always go above and beyond; I have a lot of media contacts and I always do extra for the movie that I'm in". Based on Le's approach to promoting the films that he stars in, it's safe to say that he will dedicate himself when it comes to promoting the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC brand on the mainland.
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