GeneralsJoes and WOJM Interview with G.I. Joe: Retaliation Director Jon Chu

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is right around the corner…  only mere days away!  The lucky folks over in London actually got their red carpet premiere last week, and both GeneralsJoes and the What’s on Joe Mind podcast were fortunate enough to have some representatives at the London premiere.

Dave Tree from All the Cool Stuff and Russ Sheath, contributor to Aint It Cool News both very kindly offered to cover the event on our behalf, and they knocked the ball out of the friggen park!  Hitting the red carpet, recording the press conference, and even getting a face-to-face interview with director Jon M Chu!

Most of the audio coverage from the red carpet and press conference event is now posted in audio format on Special Edition #26 of What’s on Joe Mind, but the interview with Jon Chu can be read below.  This is was a fantastic opportunity for both the podcast and this website, and we greatly appreciate Paramount, Mr. Chu, and of course Dave and Russ for getting this all together for us.  We are infinitely grateful for everyone’s participation and willingness to work with us.

Click the “Read the Rest of the Story” link below to check out the full review!

GeneralsJoes and What’s on Joe Mind Interview G.I. Joe: Retaliation Director Jon M. Chu

Jon Chu: There are some fans, out camping right now…they were literally lying here in the rain for you guys.

GeneralsJoes/WOJM: We really appreciate, with everything that’s going on, you giving us a couple of minutes.

JC: Of course.  Sorry it took so long to figure it all out.

GJ/WOJM: Also from the point of view that it’s testament, you seeing things like that, that the fanbase sort of assumes it’s an American core fanbase, because of “G.I. Joe” but it spanned out way beyond that.  Over here it was a different iteration.  It was known under a different name and different brands, but the core was still the same.  So I hope, tonight, even though it’s been exhausting for you guys, I hope tonight, this is one of the most enjoyable ones for you.

JC: I’m sure of it.  Even just…it’s hot off the press, our movie, it’s just, but again the energy around the world, that’s what surprised me the most, I don’t know what G.I. Joe means to places around the world, it’s hard to gauge.  I know what it meant to me, but that’s a small world but it’s been fun to hear from everyone.  We live in a time and technology where we can actually feel it.  We can interact and feel like we’ve known each other for years.

GJ/WOJM:  Several years in the making…  what is your feeling, what’s your emotion now that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is finally going out in front of audiences?

JC: It is a sense of, both scared and relieved at the same time…  a sense of responsibility to tell… there’s so many things about G.I. Joe, I know what the fans want, because I hear it every day.  I know what they wish for, and I know what our movie has, and what it doesn’t have.  What we didn’t have the ability to necessarily do yet.  We’re building a foundation for a different tone, a different feel for the movie, reinventing a lot of things.  But it’s just the beginning.  Do we want to get more into Cobra Commander?  Yes.  Did we not do that enough here?  For sure. But we have to build some roots before we go through all that.

GJ/WOJM:  So picking up on the key things you said there… foundation… would you consider that this is perhaps an ongoing thing?  The middle part of a trilogy?

JC: I hope it’s the foundation for a lot of other  things.  I think that the G.I. Joe world is huge, I mean even including Action Man…I bet there’s an Action Man pissed that London just got destroyed and he’s going to want some vengeance.

There are so many things, Cobra Island, and all the different characters , even our movie as it is is too many characters, so we’re just trying to find that balance.  We had to strip a lot of stuff out, consolidate or reveal it later in the movie than we had originally planned, because we had to…  adapt.  There are a lot of people who have seen the first movie, a lot of people who have not seen the first movie.  A lot of people who know nothing about G.I. Joe, and a lot of people who know a lot about G.I. Joe.  Some people who know just about the 12” action figures.

Are you from GeneralsJoes?

GJ/WOJM: We both are.

JC: I love them doing that.

GJ/WOJM: Russ covers Aint it Cool News…  I cover What’s on Joe Mind as well so when you’ve been helping out, sending Tweets back to Gary and Justin…

JC: See, I don’t know anybody…I just know them from their Twitter handle.

GJ/WOJM: But I also, in terms of hte UK side of things, I run Europe’s largest G.I. Joe convention every year, and that’s where we all sort of cross over and help each other out.

