Watching Ryan Mbatia starring as Simiyu the super karateka in Robby Bresson‘s film/web project, ‘Simiyu Samurai‘, is exciting. If you havent watched it, you can watch it online on SimiyuSamurai.com . It has well-choreographed fight sequences that sets new benchmarks in fight sequence directing in Kenya.
It also sends warning bells to actors: As Kenyan filmmakers tread into grounds previously not often ventured into, e.g. Robby Bresson‘s sojourn to martial arts film, actors will find it harder to get roles if they do not posses extra skills apart from a nice looking face and an ability to cram lines.
Mbatia got picked because of his superb karate skills, same reason Jackie Chan and Jet Lee hog films in that genre. Producers know not only will they execute them well, but also stunt doubles costs will be highly reduced. John Rochefort gets roles due to his superb skills in horse-riding, as does Jeff Bridges (True Grit). Matt Damon showed he has good gun handling skills, in Inception. Possession of such skills also widens acting opportunities: you can be a stunt double in a car/motorbike chase scenes if you have extreme driving skills or dancer if you posses dancing skills, etc.
It is obscene to find established actors in Kenya yet when you want a simple driving scene they say they cannot drive at all, forcing one to green-screen or shoot an extreme wide as you replace with a double. It is double obscene when we saw programs like Cobra Squad where actors in an ‘elite commando squad‘, could not even run ten meters without huffing and puffing. Where a commando cop can‘t even do a simple roll-on-the-ground somersault without looking like they are tumbling to a slow-motioned death by constipation.
I hear you saying ‘why can‘t doubles replace me‘ or ‘they can cheat/tie me to stirrups which will be removed in post bla bla bla Kenyan directors need to up their game bla bla bla‘. As you say that, many roles will go to non-actors who do these stunts because doing it in post is simple to say but hard to fund. Even in international films shot in Kenya, extras have been imported due to lack of stunt skills among the available Kenyan actors.
Every actor needs to ask themselves and answer in their resume: what extra skills do I posses that will give me that extra edge now that every Anyango, Kamau and Omari thinks they can act? Do I have Extreme Driving/gun handling/blackbelt in Karate/Dancer/cliff hanging/ Archery/ Swimming/acrobatics/fencing/foreign language skills etc?
Some might say Kenya is not yet there.
Memo: You need to position yourself for when Kenya does get there. Now there are extreme driving classes being offered by our Rally drivers, there are so many Karate gyms it has become cheap, Sarakasi has many dancing classes, there is a rather expensive shooting range in Stony Athi near Lukenya but one can always sacrifice.
Simiyu Samurai has sounded the alarm bells. Take heed.
Advised by: Simiyu Barasa
Pics:Facebook page for SimiyuSamurai