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Kung Fu Fighting

Who needs Charlie's Angels? Local filmmakers producing 'Knights of the City' have a message

By Mary Spicuzza

SCREENPLAY WRITER Tim Norman aims to tackle heavy issues like gang wars, drugs, troubled teens and violence against women. The soft-spoken scribe sits on a weight bench in the corner of Women Kickin' It, a Willow Glen-based martial arts and self-defense studio, talking up the soulful plot of Knights of the City, a two-part film series planned as the premiere of the new movie company Silicon City Productions.

Staying focused on Norman's socially conscious plot proves difficult, however, with sword-wielding women practicing decapitations a few feet away. Silicon City co-founder Joe Barcelone stands in a black-and-gold warrior's uniform, practicing mock attacks so the ladies can rehearse knee-breaking and neck-slicing moves. Beautiful young women waiting on the sidelines cheer in support of the smoothest beheading motions. Nearby, a woman in sparring gear and boxing gloves repeatedly nails her padded instructor with punches and groin kicks.

Plenty of filmmakers are jumping on the girl-power action movie bandwagon these days, and martial arts are no longer only featured in Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies. Mainstream blockbusters like Charlie's Angels feature babes in skimpy clothes kicking the collective butts of equally fashionable villains, and even Tom Cruise performed some of his own much-publicized stunts for Mission: Impossible II.

But Norman says he and Barcelone's production goes beyond making a mere action movie. "We want to make a new type of film, one that takes on social issues that people can relate to," Norman says. "I especially wanted to do something for the kids."

The story for Knights follows the life of a young man lacking positive role models in life, his heroin-addicted mother and troubled brother unable to provide a stable support network. Later he finds an unlikely mentor in a wealthy Hollywood director who takes the underprivileged youth under his wing as a publicity stunt.

On a wild ride complete with plot twists too numerous to mention, Knights' hero, played by UC-Santa Barbara film student Matthew Phillips, dabbles in gang involvement. Enter the sword-wielding ladies. The film will also feature male martial artists--Mark Saia, the film's martial arts choreographer, even has visions of a massive fight scene done by local black-belts. Saia, who holds a black belt in tae kwon do, runs Campbell Martial Arts and Fitness.

When Barcelone and Norman first met last December, they began making plans to film a documentary about teens. Before they could hit the streets to start shooting, actors and actresses started coming forward. Norman began writing scenes and Barcelone took on the role as producer and stunt coordinator. Soon a local Denny's became a hot spot for auditions. Barcelone and Saia are now gearing up to teach official classes in theatrical stunt fighting, which they call "Tigon: The Millennial Martial Art."

"My father trained Clint Eastwood, James Garner and Sammy Davis Jr.," Barcelone says proudly. "He was a world-champion fast gunner and a stuntman in Los Angeles. I started training with guns, but I knew that cowboys' days were numbered. I got into martial arts instead."

Knights should be able to bank on Barcelone's history, considering the wave of interest in films featuring Kung Fu fighting--which is sure to be fueled when director Ang Lee's much-awaited Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hits the screens in late December. None of the girls practicing jumping crescent kicks can match the moves of famous stuntwomen like Michelle Yeoh, but they certainly have the right attitude.

"We're not waiting for our coulda-shoulda-woulda. We're doing it now," says San Jose native Tina Tran, a longtime member of Women Kickin' It who decided to add stunt fighting to her normal kickboxing regimen.

Joe Barcelone's card may feature a pistol-packing, pleather-clad woman in knee-high boots, but Silicon City aims to stay away from Hollywood glitz and keep it real. They even hope to incorporate teens and troubled youth into the writing process for future productions.

"The best thing about this is that it's going to be for the young," lead actor Phillips says.

But the beautiful women warriors filling the studio, most of whom will be featured in the film, probably won't hurt.

Silicon City Productions is looking for talented types in numerous areas, including actors, technical support, musicians, stunt people and artists. For more information call 408.866.5588 or 408.288.5678, or check out www.siliconcityproductions.com. Tigon stunt-fighting classes begin Jan. 4.

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From the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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