MAIM 6/08

We first met Marko Zaror some columns ago when he burst on the international scene in Kiltro – the first “Southern.” In America, there’s the “Western,” where cowboys fight Native Americans, banditos, and each other. But in Chile, where Marko was born and raised, there were no homegrown heroes … until he and childhood friend Ernesto Diaz Espinoza created them – first with what has been called a “kung-fu spaghetti western,” but now with their demented follow-up Mirageman, a fun house mirror martial art refraction of Batman Begins.
But in between was quite an action odyssey for the ripped actor. “I was born in Santiago, Chile,” he told me. “My mother was a karate teacher, and that’s where I started learning martial arts.” But despite acquiring a second degree black belt by the time he was a teenager, his galvanizing inspiration was the man who introduced kung fu to more people than any other: Bruce Lee.
So even though Marko won both the Chilean National Championship in karate and a gold medal in tae kwon do by the time he was eighteen, he made the choice to follow his movie muse than continue working with the Chilean National Team. But there weren’t a lot of studio doors open for a South American teenager with a tenuous grip on English. So Marko’s road started just a bit north.
“I went to Mexico and started work as an actor and stuntman. It was crazy.” So crazy, in fact, that he gained about as much success as a model than he did as a movie man. But he never lost his passion for martial arts, winning first place in the Mexican Open Tournament before making the fateful decision to try his luck in L.A. There, he paid the rent with dishwashing and waitering while working toward his big break.
It kind of came when he met Andy Cheng, a member of Jackie Chan’s stuntman team, and an up-and-coming Hollywood action choreographer. He took one look at Marko’s brooding, hulking demeanor and thought he’d be a perfect stand-in and stuntman for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in The Rundown (2003). Zaror’s work on that film led to his winning of the 2004 Stuntman of the Year Award, and renewed tinseltown interest.
Finally he got Hollywood’s attention … which he brought all the way back to his hometown. “Rather than be a small fish in a big pond,” he mused, “we decided to create South American heroes.” Teaming with producer Derek Rundell of Mandrill Films, Marko and Ernesto started from scratch. “We built a team of about fourteen stuntmen from hundreds of people who showed up to audition,” Zaror recalls. “One guy wanted to prove himself so much that he lifted a table and started swinging it around.”
But Mandrill was looking for more than muscleman. They needed people who knew how to throw and take punches without getting hurt…too much. “Our work is part choreographed, part improvised,” Marko explained. “We know generally how the fight is going to go, but we leave room for realism.” In fact, it’s clear in both Kiltro and Mirageman that some things are great stunts, and some things just happened. “There’s a moment in Mirageman where you can see that the kick and reaction is completely real. Thankfully no one got really hurt.”
You can see for yourself when Magnolia Home Entertainment releases Mirageman on DVD this fall. While Kiltro, which Magnolia released earlier this year, was more of a classic action thriller, Mirageman has been called a combination of Batman and Taxi Driver(!) It is filled with butt-kicking, but also pathos, social satire, media criticism, humor, and even tragedy in the tale of a traumatized martial artist who takes to the streets so innocents don’t have to suffer what he did. Like Bruce Wayne, his parents were killed by crime, but unlike him, the leading character, Maco, is not a millionaire. So how does a poor man become a costumed superhero. With wit, pain, and determination, apparently.
You can see it all in Mirageman, a daring take on the superhero mythos, and you can keep an eye out for Marko Zaror, who wants these two pioneering films to be only the beginning.