'Wolf' could be Hawai'i actor's breakthrough film
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
Mark Dacascos, a Hawai'i-born actor with supreme martial arts skills, has a strong bond with the Islands.
Mark Dacascos, star of "Brotherhood of the Wolf," was born in Hawai'i and lived in Kalihi and McCully as a child.
He loves Spam and rice, adores surfing on the North Shore, got married on Lana'i four years ago, and moved back home so that his son, Makoalani (meaning Heavenly Brave), could be born at Wahiawa General Hospital. He parties at Alan Wong's and stocks Sam Choy's wasabi dressing at his California home.
He lived in Paris and Hamburg as a youth and speaks French and German.
Dacascos co-stars in a just-released French movie, "Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups)," in which his prowess as a martial arts wizard and cosmopolitan good looks are attracting attention. This could emerge as his breakthrough film.
"I play a Mohawk Indian, a character named Mani, and I was initially concerned, portraying a Native American," Dacascos said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "It could have become a casting issue. But, everything considered, the project needed someone who could speak French and learn the Mohawk language, which I did. Mani also had to have that physical dexterity, and I hope I portrayed him with dignity, respect, and truth ... to justify the fact that I am not a Native American.
"The film was screened for Indian tribes in Canada, and they were enthusiastic. So the hard work paid off."
Though he has completed 15 films since 1985, Dacascos is not a household name.
He was born in Hawai'i and lived in Kalihi and McCully until he was 6; he was raised by his grandmother because his parents divorced.
His father, from Kalihi Valley, was a kung fu teacher. "So I grew up with martial arts," he said.
His mom, Mariko McVay, remains in Hawai'i and works at Straub Hospital.
"My connection to Hawai'i remains strong," said Dacascos, who was here last month, surfing.
He spent his formative years, from 9 to 18, in Europe, winning laurels in martial arts and becoming fluent in German and French.
"I had to brush up my French for the movie," Dacascos said.
"Brotherhood" is directed by Frenchman Christophe Gans, who hired Dacascos for the title role in his 1995 film, "Crying Freeman."
"Fortunately for me, Gans had me in mind when he was writing 'Brotherhood,' " said Dacascos.
No one saw him in his first movie, "Dim Sum," circa 1985. As he tells it: "I was walking through San Francisco's Chinatown, back in the '80s, and two guys approached me for a job. I declined, but went for it a couple of days later.
"One of the guys turned out to be Chris Lee, who is from Hawai'i (he went on to emerge as a producer of such works as "Final Fantasy"). Lee was an assistant on ("Dim Sum"), and I played Joan Chen's boyfriend. ... But I wound up on the cutting room floor.
"Interestingly, it was Jeff Lee, Chris' brother, who taught me how to surf."
Working on a French film was an eye-opener.
"The French take their time; they love their art; when they don't work, they relax," Dacascos said. "With Americans, work and life are two different things, and with the Chinese, it's all about work. If I had my way, the French way is the way to go."
Philip Kwok, a Hong Kong stunt coordinator who choreographed the John Woo film "Hard-Boiled," choreographed the Mani figure using elements of Chinese kung fu.
"I had to drop my instincts as a martial arts person, and find Mani's," Dacascos said.
The Mani character is a sole survivor of the French-Indian wars, straight out of a video game but with roots in 18th-century France. The tale is derived from a French legend dealing with an elusive beast and how its menacing ways are curtailed.
In March, Dacascos starts on a kung fu feature, as yet untitled, with Jet Li. Joe Silver ("The Matrix") directs for Warner Bros.