• Hot!

    An Interview with Ron Marchini

    by Robbie Augspurger

    As one of the founders of B-Movie Bingo, I have a never-ending obsession with the forgotten films and filmmakers of the mid 80s and early-to-mid-90s. This was a time when film distribution companies would snap up any kind of action fare they came across—and the film rental industry was exploding. Mom and pop shops as well as big boys like Blockbuster would stock their shelves full of these titles. Movies would fly off the shelves based on the cover art alone, and the more extreme the better. Only years later can I admit that yes, even I, was one of those lonely souls rifling through the over-stocked video store shelves, looking for plastic gold. To meet this demand, low-budget film production companies would crank out a seemingly endless supply of whatever insane action movies they thought would sell, domestically and often more importantly… abroad.


    Ron as Steve Parrish in the JUNGLE WOLF movies.

    Enter martial artist, actor and producer Ronald L. Marchini (pronounced Mar-Kee-Nee). Hailing from Stockton, CA, Ron Marchini was a competitive martial arts champion in the late 60s and early 70s—whose main foe in the ring was Chuck Norris (though they were friendly out of the ring). Upon retiring from the fighting circuit in the early 70s, he was offered roles in low-budget foreign-produced exploitation kung-fu films with titles like YELLOW FACED TIGER (aka SLAUGHTER IN SAN FRANCISCO in the U.S.) (1974) and MURDER IN THE ORIENT (1974). Frustrated with the shoddy productions and shaky financing situations he witnessed, he started producing his own films starting with DEATH MACHINES in 1976 and ending with KARATE RAIDER in 1995. Over the span of almost twenty years in independent film, he produced films that were straight-to-the point action movies intended to satisfy a niche market thirsty for guns, fighting, and general mayhem. Things like dialogue and story were an afterthought. There was no time for such luxuries.

    After all, he was the Omega Cop, the last cop on Earth. He was the Forgotten Warrior, hunted in the jungle. Making movies quick and dirty for foreign markets… flying by the seat of his pants. Below is a transcript of a rare interview conducted with me in May 2015.


    Robbie Augspurger: First things first: as a martial artist and a martial arts actor, how important is it do be able to do the splits?

    Ron Marchini: (Laughs) Well, doing the kicks—if you want to have high kicks—it definitely helps to be able to do the splits. And it kind of depends how practical it is—just doing high kicks—it may look good, but for effectiveness, it’s not really that effective.

    RA: Fair enough. I’m going to come back to this topic in a bit, but first, let’s talk about your movies. After you retired from tournament fighting, you pursued a film career. The earliest screen credit of yours I could find was playing a “henchman” in YELLOW FACED TIGER (1974), also known as SLAUGHTER IN SAN FRANCISCO. This movie is famous for featuring Chuck Norris in his first starring role, as a bad guy. I saw this movie many years ago, but when I found out you were in it, I re-watched it last night, and there you were, henching it up. How did this you get this part, and what did you think of Chuck’s dubbed voice?

    RM: (Laughs). The [production] company came over from Hong Kong to shoot a picture in San Francisco, and they were looking for somebody, and they ran down to Black Belt Magazine. The magazine called me up and asked if I wanted to be in a movie. Of course, I didn’t know anything about it, but I’d seen a few movies. I said, “What?! You know, I don’t know. I’ll try it.” So I went for the interview, and it was for an older person, for supposedly the captain of the police force. So, when I went for the interview they said I was too young. But they wanted to use me anyway. So what they did was make me the brother of Chuck Norris’ character. We were in the park, and it shows us attacking this girl. But, we really weren’t because we were just friends trying to harass the cops.

    While in the middle of filming that picture, I got offered another film in the Philippines which ended up being MANILA GOLD, which later came out as MURDER IN THE ORIENT. So I left there and went to the the Philippines, signed the contract, and then came back. So if you watch the picture, I’m in the beginning, but not in the end. (Laughs).

    RA: I did notice that—you had that police run-in scene, and a couple other scenes like the one in the restaurant harassing the waiter.

    RM: Yeah, sitting there playing the typical goon! You know, the big thing I learned from that picture—that was the first experience—we learned how to make pictures really cheap. Everybody that worked on the crew worked in front of the camera, you know? I mean, one guy who acted in the film—he was the cook! Another guy was the one that paid the bills. Everybody had multiple roles in making that film. So that was the first chance I had working with a Hong Kong company and finding out. And then I went to the Philippines and things really got weird! (Laughs)

    RA: You’re referring, of course, to MURDER IN THE ORIENT (1974). I couldn’t find out much about this one, other than that’s the first movie on which you worked with Paul Kyriazi, director of OMEGA COP.

