For many, these would be clues to a “Heads Up!” game on animals or guesses to a badly acted-out round of Charades. But for others familiar with watching tv on Saturday afternoons in the New York tri-state area during the 1980s, it can only mean three words:
Along with the phrase “Your kung fu may be good but mine is better” (in one variation or another), punches that resonated with a loud crack, and words that did not match the moving lips of those on the screen; all these are familiar to the aficionados of WNEW’s “Drive-In Movie”.
It is also one that Roselle Park Jeof Vita feels right at home with – and he has an ever-growing successful online show to prove it.
The “Kung Fu Drive-In” podcast started as Jeof’s (pronounced Jeff) brainchild in February of 2016. Two-and-a-half years and going on 80 episodes later, what started out as a martial arts movie fan sharing his insight and memories with other fans has become a well-respected popular show that has had actors, stuntmen & women, directors, stunt coordinators, fight choreographers, martial artists, and martial arts legends – just to name a few – take time to talk with Jeof.
“I grew up in Newark, New Jersey and I was raised on a steady diet of ‘The Saturday Afternoon Drive-In Movie'”, Jeof said in his initial podcast 30 months ago. As with many boys (and men) who saw and were entranced by martial arts movies, Jeof wanted to learn kung fu. So he asked his parents to take him to a school that would make him the sixth venom.
“I took Taekwondo for 20… 25… minutes total in my lifetime,” Jeof recalled, “After that one class, I wasn’t running around flying and blowing candles out with the wave of my fist or sticking to walls or balancing on the tips of my fingers so that’s the extent of my martial arts knowledge.”
More on that later.
But even though Jeof did not end up progressing through the 36 chambers of the Shaolin temple, martial arts was still a big part of his life.
Cut to the age of the Internet and the resurgence of martial arts movies. Nowadays they are called action movies but just looking at film series such as Mission: Impossible or the Bourne series or John Wick or Star Wars, and they all use martial arts. The list goes on and includes mainstream hits like The Matrix, Black Panther, The Raid, Marvel Avengers, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Kill Bill, Creed, and pretty much any zombie movie. Even noted legendary directors such as John Carpenter with “Big Trouble In Little China” to William Friedkin’s “The Hunted” to Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to Quentin Tarantino with “Kill Bill” to Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai” have all made martial arts films.
Jeof talked about how things started to take shape with his podcast surprisingly quickly, “I had hoped to connect with just a few other fans . . . but when the show gained traction that first month I started to test the waters and see what I could do. The first interview that I landed was with Graham Earnshaw who was one of the original 70s voice dub directors. It was great to hear his take on things from behind the scenes and his great insights on the whole process. Once I got that I was, ‘Well, If I can do that…'”
From there Jeof started reaching out to actors. He recalled, “It just kept happening. Nobody said stop.”
As interviews kept coming, Jeof was introduced to more people that he realized were doing things in films that he already enjoyed.
“The [people] that I have talked to, the thing that makes it so interesting is because they’re so enthusiastic about what they do. That’s always fun,” Jeof remarked, “When they’re so into what they’re studying and what they’re doing on-screen and how that whole process goes, it’s fun to hear about all that.”
Jeof still has that fan inside of him excited to talk with people he admires but he also understands that he has to keep the podcast going and dedicates the time to do it. A family man with a full-time job, Jeof works around his home and work life to call people up, set up interviews, record them, edit the pieces, review them, and produce them for the public. Sometimes it means waking up early on a weekend to talk to people in a different time zone, a lot of the time it means staying up past 11 at night so as not to interfere with being a husband and father. But the bug has spread and Jeof spoke of his oldest wanted to start a podcast of their own.
Jeof will tell you with this he is always a fan first. Among interviews that he still longs to do are with Michael Jai White and Jackie Chan. As far as memorable fight scenes, he pauses before running through new and classic choreographed fighting from Enter The Dragon, the kitchen fight scene from The Raid 2: Berandal, Fists Of Fury, and Game Of Death. He added, “One of the ones I also go back to is one of the classic Shaw Brothers films ‘The Crippled Avengers’ (also known as ‘The Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms’). The whole end fight where the rings come into play. It’s super dynamic and such a fast-paced scene and these guys are jumping through hoops . . . It’s so good. I’ll watch that scene over and over again.”
And as for Jeof and having taken only one Taekwondo class all those years ago?
“I have started taking up martial arts,” Jeof remarked smiling, “I have to put my money where my mouth is now. After talking to a lot of these guys, they were like ‘You can do it. Anybody can do it at any time.’ Well, I’m 46. Why not?”
He is taking a hybrid system which includes Escrima, a personal favorite of Jeof’s. He is training with his family and has come to appreciate even more the focus and dedication required to bring it all to the screen. Jeof has no plans to blow out any candles with the wave of his fists.
The plans for Kung Fu Drive-In podcast, however, are expanding. Already having been featured in Black Belt Magazine, Jeof is looking into incorporating video or starting a video channel and will try to include interviews with actual martial arts school instructors so the men and women who train the people on-screen and behind-the-scenes can give their insights to the reality and training in martial arts.
Coming up on November 10th & 11th, Jeof and his Kung Fu Drive-In podcast will be in Times Square as part of the Urban Action Showcase & Expo (link).
Yes, that Times Square.
“I don’t know exactly what will be going on in terms of my involvement but I’ll be there all day Saturday running around interviewing anybody that I can,” Jeof said, excited about being in the middle of Manhattan doing what he loves and meeting even more actors, stunt coordinators, directors, and others including legend martial artist and actor Lo Mang from . . . you guessed it . . . The Five Deadly Venoms.
“One evening I say I’m going to do a podcast and then I’m in Times Square,” Jeof relayed about his journey so far. He recapped it all by reflecting on its beginnings, “I get a lot of opportunities to talk to actors and writers and directors . . . This from a show where I was just talking about all the kung fu movies that I liked.”
So sit back, put on your headphones, catch up, and enjoy. It is well worth it.