Director Jon M. Chu Talks Directing Action, Being a G.I. JOE Fan, Getting to Know the Cast, the Soundtrack and Possible PSAs on the Set of G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

     March 14, 2013


While many wondered if Jon M. Chu was the right choice to direct G.I. Joe: Retaliation, after spending the day on set while the production was filming in New Orleans, I became extremely confident that he was going to deliver a kick-ass G.I. Joe movie.  I say this because not only did he say all the right things during a group interview, he did the most important thing: he showed us some of the movie!  The sizzle reel we watched demonstrated that he’s got a great handle on the material and I really believe this is the G.I. Joe movie fans have been waiting for.

During the interview Chu talked about how he got involved with the project, the silent fight sequence, the new cast, working with Hasbro, the tone, the soundtrack, what he’d like to see in future installments, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

jon-chu-gi-joeQuestion:  Jump into how you got on this gig?  Was it something you went after?

JON M. CHU:  Yea, I was finishing up my other movie and I always loved action adventure. It is something I always wanted to do.  Obviously, I played with Joe’s as a kid and loved them.  To me, it was an opportunity to do something cool with Joe.  I was talking with  Adam Goodman at the time and it happened to be the moment they were looking for a director.  He asked what I liked about it and I told him how when I was a little kid I would take them out into the backyard and play in the mud, dirt, and the water.  I loved the aesthetic, which was week-long adventures in my backyard and I love the idea of making a movie like that cause I don’t think we have a lot of those movies, like fantasy style with hard action.

You aren’t known for being an action director so was selling yourself to the studio difficult?

CHU:  Yeah, going after any movie there is a lot of competition to try and get it.  To me, it was more about “I’ve always loved movement.”  Storytelling and movement without words.  Even when watching John Wayne on the porch or Cyd Charisse taking off her jacket and she reveals her red dress all those things communicate so much more than paragraph dialogue could, and that’s what I’m fascinated with.  Convincing them to hire me for the job I guess was just my expressing my passion for the characters and how we want to make it human while also grounding the characters.  Make them individuals because that’s what I love. My Roadblock is MY Roadblock.  He was a person with a personality and with a different uniform than everyone else who had an arm missing and that shipment in was really cool to me.

So you must really love this whole silent fight sequence going on?

CHU:  To me, that silent interlude is amazing and beautiful and I think the comic book really changed how we saw G.I. Joe.  So, in a way, we want to do that for this generation of kids.  I do not know how much kids today know about G.I. Joe, probably not as much as I did growing up.  To reestablish that and to show this isn’t just a fluffy movie, but that it actually has some meat to it.  Even though there are crazy ninjas flying off things there is a cool sort of darkness to that which is also fun.  And yes, when they do not speak at all it puts all the pressure on how do we tell the story.  You don’t have expressions, you just have their eyes so unless you go to a close up you cannot really tell how they’re feeling.  But it is how they move their body’s and how they jump and creep forward when they are threatening and all those little things that make a big the difference.  It’s a big long sequence.

bruce willis gi joe 2 retaliationIs it difficult when you’ve done dance and fight sequences?  Is your camera placement and the choreography for that completely different?

CHU:  Yes and No.  Everyone who shoots dance sequences does it in a different way.  Everyone who shoots fight sequences does it in a different way.  I have been really lucky to work with the most incredible dancers.  You don’t have to fake that stuff and you see them do it.  Feeling weight and form especially with the 3D.  Putting them in a space and working the space uniquely, not just rehearsing it in a space and plopping it in.  Working it in a sort of improv style here, we were finding things.  We did the same with the fight sequences.  Our guys are so good, Dwayne and all these people know how to actually fight even if they needed to be trained on the sequences.

Is it difficult to step into a world that another director has defined, with some of the same cast and iconography, to define it in your way as well?

CHU:  Again, yes and no.  There are some things we definitely knew which we couldn’t abandon.  My idea of what G.I. Joe is is a little bit different than that and how I have always fantasized about how Joe would be.  Since we are starting from a different part of the universe we were able to make it fresh.  Of course, when you put someone like Dwayne, Willis, and these guys in there, it changes up the whole vibe.  So no matter what, where we started it the tone was going to be different.  I never really thought we had to tie into anything visually from the first movie.  Not that I had anything against it, just isn’t my style.  So like the costumes and stuff, we were able to refresh everything.  Also, in the tradition of G.I. Joe every time they release a new version the characters would get a new costume.