    Yeah, MURDER IN THE ORIENT was the first one I shot overseas in the Philippines. Post production was done in Hong Kong… it’s just that the way they do things—their dubbing and everything like that—was a real problem. So, when I brought it back here to the States, I met Paul and I watched what he had done on one of his earlier pictures. And I got him to work on it, on editing. That led to me hiring him to do an actual picture after that, DEATH MACHINES, which was the first one that he directed for me.

    RA: How did you and Paul actually meet, and what was your working relationship like?

    RM: You know, I can’t even remember, but Paul is an easy person to work with. He’s not temperamental—he’s very dedicated to his art. That was his whole thing. It’s kind of like what people say in the industry, “He’d sell his soul to make a movie, ok?” (Laughs). That’s Paul. We’ve had a good relationship. He came over, I guess it’s been over a year now. He’s a very dedicated person. Always thinking, always doing things—writing and stuff.

    RA: I saw that the thing he does now is a “Live the James Bond Lifestyle” series of seminars and books.

    RM: Right, yes. Live the James Bond life.

    RA: I’m going to ask a few questions about acting now.

    RM: (Laughs).

    RA: Sometimes actors go too deep into their characters and get lost. How did you keep your own identity separate from the characters that you played?

    RM: Have you ever made a movie—a low-budget movie? (Laughs). You don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time developing your character. It’s made for a certain audience, and if you don’t catch them right away—they want the action, they’re not interested in the dialogue—because they don’t speak the language anyway, and you have to dub it into their language, using it to sell to all these countries. On low-budget pictures you don’t have the time to develop characters. We’re lucky that we got a script to work on—I’m serious!

    I’ll tell you first hand—MURDER IN THE ORIENT. When we went and did that, it was called MANILA GOLD. After the first day of shooting Leo Fong—I don’t know if you know that name—but he had done low-budget pictures and we had done other things together. I called him up and I said, “Hey Leo, I think we’re trouble.” And he goes, “Why? I thought it was good today!” And I said “You do?” And he said “Yeah!” And I go, “Wait, I don’t know about you, but I know I’m not that good, and I didn’t do any re-takes today.” (Laughs) You know how you do takes, and then you do another one?

    RA: Yeah.

    RM: Hey, this is one shot and go! All right? If you didn’t get a chance, whatever it was, it was. That first experience in the Philippines on the first day of shooting. It was just like, “We’re in trouble.” Develop a character? My God, we’re lucky if we had a script!

    RA: How did you prepare for your roles? What was your approach?

    RM: What did I think was going to sell? You’ve got to realize, I just didn’t act in the pictures, I came in with the story ideas. I’d get some people to try and put it together and write it as a story. You know, so I was with it from the pre-production, the production, and the post production. And Garrick [Huey, the editor of OMEGA COP among others] did editing on all these pictures. So it was really run like a business. Anybody can make a good picture if you can just keep shooting, because you can keep shooting until you have what you want. We used to make these movies for what other people spent on their craft services! You know what craft services is, right?

    RA: Yeah, uh-huh.

    RM: That’s the break food—the food you get during your break. So, we were really lucky to make as many pictures as we did with the kind of budgets that we were doing. Then we’d go to the film markets ourselves, even though we’d get people to handle it depending on who did it in the United States, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium… we’ve practically sold to every country in the world. That’s the way we did it. It wasn’t looked at so much from an artistic standpoint—I didn’t have the luxury of doing that.

    The worst thing I could have done is sit there and make a drama with the dialogue and the emotional stuff. Who we were making the picture for—that audience wouldn’t watch that picture. And those buyers that were buying for those countries, because you know, all these countries—they would send their buyers to the film markets, whether it’s MIFED in Milan [a well-known international film market] or the Santa Monica Film Festival or Cannes, any of these—they buy for their market. We couldn’t compete with the A-movies, the great big pictures, and the dramas and the ones like that, it just wasn’t even feasible to get into that game. It was a niche market.

    RA: In OMEGA COP we see a reference to Clint Eastwood, during the old west style “shootout in the streets” scene. Were there specific actors that you tried to emulate, or was it more like you said, flying by the seat of your pants than trying to emulate somebody?

    RM: (Laughs) Yeah, it was more “flying by the seat of your pants”, like you said, than trying to emulate somebody. Maybe that’s what Paul was looking at or was emulating. Because he was the director, and he’s the one who’s setting the shot up. So, looking at it now, he probably did, with the cutting back and forth.

    RA: Like the “Ecstasy of Gold” scene at the end of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY where they were all squinty-eyed staring at each other.

    RM: Yeah.

