Words of the Condor: A conversation with martial arts star Marko Zaror

The Latin martial artist talks about his latest film Fist of the Condor!

Photo courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

As audiences turned out in droves for the release of John Wick Chapter 4 to see Keanu Reeves share the screen with international action legends Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Scott Adkins, many were introduced to one of the best-kept secrets in all of action cinema — actor, stuntman, and martial artist Marko Zaror. The towering Chilean export plays the main henchman to Bill Skarsgård’s villainous Marquis Vincent de Gramont. Zaror pops up throughout the film as a constant thorn in the hero’s side and in the process showcases the impeccable martial arts skill and smoldering intensity that led to him stealing the show as the bad guy in direct-to-video beat ’em up fan favorites such as Undisputed 3: Redemption and Savage Dog.

Action enthusiasts will point to those films as examples of just how good he is as a featured player. But the hardcore among them know that for years Zaror has been producing films in his native country of Chile (alongside writer/director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza) with a uniquely Latin perspective on genre tropes like costumed vigilantes (Mirageman), super spies (Mandrill), street fighters (Kiltro), and guilt-ridden hitmen (Redeemer) that fully illustrate what the impossibly agile screen fighter is capable of as a leading man. Now, the filmmaking pair are back with a new film. And, due to the success of the latest entry in the John Wick franchise, the duo’s cinematic efforts are no longer flying under the radar.

Their latest collaboration is Fist of the Condor, a pulpy tale of twin brothers locked in a blood feud over an ancient martial arts tome that contains a secret, deadly fighting technique. The film is a loving ode to not only traditional martial arts stories (with its duels to the death, slain masters to be avenged, and copious amounts of training montages) but also the beautiful physicality of its practitioners and the captivating Chilean coastal landscape. With an exclusive release on the Hi-Yah! streaming service (and a forthcoming physical media release from parent company Well Go USA), it won’t be long before more action fans learn about Zaror and realize he is a screen legend in his own right.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Marko Zaror and talk with him about Fist of the Condor, fight choreography, making movies in Chile, and more.

What was the genesis for Fist of the Condor?

Fist of the Condor happened in the middle of quarantine because I got trapped in Chile. I was living in L.A., went back to Chile, and ended up staying in a friend’s house at the beach because it was pretty empty and I didn’t have a place. So, I find myself in this town in the south of Chile, called Pichilemu. And I kind of built a little gym, just basic stuff to stay training and meditating. I was there every day alone and kind of thinking, “What I’m going to do with my life? Is [this] the end of the world? The movie industry is done. What I’m going to do?” After a lot of meditation, I realized even if it is the last thing I am going to do, I need to do a movie here [in this place] and express myself fully as a martial artist, and share it with the people that follow me– my journey, my notes [on] nutrition, training, and philosophy.

I gave those notes to my close friend, Ernesto Diaz, the director. He put together the script and we just shot it. We did it very independently in the middle of quarantine. The landscape of Chile, it was our main character. We wanted to do something like a love letter to the genre from a Latino martial artist. That was where it came from. And then things start opening up [again after the pandemic] and I arrived in L.A. I forwarded the [film’s] trailer to some friends and then I got a call from Chad [Stahelski] like, “Hey Marko, I have a role for you in [John Wick Chapter 4].” That was just, I didn’t see that coming, trust me. [laughs]

Such a great opportunity to have the releases of John Wick Chapter 4 and Fist of the Condor happen so close together. It’s a big time for you and your career!

Yeah, man. You can imagine! I’m so happy and so grateful, man.

Photo courtesy of WellGo USA Entertainment

You mentioned the landscapes being the main character of Fist of the Condor. That comes through beautifully in the film. The scenery is often breathtaking. I do want to ask about the other big aspect of the film though: the fight choreography. How did you go about designing the action and the “Condor” fighting style?

Well, the thing is… that for me was the biggest challenge of the movie. [What I wanted] was to create a movie that feels classic, but it can’t be, because we are from Latin America and we don’t have the history of martial arts movies. So, we needed to create this old world and this style and this myth and all this. It was based on my notes about my journey as a martial artist because I’ve been doing many different styles throughout my whole life. And lately, I’ve been experimenting with mobility and “animal” flow, animal movements, but not in a traditional way like the kung fu style movements. It’s different. [The] Condor is the animal on our flag in Chile, our national animal, right?

It’s a symbol. So, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to experiment [with moving] like a condor.” So then all the open hands start happening, and then I start exploring mobility with these positions. And then, of course, bringing in my version of the wooden [sparring] dummy. I built my own wooden dummy that is based on and inspired by the Wing Chun wooden dummy, but I added the attacks on the top like MMA, because part of my journey was to train MMA. Then I start incorporating elements of my journey as a martial artist inspired by the traditional movies and kung fu styles and all that we’ve seen in the classics. That was a big challenge for us because we wanted to feel real. We wanted it to feel like an homage, but at the same time, we wanted it to feel very original– that it’s coming from us and it’s not just copying or doing a mimic of classic kung fu movies. The style of the condor kind of is a mix of all my journeys as a martial artist. There’s animal flow, there’s Tae Kwon Do, there’s a little bit of boxing, MMA– it’s a mix of a lot of things.