JC: Nice… nice.  I was bummed that Larry Hama was writing all this stuff, I was like “we haven’t even sent any stuff out yet…”.  He’s very outspoken on that.  Literally we have not even gotten invites, I think they come out not even until Wednesday of this week.

GJ/WOJM: The trouble is, because you guys are doing such an exhaustive tour that… probably a lot of the planning and scheduling stateside hasn’t even begun yet.

JC: and it’s not even us, it’s some other person.  I’m glad I know, because now I can keep an eye on it.  It’s always complicated.

GJ/WOJM: From all the creators that are involved in comic books, of course Larry didn’t create G.I. Joe, but in our minds, he pretty much did maybe he doesn’t get credit…

JC: Yes, his DNA is pretty much in it.

GJ/WOJM:  G.I. Joe, as a core brand, is deep set rooted in the American way, but it had offshoots, and as a result, he (Larry) is being pushed him into bringing in some of the European characters.

So, harking back to a question that we asked downstairs… for you as a fan… it must be tough talking about sequels when this film isn’t out there in the public hands yet.  For you as a fan, in an ideal world, A.  is coming back for G.I. Joe 3 on the cards for you?  And B. are there any core aspects or storylines that you would like to see?  I think you’ve done a fantastic job in this film, paying respect to the mythos, and it can’t have been easy weaving…

JC: Yeah, it was so hard, you want to tell so many of those stories.  If I ever did G.I. Joe again, I’d want to tell the story between Scarlett and Snake Eyes, I want to tell the story of Serpentor, and all these crazy things, and regular things.  As a sequel, you are tied to certain elements that have been set up, and relationships that have been set up.  It was really important for me on this one to “clear the deck” a little bit, get a couple cards in order.  Not, you know, can you put Flint in his beret right at the top?  No.  Can you get there?  Yeah, and that’s kind of fun.  Once you get there, there’s no going back, so I had to always remind myself..we’re getting to a lot of this stuff, we’re going to get there.

You can’t just jump in, and especially for new audiences if we’re going to introduce new kids to this stuff, it’s almost too crazy to just say “all this stuff, look!”  You almost have to just walk them through.  This is our first step.  If we get another opportunity, which I hope we do, this was always the idea, that this was the beginning of creating the bigger world of Joe, and in Joe maybe other characters exist in other places.  Maybe Scarlett isn’t a character, maybe Scarlett is a rank, so somebody that comes in is the new Scarlett.  Things you can do that make a lot of sense and give us what we need to do eventually.

Did I want Cobra to fight more?  Yes.  Did I want to set up Cobra Island?  Oh yes, of course.  Did we actually have stuff in there that could have set up some amazing things, that we ended up taking out, just to leave it open a little bit more?  Yes.  I can’t talk about it now, but there’s definitely things that I would have loved to do and would still love to do if given the opportunity.

GJ/WOJM: It’s interesting you say that, because we were afforded the opportunity to see an early preview last week, and I understand it wasn’t the final cut, the final review print, but… Social Media has had a great part to play as far as building up this film, probably more than I’ve seen for many other films.  As a result there’s been a lot of different trailers and TV Spots.  Here’s the thing…when watching the film, there’s an awful lot in those trailers and TV spots that never made that cut, or at least the version we saw.

JC: Yes.  Some of those were really last minute cuts, and some of them were a while ago.  We create those things way before that, and some things literally last second.  We weren’t getting PG-13, so we had to cut out some violence and some of those key moments were too violent for our ratings.

GJ/WOJM: Like the bodies after the attack in the desert…

JC: Yes.  Some bigger stunt moments that are in some of the trailers, but not in our movie.  Those literally we were not going to get a PG-13 unless you cut some of these things, and you have to pull them.  It was really hard and really difficult, but hopefully you get an opportunity to show some of that stuff in other versions eventually, which I love.

GJ/WOJM: Would there be like a Directors Cut on DVD?

JC: We’re talking about it.  We have enough.  I mean we have a lot of extra stuff that we could… when we got into it, Reese and Wernick, our writers, who are amazing, and wrote Zombieland and have that sense of humor for Joe and they were also fans, and also built in a lot of stuff.  So much stuff that it did get confusing I think at first. The studio really doesn’t know G.I. Joe a lot.  They didn’t grow up on it, so…when you show them you get a sense of “you know nothing about GIJoe, what do you think of it?” and so you got a lot of confusion of like… “so the guy in black is the good guy, and the guy in white is the bad guy?  Ninjas are bad and good, but are they Joes?”  So many questions, you’re like that’s not even a question, that’s just basic understanding of G.I. Joe, and so we had to be very aware of that, and it was good actually to have that sense… made us clarify some things more.

