Don “The Dragon” Wilson is an 11-time professional kickboxing world champion with a record of 47 knockouts who the International Sports Hall of Fame has anointed nothing less than “the greatest kickboxer in American history.”
Of course, The Dragon is a martial-arts movie legend, as well.
Beginning with a quick appearance in the Hong Kong flick NEW YORK CHINATOWN (1982), Wilson has ignited more than 70 films with his stylish presence and unbeatable hand-to-hand combat power.
His on-screen efforts range from gritty grindhouse skull-busters such as SAIGON COMMANDOS (1988), THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA (1989), and FUTURE KICK (1991) to A-list Hollywood productions on the order of SAY ANYTHING (1989), BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989), and BATMAN AND ROBIN (1995).
Action film devotees probably know The Dragon best, though, from the BLOODFIST film series, which in 1989 kicked off (pun intended) on movie screens by pitting Wilson against Billy Blanks before spawning seven sequels that built a tremendous global following on home video.
Still wildly active, Wilson has three movies coming out in 2018, and four in production for 2019 and beyond — including a follow-up to the surprise video hit THE MARTIAL ARTS KID (2015), where he co-starred with his longtime friend Cynthia Rothrock.
Everyone at Daily Grindhouse is a huge fan of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, so it was an honor to talk to him. Don’t forget to also check out DonTheDragonWilson.com.
Daily Grindhouse: After more than 35 years since starting in the movies, you still make so many of them! It seems like you average about three a year. Can you talk about how you stay so prolific?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Ha! You should just ask my agent! Since I’m no long starring in ultra low-budget martial arts movies where I have to be in every minute of the movie, I get paid more now to just be in a single scene. It’s really something! I was just in a movie with Billy Zane, but it was just one scene. Not that I’m complaining!
Through the years, I’ve become a recognizable name. Not like Brad Pitt — but for the type of movies I do, my name is very recognizable. It’s become something producers can use to sell at the international film market. Buyers see my name, and they know it’s a martial arts movie and they know audiences know who I am. So it’s great. It keeps me working and I still really enjoy it.
We recently talked to Cynthia Rothrock about THE MARTIAL ARTS KID and the plans for the upcoming sequel. Can you tell us about working with Cynthia in general, and about THE MARTIAL ARTS KID in particular?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Cynthia and I have been friends for many years, going back since before we did any movies. We first knew each other as athletes.
Unlike Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Jeff Speakman, and other martial arts movie stars — and this is not to take anything away from those guys, because they’re great — Cynthia and I came up through actually competing in the martial arts, and we were known, and knew each other there, way before we ever achieved any fame in the movies.
THE MARTIAL ARTS KID 2 is being developed. The script is being written now. It’s going to be more of a bully picture, where we go deeper into Chuck Zito’s character. This time T.J. is going to fight Sasha Mitchell. Do you know Sasha Mitchell?
Sure, he took over for Van Damme in KICKBOXER 2. He was also on the sitcom STEP BY STEP. And I’m from Brooklyn, so I also have affection for him in SPIKE OF BENSONHURST.
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Right! That’s him! You’re not going to believe what Sasha looks like now. He used to be a lean guy, now he’s about 220 pounds of solid muscle. He’s all muscle! He looks like Schwarzenegger!
Anyway, without saying too much, in MARTIAL ARTS KID 2, there could be a big twist. There will still be valuable lessons learned, but things could be very unexpected.
For a lot of movie fans, we really came to appreciate you as an icon by way of the BLOODFIST series. Can you talk to us a bit about those films?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: BLOODFIST came about courtesy of Roger Corman. Every actor has a story about how he went from obscurity, and Roger Corman is my mentor. I’ve been the star of 13 Hollywood films — more than any other Asian-American actor!
Chuck Norris is a friend of mine and, back when I was competing, he would say, come to Los Angeles, come get into acting, I can give you advice. So in 1984, I retired as a black belt fighter and thought about it, but I figured — Hollywood is not looking for too many six-foot-tall Asian guys with a southern accent!
But in 1985, there was one Asian actor doing great, making a lot of movies: Sho Kosugi. He was working for Cannon Films. So I bought a bunch of books on breaking into the business and I figured: I’ll go find Sho Kosugi’s agent. And that’s what I did.
I told the agent, “I’m here to become an action star!” So he gave me all the role offers that Sho Kosugi wouldn’t take!
My first job was a commercial for La Choy soy sauce. Sho wouldn’t take it. I took and made what was then really good money. Next offer was playing a bad guy on GENERAL HOSPITAL. Sho said no, I said yes! I just kept getting Sho’s hand-me-downs.
So where did Roger Corman come in?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Well, one day, there’s a message on my answering machine, “Hello, Don. This is Roger Corman.”
I had never heard of him, otherwise I would have been so nervous I might have thrown up. He started so many A-list talents! And he left a message wanting to meet me.
So I met with Roger Corman and he said to me, “You will be a big star. First in martial arts movies, then in action movies, then as a dramatic actor.”
And from there, Roger hired me. I think I may have been the actual last person in the old studio system. I got a weekly salary, a tutor, and a publicist. Roger had scripts written for me, and he’d have other scripts adjusted for me. Together, Roger Corman and I did 12 movies.
David Carradine did eight movies for Roger, but I beat him by doing twelve.
What are your three favorite movies that you’ve been in and why?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Okay, first is RED SUN RISING, for several reasons. First, it had an HBO World Premiere. The character is the closest to me out of anyone else I’ve played. And manager produced it.
Next is LION STRIKES, because my five-year-old son is in it.
And, also, I really like BLOODFIST III: FORCED TO FIGHT. It’s a dark, violent prison drama. I originally didn’t want to do it, because I thought, “I just don’t see somebody on the weekend saying, ‘Honey, let’s rent that prison movie!’” [Laughs]
It’s about race relations behind bars, and the black leader and the white leader both turn against me. I really got to act, and Variety gave me a good review! It was also well scripted by two talented writers, one of whom spent 10 years in the state penitentiary.
What’s next for you?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: With movies, I use the same approach I did with fighting: just focus on the very next fight in front of you. So right now I’m focusing on THE MARTIAL ARTS KID 2.
I also just read for a videogame, which is something I’ve never done. That would be a whole new experience. It’s bigger than the movie business, where a game can make $400 million in one day!
I signed a contract to do a virtual-reality Don “The Dragon” Wilson, so I’ll be in the videogame. Should be great!