While actor Henry Golding may have snagged the eponymous role of Snake Eyes, dedicated martial artists are well represented in the latest installation of the G.I. Joe franchise, with Warrior’s Andrew Koji and The Raid’s Iko Uwais playing Storm Shadow and Hard Master, respectively. (Although Golding did spend four hours a day learning sword skills for the role.)
Uwais, who is from Jakarta, has a particularly impressive background in silat, the indigenous martial art of Indonesia. Discovered by director Gareth Evans, who was making a documentary about silat, Uwais quit his job as a driver for a telecom company when Evans offered him the starring role in a new movie. While their first collaboration had film festival success, their second film together, The Raid (2012), proved to be a breakout role for Uwais. Not just a martial artist turned actor, his abilities as a stuntman and fight choreographer are legendary within the business.
By contrast, Koji has pursued an acting career from a young age, while simultaneously studying martial arts. Born in England, he studied taekwondo a well as Shaolin kung fu at the Shaolin Temple in the UK, while also performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, the work he was getting in front of the camera was frequently stunt work, sometimes with big budget action movies, like Fast & Furious 6. Often discouraged by the lack of roles for Asian men, Koji’s hard work finally paid off when he was cast in Warrior (2019). That Cinemax show led to both Snake Eyes and the upcoming Bullet Train with Brad Pitt.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a guy who worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Koji was not exacty stoked at the prospect of performing in a giant toy commercial. “That’s a big studio film and my first role in a big studio film, so I was very hesitant because I didn’t have that trust in Hollywood to do that. What Warrior taught me and the voice that it gave me helped my work on Storm Shadow. I don’t wanna play a character with a six-pack,” Koji told Collider. “So, when I spoke with the director (Robert Schwentke) about that I said, ‘If I’m gonna play him, I have to do my research into Japanese culture and embrace that.’”
The character of Snake Eyes was previously played by Ray Park, but Asian American writer Larry Hama wanted to go in a different direction for this origin story, and created a new backstory that featured a biracial Snake Eyes. Star Henry Golding is half Malaysian and half English, reflecting the new history behind Snake Eyes.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is one of four 2021 Paramount movies deemed too important to go to smaller screens immediately. (The other three are A Quiet Place: Part 2, Top Gun: Maverick, and Mission: Impossible 7.) It will hit theaters July 23.
About the author