Action Stars Behind The Camera
Established for punching, kicking and shooting bad guys on screen, some action actors have taken a major step further and ambitiously shifted behind the camera to shape their own vision of the ideal onscreen adventure. These ventures have returned a mix of results but generally offer a refreshing take on the norm and for bonafide action fans, provide an interesting look into the mind of an action master. It also begs the question when others will do the same? And who will be next?
Stars like Ben Affleck, Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks have each got stuck in, but sticking to the core of the action world, here are just a few we've seen to date...
One of the all-time greatest action stars began directing when he shot The Fearless Hyena (1979) and went on to enjoy a parallel career as a renowned action star in the east and west and legendary filmmaker whose work raised the bar for action cinema. Titles like Project A (1983) and Police Story (1985) have earned cult status to this day and in many cases remain unrivalled. As a well respected stunt performer and choreographer, much of Chan's expertise in filmmaking stemmed from his extensive knowledge shooting action and surrounding himself with high-level talent, such as dependable producers, co-stars and his world famous stunt team.
Check out: The Fearless Hyena, The Young Master, Project A, Police Story I & II, Armour of God, Miracles
The legendary 'Big Brother' to many a Hong Kong star has a renowned reputation as one of the best action filmmakers in the business. He is also famous for bringing out the best action performances from his actors and is arguably the only director to make Jackie Chan look even better than he has in his own projects. Combining world class action with great drama, narrative and strong production values are Sammo's trademarks and since self-directing The Iron Fisted Monk (1977), he has gone from strength to strength and fashioned some of the world's best loved action films. His legendary status in the industry remains to this day.
Check out: The Iron Fisted Monk, Enter the Fat Dragon, Warriors Two, The Prodigal Son, Wheels on Meals, Heart of the Dragon, Eastern Condors, Dragons Forever
One of my favourite modern day action movies, Rambo (2008) was arguably the loudest, hardest Rambo adventure we've seen so far and masterfully guided by Stallone's gutsy filmmaking style. Despite this, it still managed to balance plenty of heart and soul. Stallone's directorial efforts started back when he made Paradise Alley (1978) and continued for all the Rocky sequels (minus Rocky V) and most recently, The Expendables. Speaking of the latter, for the most honest reflection of his original concept, check out the infinitely stronger director's cut. Stallone has built a reputation as a solid filmmaker and deservedly so.
Check out: Paradise Alley, Rocky II/III/IV/Rocky Balboa, Rambo, The Expendables (director's cut)
In an unexpected career turn, directing action/thriller The Defender (2004) marked a new era in his long-spanning career kicking ass onscreen. Other titles since then have included The Mechanik, Diamond Dogs, Missionary Man and others, all served up as gritty, ambitious action flicks achieved on an indie scale. Fans also noted how his self-directed efforts have created some of his best work from the past decade.
Check out: The Defender, The Mechanik, Diamond Dogs, Missionary Man, Command Performance
Jean-Claude Van Damme
When he shot The Quest (1996), this Bloodsport flavoured Martial Arts adventure showcased The Muscles From Brussels in a new light and offered fans a throwback to the style he came up in - all dressed in an epic, lavish story with beautiful locations and ambitious, sweeping camera work. It didn't reinvent the wheel but it worked very well! He stepped behind the camera again for The Eagle Path (2010) and audiences have been waiting to see the results. Hopefully it won't be long until it's released! Moving forward, here's hoping there's more to come on the directing front.
Check out: The Quest
On Deadly Ground (1994), Seagal's environmental-themed thriller, was accused by some as being an indulgent vanity piece, but for fans offered more than enough signature recipes. Alongside the themes and messages, there was plenty of action, loathsome villains and a one-man-army taking them down. On the flip side of any criticism, while some messages may have appeared clunky and overdone, it tried something different and dared to deliver meaningful, thought-provoking messages through the medium of action cinema. Even if it wasn't his finest hour, the ambition and efforts should be respected.
Check out: On Deadly Ground
'Jacky' Wu Jing started his career as a charismatic, physically impressive new star and made his mark in hits like Tai Chi II and S.P.L - facing off against Donnie Yen. He self-directed Martial Arts thriller Legendary Assassin (2008) and seems to be increasingly focused on filmmaking, as well as working on camera. In China, he recently directed Wolf Warrior in which he stars alongside Brit action actor, Scott Adkins.
Check out: Legendary Assassin, Wolf Warrior
Having built his reputation as an action actor, most notably in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), 12 (2007) and Snow White and The Huntsman (2012), Ansah cut his teeth directing the short film Street Fighter: Legacy (2010). A fan project spearheaded by himself and co-star/co-writer Christian Howard, the pair aspired to create a faithful adaptation of the hit video game after failed movie attempts. The short became a YouTube hit and after building momentum even further, they've now taken the next step and are shooting the Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist web series, with more to come.
Check out: Street Fighter: Legacy, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist
So who's next? There don't seem to be many action actors stepping behind the camera right now. It's understandably hard and a far greater undertaking than simply filling the role you're known for and letting the production hire in a director. Yet, once again the ambition surely has to be recognised and with the well established examples above, this could even offer action audiences and studios something new and different.