    RA: Recently I watched part of an unfinished Elvis Presley martial arts documentary called THE NEW GLADIATORS (1974). I watched most of it but didn’t see you in it, though you are rumored to be – what do you remember of that, and did you meet Elvis?

    RM: Okay, first of all: personally talking to Elvis? No. Did I see him? Yes. Did he come and see me? Yes. He came and saw me in Hawaii when I was competing in the Hawaiian championships. It was Elvis and his wife Priscilla. They came and sat there while we were competing. My friend George Waite actually produced and put the thing together. Elvis financed it—he talked with him and he put up the money for it, and we went and did the picture. The team that goes to Europe—I’m in that. At the beginning, not the stuff in the United States, but the team that’s there in Europe, in Belgium.

    RA: The footage of Superfoot Bill Wallace was impressive. I’ve seen some of his movies. His characters were really intense.

    RM: Oh, Bill? Bill’s a nice guy. He really is.

    death-machines-movie-poster-1976-1020255899RA: Let’s talk about DEATH MACHINES. In DEATH MACHINES (1976), you’re credited as “White Death Machine”.

    RM: (Laughs)

    RA: Your character was one of three martial arts fighters injected with an evil serum that made you zombie-like assassins.

    RM: (Still laughing)

    RA: It’s true! The three assassins were credited as “Asian Death Machine”, “Black Death Machine”, and “White Death Machine”.

    RM: Yeah!

    RA: I noticed a favorite kill move of yours was driving large vehicles into people and things, and blowing things up with bazookas – how did it feel to drive through that restaurant?

    RM: That was actually one of my barns, out at the ranch. We had big doors that slid open, and they built the restaurant inside that. Then we drove the truck down the road, through the open the doors, and crashed into the set. It’s fantasy! Everything you see is not real—but that’s how that was done.

    One of the big mistakes in that movie was that the guys didn’t talk—the three killers. If I had that to do again, we wouldn’t have done that.

    RA: I noticed in that scene where you were getting shot in the face repeatedly, you screamed at the end of that, and that’s the only sound I heard any of you guys make.

    RM: Yeah, yeah. (Laughs) You noticed that.

    RA: Yeah, that guy kept shooting you in the face, and he was incredulous that you kept getting up. And finally you screamed, I don’t if you had a crisis of conscious or cognitive dissonance about what you’d become—like the serum was wearing off or your true personality was trying to break through, like the gun shots were waking you up, almost…

    RM: Yeah…

    RA: It was funny at the end how you guys all teamed up and went to the airport—“Welp, let’s fly to Manila!”

    RM: (Laughs) Hey, I can honestly say I had nothing to do with that script at all! That’s probably the only picture I regret… of course that was the first picture I produced, that I put together.

    Even though MURDER IN THE ORIENT, or MANILA GOLD, was the first picture I did, I didn’t go in to produce, I was just there supposedly to act. But they got things so screwed up, that to finish it I had to bring it back to the United States and that’s when I had Paul edit it—that’s how I met Paul. And then I had him do DEATH MACHINES, and he had some guy who wrote the script, and it was just… I don’t know. The poster was great!

    RA: Yeah, the poster is awesome! I thought it was some future movie like DEATH RACE 2000.

    RM: Oh yeah, yeah.

    RA: What made you want to start producing? More control?

    RM: Yeah, that was the thing. If you only act, you come in, do your part, and then you’re gone. People don’t realize actors very seldom work. Probably seventy percent of the time at least, they’re not working. Then when they come in there, if the picture takes a couple months to shoot, or three months—not that any of mine did—the actor isn’t there all that time. You really don’t have any control. They bring you back for any dubbing you have to do or things like that. So I was wanting to get into everything—I’m doing the pre-production, the production, and the post-production. Everything from making noise for the footsteps, making sounds for the hits, things like that.

    So I was involved in it completely and in the sales of it. And I realized if it was going to be successful, I had to keep control of it. And I learned this in the first picture, DEATH MACHINES. I gave it to Crown International, and I learned a lot from that. If you’re going to be successful with this, you have to control it. The movie industry is all an illusion, and they’ll promise you everything, and tell you everything you want to hear. If you think you’re going to make some money on a picture, you better control it yourself. And that was why I able to make as many movies as I did, because I did control it. I knew what type of picture I was making, I knew what I could make, and what I couldn’t.

    You know, so many people talk about making movies—very few ever even start. And out of those that start, the number that finish is really high. But if you can complete it and keep coming back after doing a few, that’s the test of time. That means that you made some money at them. Practically anybody can get enough money to shoot their first picture. Talk to all your friends and acquaintances. Then when it gets done, is it going to make money? Everybody that goes into this thinks, “Oh, I’m going to make my movie, and I’m going to give it to them and they’re going to give me a million dollars!” It doesn’t work like that!

