Michael Jai White wrote and stars in "As Good As Dead." Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Michael Jai White said he employed a new martial art style in his movie As Good As Dead, in theaters and on video-on-demand Friday.
"I'm showing a style that's called Defence Lab Systems," White told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "The person who really developed it a little deeper is a guy named Michel Quach, who did choreography on this movie."
Fans of White's martial arts from movies like Blood and Bone, Black Dynamite and the Never Back Down sequels will notice White, 55, striking new poses. He holds his elbows up to his face instead of putting up his fists, and strikes with those elbows.
"This is a self-defense type of scenario," White said. "The average person would have no idea what to do in a street fight if I covered like that."
White wrote As Good as Dead and plays Bryant, a loner living on the Mexican border. A local youth, Oscar (Luca Oriel), asks Bryant to train him to defend himself against street gangs.
When Oscar uses Bryant's signature style in a paid ring bout, Bryant's former associates recognize it and come looking for Bryant, who once again must confront the violent past he left behind.
One of As Good as Dead's fight scenes was inspired by a real-life incident from White's youth. In the film, bad guys chase Bryant up a hill until they are too exhausted to fight back.
"Back when I was in New York, a gang chased me and about four other guys," White said. "We got maybe five blocks away and noticed there were only three guys following us."
The story of As Good As Dead is also inspired by White's brother, who lived in Mexico with his family. Miguel Angel Saldana died of COVID-19 one month before production began on As Good As Dead, and the film is dedicated to him.
"My brother was supposed to be my Spanish coach because I wanted to speak half the movie in Spanish," White said.
He said he also took a cue from his real-life mentor role in martial arts gyms in depicting Bryant's relationship with Oscar. White said once he earned a black belt, and teaching newer students came with the territory.
"Sometimes I'm there an extra half an hour after I work out because I can't turn away somebody who really wants to learn something," White said. "I've been a martial arts instructor for over 40 years now."
White's martial arts career predates his movie career, which began in 1989. He had supporting roles in '90s action movies like On Deadly Ground, 2 Days in the Valley and Universal Soldier: The Return.
He played the title character in the comic book adaptation, Spawn, and played Mike Tyson in a 1995 TV movie. While developing his own vehicles, which he sometimes directs, as well, White had roles in dramas like Why Did I Get Married? and its sequel, and the TV comedy, Insecure.
White launched Jaigantic Studios last year, and Jaigantic produced As Good As Dead. The studio also has completed the western, The Outlaw Johnny Black, for which White is planning a theatrical release.
White directed, co-wrote with Byron Minns and played the title character.
"Dare I say, it is a action-western-blaxploitation-faith-based romantic comedy," White said. "It's a totally family-friendly movie."
White promised The Outlaw Johnny Black still would showcase his martial arts skills, though he plays a western gunslinger.
One project that unfortunately has stalled is a Black Dynamite sequel. White voiced the character in an animated series, but has been sitting on a live-action sequel script for more than 10 years.
"I think it's better than the original script," White said. "There's one other producer who can hold things up. Unfortunately, when you have these partnerships, they gotta align."
For the immediate future, White is focusing on Jaigantic Studios and its productions. After decades in the industry, White is betting on himself.
"I've been making money for other entities," White said. "So, now it's time to focus on my investors -- people who invest in my brand."