That makes Hasbro happy!

CHU:  Yeah right! (laughs)  That does make Hasbro happy!  But more so, it gave us a blank slate to start which was a fun thing to do.  There was a lot of work in all of these design elements and so many versions of all these different things, finding the right delicate tone.

g-i-joe-retaliation-bruce-willis-imageThe first G.I. Joe movie, the director said a lot was influenced style-wise by the 1960’s James Bond movies.  What action films and filmmakers are you most inspired by for this film?

CHU:  In terms of style of this movie, there is so many different G.I. Joe generations and people who have their own ideas on G.I. Joe, which is also the biggest difficulty.  You have the original Joe people which are 12 inch dolls during the Korean war and that type of thing which is very real, and then you have the cartoon generation that is all “Cobra Commander and Snake Eyes!” and the original fans are like, “Who the fuck are those guys?” Then you have the comic books which take those characters and ground [them] in a lot of different ways.  While I watched the cartoon a lot, and I thought the first movie was sort of in that realm, we are doing more like the comic book version.  We have the characters but you can see the scratches on their armor.  Like every time one character kills someone, they scratch a mark into their armor.  It has a wear and tear to it.  With the action, its fun since we have all these different worlds that we jump into.  The ninja world and the military world and each one we spend a lot of time in.  We go to Pakistan, Washington, D.C., the Himalayas, a valley, the desert, Japan, and all over.  With each we employed a different style which has made this process really a lot of fun.  In one scene we use GoPro’s that we can throw around and at people.  In another scene everything is smooth and slick.  It is dictated by the movement and the story we are trying to tell.

I have always loved action adventure like T2 and Indiana Jones.  To me, the martial arts stuff I love; Kung Fu Hustle, which is one of my favorite movies.  Also, I always watch Goodfellas before I start a movie, just because when you think everything has been done you watch that again and realize, “Shit, something ain’t good”.  It [Goodfellas] shows how normalcy in a talking scene can become this really interesting mental game-play.  That is what we try to do in this movie, because we have such visual eye candy.  Like at one point we are in a cave telling a story and two people are talking, you can actually make that really interesting by being way outside the cave and just hearing them echo through it and not see where they are or just the shadow moments.  We play a lot with that.

g-i-joe-retaliation-bruce-willisSince you are new to the action genre, and you have Willis in the movie who is known to be a force to reckon with directors, how was that working with him and did he come to the table saying, “This is what I expect from action filmmakers.”?  What was your sort of your overall experience with him?

CHU:  Across the board, of course I was nervous starting the movie since I don’t know anybody and they don’t know me.  It is sort of an interesting thing to come into.  What was best was that very early on I sat down with all of them and walked them through the process and designs.  I talked them through my love for the material and some of the not-ready-yet pre-viz.  We had a camera and did a bit of improv stuff to play around.  With the camera I pretended to be a documentary filmmaker who was doing a G.I. Joe piece and would ask Dwayne, “How did you recruit Lady Jaye and when was the first time you saw her?” and then I’d bring the actress in and then I’d say, “Okay, this is the scene you are trying to convince Roadblock that you can be a member of the Joes.”  She would have known already he was a legend and he would start quizzing her so he could know more about her.  She would come back at him to turn the interviewer around, going after him, too.  We did this for the first few weeks and in those experiments we shot hours and hours of footage which helped us learn about each other.  We also learned a lot about how the characters worked and how they had changed over the years.  Their version of it was able to be refined and we got to integrate a lot of these aspects into the character development.  They would do things that helped inform the characters and we brought that over onto the first day of filming.  