GJ/WOJM: It pulls us back, without going too deep.  We were just talking to a lady from Cosmopolitan, and she hadn’t seen the first film…but it was great talking to her, literally she hadn’t seen the first film.  Did she get it, did she understand it?  Certain things like Zartan being president, because she hadn’t had that prior knowledge. But she really enjoyed it, and she was saying it effectively for her audience and core group, it’s all about the eye candy.  And also from the point of view that their partners would want to go see this film, and if it ticks the right boxes for them, they would go, which does better for the film, with better box office ticket sales and things like that.

JC: Yes.  I think that’s the trickiest part, literally so many balls in the air that everybody has expectations.  The fans want the fan version, the studio wants a version that anyone can go watch, people who saw the first movie want the continuation of that thing, the people who love Channing want the Channing version.  I mean, there was so many…it actually hurts every time I think about those things because you had to compromise across the board on many of those things, and hopefully you found a balance that at least you can come away satisfied and excited no matter where you come from.

But that was a balance we had to figure out along the way. I had my ideas of where it would lie, but I think that’s why our cast is so important because they set the tone immediately you either love or hate these characters.  You love to hate Jonathon, and you love to hate Firefly, as well, and no matter what you do, you attach yourself to that guy, as long as you can connect that guy into the story, you can get away with a lot more.

Did we have a lot more ninja stuff?  Yes.  Did we have it all at the beginning?  Yes.  Did we have more Jinx backstory?  Yes.  We had a ton of that stuff…there’s a certain point you’re like “We’ve got Bruce.  We’ve got Channing.  We’ve got The Rock.  You’ve got ninjas, you’ve got Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, Storm Shadow has to change in this movie, where do you have room to tell the back story of Jinx (which really doesn’t pay off)?  Okay, we’re setting things up that will pay off later.  We’re establishing a character that will come back who we’ll learn more about later.  We had to come to that realization even during and after we shot it that we weren’t going to be able to serve everything we wanted to.  It’s a 2 hour movie, it’s only about 110 minutes or something like that.

GJ/WOJM: That must be the tough thing… thank you so much for your  interactions with us on Twitter…it’s a unique experience interacting with the director of a movie, and having a response.  It must also be something of a curse, because everyone has an opinion on a movie such as this.

JC: Yes.  I think we live in an amazing time, I think communication is the #1 thing that is changing the world and as we’re all connected, it feels like the lights just turned on in the world.  It went from super positive to super negative, and now we’re balancing it out in this world and the more we can communicate and be real about it, the more it helps the soul of the internet, I guess.

It’s been great to hear people’s responses.  It’s been great to throw something out there and get, knowing that it’s not the world, a certain amount of people who know your Twitter handle and who follow you, just to dip your toe in the water, and feel it changes everything that we do.  It feels like you’re making a movie with friends by your side…when you release a movie, you feel like you’re getting ready to show your friends, which is sometimes more emotional, instead of just releasing a movie and turning away, when they’re right here with you, and they’re like “you told us that you were going to have this and that and you didn’t do any of that”… that hurts.

I actually already know the things that I feel like we couldn’t quite do in this movie that we wanted to do, but I also think because we have that relationship they will understand and know our perspective of where we’re headed more than any other audience would.

GJ/WOJM: A lot of folk have said directing an action film is very close to directing a dance film, in terms of choreography, planning and set pieces, and things like that.  Where you’ve now been afforded the opportunity to work in both, are they the same?  How are they different? Is there one that you found so far more challenging than the other?

JC: They are different for sure.  At the core of it, is movement telling stories.  Because in dance it’s not about the head spin or how far they can stretch.  It’s actually about the poetry that they are communicating from who they are, as a person or a character.  Our relationship in a dance.  The same thing with action.  The best action that I love is the one with personality that I understand, this character when he punches, it means something about this character, when he retreats what does that say about his character?  When he goes beyond his moral compass, what does that say about that character?  When you have Bruce, when you have Dwayne they understand that more than anybody, so they already incorporate it.  When you don’t work with someone who does it all the time you have to remind them that you’re still an actor when you’re doing your fights. You have to infuse who you are as a character or actor in your fight,s and not just do what we’re telling you.  Because we can tell you what to do, but it doesn’t mean anything.  I literally check out in a movie when that happens.  But when I know that your hamstring is pulled and every time you kick it hurts you  and when you back up further and further back, and there’s no way out, it makes the fight that much more interesting.