    Jungle WolfRA: This brings us to the JUNGLE WOLF/Steve Parrish films, the films you made leading up to OMEGA COP and KARATE COP. Who was your character, Steve Parrish?

    RM: Steve Parrish was the FORGOTTEN WARRIOR, and that was another experience where a person had me come to the Philippines—I was just hired as an actor. It was actually called YANK CRAZY and he starts as a prisoner of war with him escaping and staying over there. He meets a girl, gets married and has a child. Two guys who were with me in the service who were kind of turncoats came back to find me—not to save me, but to kill me. So, that was FORGOTTEN WARRIOR, and that was the start of the Steve Parrish character.

    RA: After that, did you kind of take over the character with the JUNGLE WOLF movies?

    RM: Yeah, because FORGOTTEN WARRIOR was an overseas production, and they had some problems financially when they were doing it… so, I took it over to finish it. We brought it back to the States and we put it together, and it sold, so then I went in to do JUNGLE WOLF.

    Then in JUNGLE WOLF 2, which was actually the third picture, we had Adam West, who was Batman. We brought him in for a cameo role to help with sales. He was a really nice guy—very polite and very congenial.

    RA: Yeah, everybody pretty much loves Adam West. So, what was KARATE COMMANDO: JUNGLE WOLF 3? Was that part of the series?

    RM: Now that… it depends on where the movie is sold. Distributors, when they buy in their countries, they buy them and change the titles. So it can be real confusing. I think its… KARATE RAIDER..

    RA: So, it sounds like KARATE RAIDER (1995) was actually renamed KARATE COMMANDO: JUNGLE WOLF 3 in some countries?

    RM: It could be, but I don’t know. JUNGLE WOLF 3… I’ve never seen that, but I could tell if I saw a little bit of it.

    FeuBattantRA: You’re wearing the same yellow tank top outfit in the first JUNGLE WOLF as you are in FORGOTTEN WARRIOR – was that just for continuity of character, or were they shot concurrently?

    RM: Yeah, that was the character… that was the identity as I guess you might say.

    RA: To make it easier for audiences in foreign territories to identify Steve Parrish.

    RM: It makes him stick out.

    RA: “Hey cool, it’s the Forgotten Warrior! He’s back!”

    RM: (Laughs)

    RA: Let’s talk about OMEGA COP (1990). I’ve often wondered about this movie – did you have a part in writing the story?

    RM: A little bit, but not a whole lot. I’d come up with the story outline, with what I wanted to see, and somebody would work on the dialogue. I knew what I could do— what we could film and make. I wasn’t going to be able to make a scene where we have six cars crashing on the Golden Gate Bridge or something like that, and it’s just not feasible. I’ve had people that have given me scripts, and that’s what they’d have! They’d have these great car crashes and stuff—they’d say they want to do “action” and that’s what they’d come up with.

    omega_copRA: When we first watched this back in 2007 or so, we thought that John Travis lived in a baseball dugout with a skeleton. Is that where he lived… or where did he live?

    RM: I don’t know where he lived. We never got to that point. Apparently that’s someplace that he knew was a safe haven for when the three of them went there. Why Paul put the skeleton there.. you’d have to ask him. (Laughs).

    RA: What was the situation with the guy that played Wraith? Was his character supposed to be some sort of Village People creep, or was that just personal flair of the actor that played the role?

    RM: Was that.. all right, yeah. Katzakian or something like that—I think his name was in the credits. He didn’t act much, he just did some local stuff around town, and we used him. I don’t know, I think we had a little problem with him speaking.

    RA: He couldn’t deliver a line?

    RM: Well, they couldn’t understand him. So that’s why, if you notice in that group, it was the other guy, the shorter guy who did all the dialogue and he was all hyped up… he was his henchman.

    Ninja-WarriorsRA: Now I’m going to say some of your film titles, and you tell me what you remember about them:

    —NINJA WARRIOR (1978)

    RM: Made in the Philippines.. it’s dubbed completely. We did post-production in Hong Kong during the ninja craze, and it’s ironic that quite a few people seem to like it just because it was a ninja-type film.

    —KARATE COP (1991)

    RM: KARATE COP, yes. That’s probably one of the better ones of the ones that I’ve done. I think it had more things going on that made a little sense—it’s got a story and you can kind of follow it along. The ones that I liked best would be KARATE COP and JUNGLE WOLF.


    RM: (Laughs) ARCTIC WARRIORS is one of those pictures—I think the Germans maybe dubbed it and changed the title. That might be FORGOTTEN WARRIOR.

