Ex-Commando Is Now An Action Hero In Award-Winning Short Film "Deadlock"
STORY: Nicholas Yong
05 November 2021
The last time we traded blows with Jonathan Cheong, he had only just ORD-ed from National Service, shot seven films and kick-started Raging Fire Productions, his very own production company.
If you haven’t seen the 24-year-old in action, watch his legit moves in this Star Wars fan film.
Since then, he’s only gone and punched in another new film, “Deadlock”.
In “Deadlock”, a hitman is faced with an impossible choice between saving the one he loves and betraying his closest confidante. Wah seh, confirm must watch this film when it releases online next year.
The #madeinSG action flick - which has a dope theme song and MV by local rapper FRGN featuring hip-hop artist Charles ENERO - has officially been selected for seven international film festivals (in Spain, the US and the UK), and won three awards at the World Film Carnival Singapore including Outstanding Crime Film, Best Outstanding Director for Samuel Delitans Lee, and Best Actor for Jonathan, who plays the lead in “Deadlock”.
Once again we square up with the 24-year-old action choreographer, martial arts actor, and film producer in round 2, discussing how “Deadlock” came to be (and the challenges of filming during a pandemic, no less!) as well as kicking out of a “creative deadlock”.
Also, we asked whether he has anything to do with his hero Donnie Yen starring in a new action movie named after Raging Fire Productions 🤔 (that can’t be a coincidence… right?).
"Deadlock" clinched three World Film Carnival Singapore awards (including one for you as Best Actor and one for director Samuel). Massive congratulations! How did the idea for the film come about? And tell us about Joe, the protagonist you play.
As a huge action fan myself, I notice that most action films thrive on the action sequence, choreography, or even big budget stunts to "sell" the film itself. Rather than just making another "typical cliche" action film which I have done many varieties of for about 4 years+ (before “Deadlock”), I explored "why the fight must happen". So I went with the idea of "dilemma" and "grey area".
With "dilemma", I personally believe that no single decision is going to be perfect. Something has to be sacrificed for another to take its place! With that thought, I created a scenario where Joe (the protagonist of "Deadlock") had to make a painful choice - just like us when we are faced with some form of dilemma at certain points in our lives.
With "grey area", I believe that everyone has a "villainous and heroic side" to us. Different circumstances force us to pivot to either side depending on our choices, and react differently.
In Joe's case, I did not want to create this typical "noble action hero" sort of character. I wanted him to have flaws - almost like an "anti-hero". Like any of us, he is not perfect.
What were some of the key challenges in making “Deadlock”?
One of the key issues was having to deal with the pandemic. "Deadlock" was scheduled to film in May 2020. However the "Circuit Breaker" was implemented in April that year, and only ended in June. Filming had to be pushed back, and the cast and crew had to adjust to a "new normal" by having Zoom meetings with Samuel and myself. It was truly a challenge for us.
What’s the biggest life lesson in “Deadlock” that has had an impact on you?
That no one or no decision is fully perfect. Every human being, every decision made, every step we take etc. will not be able to satisfy everyone nor everything. Some things have to be sacrificed or some people might get upset with whatever decision made or things you do. Ultimately, follow your heart and do what's best for yourself.
Writers sometimes get writer’s block and don’t know how to move forward. As a stunt choreographer and film producer, do you ever find yourself caught in a “creative deadlock”? Like, not being able to choreograph an inspired fight sequence, for instance. How do you get over it?
I think any artist will face some “blocks" at various points in their creative process, so I definitely have had many of those "deadlock” moments. How I usually get over it is that I don't ponder too much about it. The moment I get stuck somewhere, I divert my attention elsewhere for the time being.
Getting a "creative block" to me is like a signal that "it's time to take a break". So when I take a break, I refresh my mind, see new things and come back to it. Usually when I do so, it works well for me because the brain is "made to relax". Once it does, it takes in new information and is inspired much more easily.
We understand that you served NS as a Commando. Wah seh! Did your experience there inspire you or your martial arts career in any way?
Being in the Commandos taught me how to never give up easily when the odds are against you. As a person who is severely afraid of heights, one of my most memorable achievements in the Commandos was jumping out of a flying aircraft. [The whole experience] strengthened my perseverance and willpower. It has motivated me to never give up on my dreams easily, and this has indirectly impacted my career in a positive way.
Ok, a fun bo liao question: Do you think Donnie Yen was inspired by your production company, Raging Fire Productions to star in the movie, “Raging Fire”?
Haha! I wish I could say that's true because it would be such a great honour. Donnie Yen is my biggest role model, inspiration, and hero. He is one of the biggest reasons why I started this career back then as I aspired to be someone like him!
I named my production "Raging Fire" back in 2015 when I first started it, so you could imagine the amount of "nerdgasm" in me when the movie was first announced. Having a cop action movie starring your idol that is named after your production? Nothing gets better than that.
As someone who loves Hong Kong police movies, and who looks up to Donnie Yen so much, this movie is everything to me! It's like a gift from God, and it's like all the stars were aligned - I watched the movie 6 times!
Truly hope that I will be able to work with him one day, and thank him for changing my life - for giving me a purpose to live each day with meaning, and for inspiring me to chase my dreams.