Photo courtesy of WellGo USA Entertainment

The thing that really stayed with me about the film, is how all that wonderful physicality is captured on-screen. Ernesto Díaz Espinoza’s direction complimented your hard work so well. What is your working relationship with him like after all your collaborations together?

Ernesto, we have been friends since high school. We grew up together. He was always the guy with the camera and we were always trying to play and doing videos, stuff like that. I was the “crazy guy,” kicking around. We connect through that, and then we started with Kiltro and then we did Mirageman and all that. For me, it’s like here are these two friends sharing the passion of our lives. He’s my brother on this journey. I always would like to continue doing stuff with him because I feel we know each other very deeply. And then that’s how you can, in the end, create content that has something to say.

I truthfully am a big fan of the work you two do together. It’s been too long since the last one.

Yeah, Redeemer, our last one, but this one, if you see all our other movies, I feel this one, at least for me, is the one that really represents me. It’s very honest. They were all honest, but this one is, you can see how we have matured as human beings. It’s a very mature movie. And I’m happy to continue and I want to keep learning and keep improving and communicating as much as possible.

Fist of the Condor does feel very personal. So, it’s fitting that your teacher in the film is played by your actual mother, Gina Aguad. What was it like working with her in that position of her portraying your on-screen sifu?

She was my real sifu [growing up]. She was the one that inspired and support my martial arts career. She was the one that took me to my first martial arts school. She’s a real black belt in karate. She trains, and she serves in a Buddhist temple. She’s very into martial arts. Her dream was always to be an actress and she couldn’t because of life. So for me, it was a very nice moment to be able to give her that opportunity to express herself. So, it was great and I think she did a great job.

Photo courtesy of WellGo USA Entertainment

That’s a very heartwarming thing for you to do. And I agree, she is excellent in the role. That actually leads me to my next question. I wanted to ask you about martial arts in Chile. It’s not a place known for that but you’ve really given a platform to other martial artists from that area. How has your film work affected the martial arts scene there?

When we started there, the genre didn’t exist in Latin America. We had to start from scratch: creating a stunt team and then teaching the martial artists how to do screen fighting. I don’t know, it’s all just an honest expression from a Chilean martial artist guy that loved this and went against all the people saying, “Hey, how are you going to do a martial arts movie in Chile? This is not even possible.” So, it’s just that. For me, I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to think outside of the box and show people that, “Look, when you have passion and when you follow through and you stay consistent and you work hard, great things can happen.”

I’ve been able to work with great martial artists from Chile. And in Chile, we love martial arts too. There’s a big community of martial artists there. Martial arts is a universal thing. I think martial arts unites the whole world. In every country, you’ll find martial artists and I feel every country I go to, [when] I walk into a martial arts school– I feel at home.

Photo courtesy of WellGo USA Entertainment

As someone who has established a martial arts film scene in a place where there was not one and turned that into a career within Hollywood, what advice would you give to aspiring martial artists who want to break into film and T.V.?

Well, first they need to train really hard. And I recommend to start trying, not just martial arts, but also explore mobility, and don’t just stick to one style. Because in a movie, if you want to be a stuntman, stunt work is not only [being] a martial artist. My first work as a stuntman was tumbling down a hill when I doubled The Rock on the movie The Rundown. Use your ability of self-awareness and agility that you learn in martial arts to do other things. And then just do videos, work with your friends, use your cell phone, shoot yourself, make short videos, and experiment. Now you have so many opportunities to do that; before we didn’t have that. So, don’t wait for the ideal scenario, just do it. Create and do action. Do it, shoot it yourself, try to do some fight scenes, put them on YouTube, and then get yourself out there. Then, little by little, life will guide you. If you follow that path and you follow your intuition, you’ll see the signs, and life is going to guide you in the right direction.

That’s great advice and I know you are an inspiration to a lot of aspiring martial artists out there. As we wrap up, do you know when we might see the next installment of Fist of the Condor?

It depends on you guys. If you support the movie, if you like it. I’m lucky that we’re partnered up with, WellGo and Hi-Yah! So, if guys are able to see this movie, support it. Show your love if you like the movie. And then we’re going to be working soon on “Part 2.” It’s important that you guys get the disc [when it is released] and support the film because that’s how we can finance the second installment. I can’t wait to continue the story. It depends on you guys and I really appreciate you.

And we appreciate you, Marko. Congratulations on the film’s release and all your recent success! It’s well deserved.

Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate it, man.

Image courtesy of WellGo USA Entertainment

Fist of the Condor is currently available to stream through Hi-Yah! with a physical media release date T.B.A.

Previous post Jackie Chan Documentary THE GOLDEN BOY Explores His Rise to International Fame
Next post THE MALTESE FALCON [4K UHD Review]