By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Very few folks grow up with not one, but two martial arts experts for parents. But for Mark Dacascos, who excels on the workout floor, as well as on the silver screen, that was all simply part of growing up.
The martial arts and film star, playing opposite of Chinese Hawaiian Keanu Reeves, starring as the villain “Zero” in the recently-released “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” remembers a childhood loaded with workouts.
“My father, Al Dacascos, the founder of Wun-Hop-Kuen-Do Kung-Fu, taught my stepmother, Malia Bernal (Dacascos). Both of them were my first martial arts teachers. I was told that I started playing around with martial movements when I was 4, but started formal training with them at age 6.
“I fought in semi-contact tournaments for almost years, from 6 years old until 18. My parents were both champions, and they had very high standards… In addition to evening group classes at our Kung-Fu Academy, my mother ran and stretched with me every day before going to my academic school, 2-3 mile run in the forest, stretch, do the splits, etc.”
The future media sensation grew up in Hawaii, which he remembers, aside from all the workouts, as a delightful panoply of beaches, ocean, fishing with his grandparents, and family on all sides. A sense of self-identity proved a bit more difficult, however, especially when he left Hawaii for Colorado and later Germany, when still quite young.
Dacascos knew from an early age that he possessed Filipino, Chinese, and Spanish blood on his father’s side, plus Irish and Japanese blood from his mother’s side. But he learned through a recent DNA test that he also boasts Thai and Korean ancestry, even a smidge of Scandinavian in the mix.
“I’m even more mixed up than I thought!” he laughs. On a more serious note, he loves all of his Asian ethnicities. “The cuisines from all of those cultures are delicious to me.”
At age 18, he returned to American soil, living in San Francisco. Walking to lunch one day, he was approached by two men asking if he’d be interested in auditioning for a movie. He’d never acted, and told the men, “No thanks.” But he accepted their business cards, as a courtesy.
“Later that day, I told my mom about it,” Dacascos remembered. “She told me I should give them a call, give it a shot, that life is a big adventure and that you don’t know if you don’t try.”
The two men worked for Hong Kong-born director Wayne Wang, who was shooting a movie called “Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart.” Dacascos’ scenes for the film ended up on the cutting-room floor, but that didn’t matter much to him. He’d discovered his second great passion.
“The focus and discipline I need to have in martial arts is the same focus and discipline I need in acting,” he said. “As a martial artist, I train my whole body to be fit to fight. That fitness is necessary as an actor as well. Breathing properly, deep and full, being grounded and feeling my feet on the ground, being present, releasing any unnecessary tension, this is what I need when I practice martial arts and when I’m acting.”
“One of the major differences between martial arts and acting is when I make a mistake in martial arts, I usually get hit by my opponent. Fortunately, that is not usually the case in acting. The other difference is that acting usually involves speaking. Practicing martial arts usually doesn’t.”
Dacascos is full of praise for his “John Wick 3” co-star Keanu Reeves, and the director, Chad Stahelski. He’s also gearing up for a new Netflix series called “Wu Assassins,” where he’ll co-star alongside Katheryn Winnick and Iko Uwais.
Dacascos has three children and he says he wants to help them “find their own wings,” and keep working on his voice training. He’s always loved Shakespeare and wants to perform as much of the Bard as possible.
When asked if he’s ever visited our city, he allowed “just a day at a time. I can’t remember any particular spots I went to, but I do recall walking around thinking this city is beautiful and I’d sure like to come back.”
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.