With Bruce Willis, it is Bruce Willis so when he comes in, as much as you prepare for it, he comes in and does his thing which is awesome.  You cannot have a more professional guy who knows his stuff.  For his character that is exactly what you want from him.  Even when he whispers you’d think it is a little soft, yet it still works and it is awesome. Stuff I could never direct him on that he just brings to it.  Even when there was something I’d want him to try he would go for it.  That was the best thing about our cast and crew, they are all so collaborative.  Usually it would be weeks of feeling it out and testing but from the beginning everyone was on board and it was a really good experience.

g-i-joe-retaliation-channing-tatum-d-j-cotrona-dwayne-johnsonWere there a lot of difficult conversations about deciding who was coming back for this movie?  Some people are discovering this solely from the first movie and really like those characters…

CHU:  Totally and I love those guys.  There are story-lines I’d love to put in with many different characters.  When you focus in on the movie and the journey we were following, there was just too many characters, ultimately.  Also, we wanted to discover a different part of the G.I. Joe world. Throughout Joe history that has always been a favorite of mine to jump around.

Would you bring any of them back?  Or do they not fit with your style?  Some of them were portrayed very campy.

CHU:  Yeah, definitely there are story-lines I’d love to pursue in other ones if we get that chance.  For instance, the storyline between Scarlet and Snake Eyes is a classic and such a good story.  It wasn’t really played out in the first one and we didn’t get the opportunity in this movie but it is so beautiful and it can be really cool on-screen.  I’d love to do so in the future.

Can you say which Joe’s are in the movie?  Are there any other Joe’s that we don’t already know are in there?

dwayne-johnson-channing-tatum-g-i-joe-retaliation-imageCHU:  I’m sure they’re some here and there, but I kinda like you guys discovering it.

We all thought that the bald guy in the goatee was Gung-Ho but it isn’t?

CHU:  It is not him and you will have to wait and see.

Did we catch you on a coincidental day or is this G.I. Joe shirt you’re wearing a good luck charm?

CHU:  Well I only have three shirts!  (laughs)  No, I have had this for awhile and wear it very often.  It helps me focus when I get stressed.

What can you say about the soundtrack?  Have you started conversations on the tone and vibe? No Beiber singing, right?

CHU:  Yes we have and no Beiber isn’t singing, although RZA would be awesome. Trust me, when he stopped by we were kind of prodding him like, “Come on RZA…let’s go.”  Really though, we are sort of in transition.  This is like the ultimate mash-up hero before their was a mash-up hero.  Ninjas, military, crazy sci-fi stuff all mixed together.  Now what is cool is that mash-ups in a way have kind of evolved, so this stuff plays somewhat contemporary.  We want to incorporate that into the sound of the movie as well.  We don’t want just a traditional score because that plays almost like a traditional 90s action movie.  Really I think Joe is cutting edge and more cutting edge than people see it as.  We will try and incorporate that musically and mix in some things.

elodie-yung-gi-joe-2-ray-parkCan you talk about some of the artists you are interested in and contacted?

CHU:  We are in the middle of that right now, so I don’t want to jinx it.  We don’t have anything yet to announce but we are looking for some fun collaborations.  As we put the movie together the tone is continually shifting.  We are seeing that the best part of this is the discovery aspect of how it will sound.  Even from the beginning it has shifted in my brain from what it is now.

Are you thinking about putting together any character vignettes and background stories on the characters before the film releases?

CHU:  I’d love to do that but we aren’t quite there yet. But yea, it is something I’d really like to do.

gi-joe-retaliation-posterSwitching gears, what about PSA’s being included?  It wasn’t in the first film and a lot of people wanted them.  They’ve been hinted at a bit by Lorenzo.

CHU:  Everything is a possibility right now.  We have a lot of ideas and versions of things.  There are a lot of things we want to do before it ends.  PSA’s are tough to put into the movie because it is tonally difficult to strike that balance.  I think that now that we’ve found a lot these characters there is a version of this movie that we could given the opportunity.

The PSA’s may show up online?

CHU:  I don’t know about that yet…

Snake Eyes has the visor look, does he have the military goggle look too?

CHU:  You’ll have to see and we did a lot of different designs of him to get us to here.  That was one of our biggest things, him and Cobra Commander.  Literally just so many things.  The blue cannot be overly saturated and you cannot go black, just such delicate stuff.  The mouth is definitely off limits but even just the tone of the visor color.

G.I. Joe: Retribution opens March 29th.  For more from my set visit:

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