The process of working with dancers helped me, but not necessarily shooting dance.

GJ/WOJM: What was your proudest moment working with G.I. Joe: Retaliation?

JC: Hard question.  I had many moments where I was proud…  first day of shooting we have the Rock there, Adrianne, Flint, in costume they have their guns, trudging through the desert and you’re like “oh my gosh, this is G.I. Joe, holy crap…” that I definitely felt, I definitely had a drink after that day, and I had a toast and called my friends at home and everything.

Then I think it’s been travelling with the movie to show it.  You feel a responsibility, to not just the people online, but actually to my cast and my crew.  They work so hard, they are the best of the best and they don’t get to see the movie, they don’t get to see what we’re doing with it.  If we cut a scene they worked really hard on, they have to understand who you are and what you’re trying to do, that there was a purpose for that.  But they’re so supportive and so great, and to show them and have them proud of the movie, is the best thing.  That gave me the most worry in the whole process, I cut that scene, I moved that scene, and they know they didn’t do that.  For them to be able to sit back, watch the movie, enjoy it as a movie goer, have fun with it and be proud to show other people, I think that was the main proud moment for sure.

GJ/WOJM: Thanks, Jon.

JC: Thank you.

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I would just, once again, like to thank Jon Chu, Paramount, and Dave & Russ for all of their help in making this interview happen.  Obviously some of the big dogs out there do this stuff on a daily basis, but for a small independent fansite like me, getting this done was pretty special, and I’m glad it was able to happen.

  • Dave Tree

    Very, VERY cool!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/romil.ilagan Romil Ilagan

    G.I. Joe was one of the first comics I collected as a child. And while I liked a couple of things about “Rise of Cobra”, overall I was disappointed because it seemed to be G.I. Joe in name only – the characters I grew up with were either a shadow of themselves or altered drastically. With such rich backstories provided by Larry Hama, it seemed odd that the writers of RoC would ditch almost all of it for the big-screen adaptation.

    I’m pleased to hear that “Retaliation” is skewing closer to the “in the trenches” grit of the comics rather than the sci-fi outlandish elements of the cartoon, and I’m REALLY pleased to hear that Mr. Chu is interested in exploring the relationship between Scarlett and Snake Eyes in a potential future installment. Their story was one of my favorite parts of the comic and it brought a humanity to Snake Eyes who otherwise would just be a one-dimensional bad ass. Scarlett, who was a great character in her own right, was Snake Eyes’ voice and heart. While the two had their little moments in RoC, I had hoped their story could be further developed in the sequel only to find out that Scarlett wouldn’t appear at all.

    Mr. Chu’s talk about “Scarlett” being a rank and potentially someone new stepping into that role makes me leery. While you could do that with RoC characters like Heavy Duty and Breaker (who weren’t the characters as named in the comics). You can’t do that with Scarlett. I loved that relationship not because it was about two characters who happened to be code-named Snake Eyes and Scarlett, but because it was about two people: this man with no name and Shana O’Hara, who has already been introduced in the movies and ably portrayed by Rachel Nichols. To me, Duke is Conrad Hauser, Scarlett is Shana O’Hara, and Snake Eyes is, well, Snake Eyes. They’re like the Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman of G.I. Joe – you can tweak them a bit, but you can’t fundamentally change them.

    I personally think Retaliation was a missed opportunity to move away from how Scarlett was presented in RoC and grow her into the character from the comics – her defeat at the hands of the Baroness in RoC (and surviving an attack where so many of her teammates were killed in Retaliation) serving as a catalyst to have Snake Eyes train her in his story thread and at the same time give them enough breathing room from the main storyline to develop their romance.

    I really hope Mr. Chu has an opportunity to make another Joe film. His love for the property makes me think he’s the right man for the job, but I hope that if he does, he honors the Snake Eyes/Scarlett (Shana O’Hara) story.