Features Interviews

Love 1980s Action Films? You’ll Want to Check Out ‘Commando Ninja’

It’s already nearly doubled its goal with 25 hours left, but that’s no reason to not get in on Commando Ninja, a comedic homage to 1980s action films. Benjamin Combes, the French director behind the film, and his team appear to do what the French do best: take American Cheese and turn it into something much cooler. He takes the cheese in American machismo and makes it something interesting.

The film’s post-modernist, art-eats-art disposition also extends to nostalgia for nostalgia — there are references to recent ‘80s-inspired films such as Turbo Kid and Kung Fury. All in all, it seems like a fun ride.  

Vehlinggo interviewed the Montpellier, France-based Combes briefly during the sunset hours of the Kickstarter campaign, which has raised more than $34,000 from a global array of fans of brawny ‘80s “action hero” films, like Commando, Rambo, and the films of Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The soundtrack has also drawn interest from synthwave fans, because it includes contributions from the likes of the inimitable OGRE and composer Thomas Cappeau. (Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and house style.)

I saw the Commando Ninja trailer and was impressed. Do you have a background in filmmaking?

I’ve been working for eight years as a video editor and director in the video games industry, on brands like Assassin’s Creed, Tom Clancy, and more recently, Mario. Before that I worked for two years on various video productions: documentaries, sports, fiction, etc.

I began shooting short films in my free time at 15. Then five years ago we began a partnership with Machinima.com to create fan films based on video games. It was the era that introduced Freddie Wong, Corridor Digital, and people like Nukazooka.

commando ninja interview
Cécile Fargues plays the main character’s ex-wife.

How’d you come up with the idea for this film? And what is it about the ‘80s that you like?

The project came to life seven years ago. I began to have that idea of making my tribute to the ‘80s action heroes — for which I have had an obsession since childhood. I shot some tests with friends, but didn’t have the skills yet.

Then Drive (2011), Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (2013), and Kung Fury and Turbo Kid (both 2015) dropped. The ‘80s comeback era was here. I met Eric Carlesi, our main actor, and listened to OGRE’s awesome soundtracks. Everything was here to start the movie!

What I like about the ‘80s is that, for me, movies didn’t take themselves as seriously as today. Cinema was more about entertainment. Movies were about “real-life” heroes, and not superheroes. Cartoons were adult, and wonderfully drawn and animated. In general, I think the ‘70s/’80s were a really great time for the people who lived at that time, and you can feel that in movies, music, and art, in general. It was also a great time for creativity, and, of course, it was the time when I grew up — with my Amstrad [computer] and my Ninja Turtles!

Commando Ninja
‘Commando Ninja’ star Eric Carlesi

How did you choose the musicians for this film? OGRE has a track on the soundtrack, as do synth artists Cobra Copter and Flash Arnold, along with composer Thomas Cappeau. What is it about the music that inspires you and works so well with your vision?  

When I first listened to [OGRE’s 2014 album 195], I immediately told myself: OK, now I can do this movie with this guy. This really was a big part of the project’s feasibility, and fits perfectly with my vision. He basically created a fake soundtrack from a non-existing ‘80s action movie, and I thought, Let’s ask this guy if we can do this non-existing movie.

After that, we had to choose some tracks from other artists, and of course we found our great original composer, Thomas Cappeau, who composed [score cues] for more specific scenes.

I see that you’ve shot the film already — I think you said on your Kickstarter page that you have enough footage for a 45-minute film. What will you use the Kickstarter money for?

We are basically in the same setup as Kung Fury: 70 percent of the movie is already shot. The money will be used to shoot the last expensive scenes, pay actors and the team, and mostly to pay for the post-production (sound design, music, some VFX, color correction, etc.)

We will also have enough money to deepen the Commando Ninja universe, with stuff like a comic book prequel. And, of course, make all the rewards, and get our project on physical media.

What do you ultimately want for the film — a fully-funded short or an eventual full-length feature? Perhaps Kung Fury-esque recognition and distribution?

At first, we want to finish that 45-minute short film. If we go for a full-length feature, the movie will never release in the next two years. All of the team has full-time jobs, and want to see the movie finished in 2018! Also, the script for the sequel would be too expensive/impossible to make with an indie budget and non-full-time actors and crew.

We also really have a cross-media vision: We hope to be able to make the sequel as a retro video game.

Kung Fury was so great, I can’t even imagine having their recognition, and I think our movie doesn’t target the same huge audience. It’s more manly, and more for hardcore ‘80s action fans!

Which synthwave artists are on your regular listening playlists?

Hard to say, because I really listen a lot of different artists! I listen the more recents tracks for all synthwave artists, but have no preferences. I love [the website] Drive Radio, because they do really nice and up-to-date playlists.

When I’m doing SFX on Adobe After Effects, I love to listen to Carpenter Brut. When i’m writing, I listen more quiet songs.

Some artists I like are Mitch Murder, OGRE, Flash Arnold, Cobra Copter, Perturbator, Power Glove, Le Matos, Dynatron, and Meteor.

You can help fund the project and get some cool rewards, or just learn more about it and its creative team, over at the Commando Ninja Kickstarter page.


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