    RA: Your last film was KARATE RAIDER (1995), which you also directed, at least partly. Why did you ultimately decide to let this film be your swan song and leave the business?

    RM: The market was changing, up to that point. With the video thing I just kind of saw the writing on the wall. It was getting harder to get distribution for the films. The VHS business, as you could tell by what happened with most of the big video houses, was just changing. I just decided that it wasn’t fun anymore.

    RA: One great thing about KARATE RAIDER is the presence of Burt Ward. You’ve been in movies with both Batman and Robin! That’s pretty cool.

    RM: Yeah! Burt was a really, really great guy, too. And it’s funny, when I first met him, he came to set and he goes, “I used to follow you all the time when you were you fighting in the 70s!” (Laughs).

    bluediamondRA: What did you do after you retired from the movie business?

    RM: My wife’s family is into farming, agribusiness. Even though I was doing movies from the 70s on, during the summer months I would sell onions, on the telephone and stuff. And then I ended up kind of managing the business in the 90s. Then we switched and made a transition into almonds. So now what we do is we just grow almonds. Have you ever heard of Blue Diamond almonds?

    RA: Do they sell them at Fred Meyer and Safeway and places like that?

    RM: Oh yeah, everywhere!

    And I wrote books all through that time too. Martial arts books: Power Training for Kung-Fu and Karate, Advanced Power Training, and The Ultimate Martial Art 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    marchini_blackbeltRA: Whoa, cool! I didn’t know that. This seems like a good segue to talk a bit about your illustrious martial arts career. How did you get interested in competitive martial arts?

    RM: Well, I started martial arts in August of 1964, and very few people were involved in it then. There were a few judo dojos and stuff like that, but there wasn’t kung-fu stuff and there weren’t many karate schools, if any, around. A guy came back from the service and he became the sheriff, and he had trained in Japan and started teaching a couple nights a week. I went over there and tried it, and I just liked it. And after I competed in my first tournament, I won first place and grand champion, and it kind of went on from then.

    RA: You had a lot of success as a fighter – in 1969 you were ranked No. 1 competitor in the United States.

    RM: Yes, Black Belt Magazine. 1969, and then again in 1970. In 1968 I was ranked 3rd in the magazines. In the Black Belt Magazine yearbooks they would come out with listings of the top fighters in Europe, the top fighters in the U.S., and the top fighters in Asia.

    RA: What do you think gave you the competitive edge? One thing I read in Black Belt was that you’re 5’8”, so maybe with your compact frame you could be quicker than your opponent.

    RM: Yeah, I think maybe what helped was a good sense of distancing—you know, the distance between competitors and being able to close the distance and separate the distance. My timing I guess was pretty good. Because yeah—it definitely wasn’t my size! (Laughs).

    RA: I read that the only opponent who gave you trouble was Chuck Norris. What was it like competing against him?

    RM: Yeah, that was just one of those things. He was probably my nemesis. Even though he was a great guy, we got along fine and stuff. In 1966 at an all-star tournament I lost by half a point.

    RA: To Chuck Norris?

    RM: Yeah, for the grand champion.

    RA: Was all of his body hair distracting?

    RM: (Laughs). No, he had on his gi, his uniform. Chuck was very congenial person, and he was a good sport.

    RA: The landscape of competitive martial arts has changed a lot since you were competing. Mixed martial arts competitions are incredibly popular and many of the top competitors train in multiple arts–especially grappling arts like wrestling, judo, and jiu-jitsu. If you were actively competing in the martial arts world today, would you maintain a pure karate background or would you cross-train in other disciplines?

    RM: First of all, I trained in Judo also, before people were even talking about that, doing mixed martial arts. And a lot of the guys—Chuck did Judo, a lot of them. Then it came with the jiu-jitsu… mixed martial arts, that’s a money-making thing. That’s why they’re pushing that.

    But no, I’d still do the same things. It is different, definitely. I mean there’s traditional martial arts and then there’s this mixed martial arts… it’s significant too that we were doing it on hardwood floors and they’re doing it on matts, so it’s a spongier thing, and you don’t see as much kicking because you’re trying to get them down.

    RA: Okay Ron, one last question. In the 80s and 90s many action and martial arts stars had workout tapes. David Carradine made tons of them. Did you ever consider making one of these?

    RM: (Laughs) Well, we shot some stuff for local television, but that was live. I did some with my wife. But we never considered doing actual workout tapes, not so much.

    RA: Well, that was probably my most pressing question, and that about wraps it up for me. Thanks Ron!

    RM: All right. Hey, thank you!


    Special thanks to Paul Kyriazi for helping make this interview happen.