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LBP Stunts Chicago’s Emmanuel Manzanares: A Crazy Man

By Lindsey Howald Patton
Originally published on DIYFilm.com, January 16, 2012

Emmanuel Manzanares is a killing machine.

In Yo Soy un Hombre Loco (literally, “I Am a Crazy Man”), the martial arts film short that intrigued audiences this year at the Action on Film International Film Festival in Pasadena, Cali., and the Chicago Filipino American Film Festival, Manzanares stands on a dock surrounded by a pond, low buildings and bleached grass. He does not smile. He walks toward his enemy. Everything moves in slow motion and the only sound is a series of low, sad piano notes. Then time speeds up and he is running at his enemy; he is a flurry of movement and grimaces—whoosh, thud, splatch—all kicks and chops and punches. Blood splashes.

He beats the hell out of his enemy.

In an earlier training montage in the film, Manzanares does fingertip push-ups on a kitchen floor and punches the air. To be number one, I have to become number one, says a voiceover in Spanish. A violin prickles in the background. Today is the day I will kill him. I am a crazy man.

In an interview, however, Manzanares is remarkably sane. He is articulate, gentle, quick to laugh—not at all like the silent, unrelenting character he plays in Hombre Loco. A martial arts stunt performer based here in Chicago and founding member of LBP Stunts, Manzanares produced and edited the roughly 11-minute short, which was directed by Vladislav Rimburg. While Manzanares’s stunt reel contains some scenes that look seriously low budget, Yo Soy un Hombre Loco is haunting, highly stylized, artistic. The short has been nominated for four awards and brought home two from Action on Film: Best Fight Choreography and Best Martial Arts Action Sequence.

A “Mexican Jackie Chan”

Growing up, Manzanares was obsessed with Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films. “Back then I wanted to be like a Mexican Jackie Chan,” he says, and laughs. “Which sounds really funny now. I wanted to fight a bunch of guys and look cool.”

That early love of formal fighting—an interest most kids take on and promptly give up the way they do with, say, piano lessons—was partly inherited. At the age of five or six, Manzanares’s uncle and grandfather—who lived with him and his mother in the north Chicago neighborhood Rogers Park—began to teach him the boxing skills traditionally passed down through his family for generations.

“My family was more or less a line of boxers through all the males,” Manzanares explains. “My great-grandfather”—Fortino Manzanares—“was a prize fighter back in Mexico. There, back in the 30s, if you weren’t working in a factory or working-class labor job you did something physical. That could mean baseball, but boxing was also really popular.”

Over the years Manzanares also trained with a number of martial arts masters, formally and informally, and has accumulated skills in karate, Thai kickboxing, aikido and several types of kung fu. With several high school friends he started LPB Stunts—the acronym stands for Lazy Brown Productions, a play on the nationalities of those founding members who were, respectively, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese and Cambodian.

LBP Stunts grew from student home movies to real film work. There are roughly 11 performers on the LBP Stunts team today, all of whom joined in 2007 or after. Shawn Bernal, who played the eccentric enemy Manzanares battled down in Yo Soy un Hombre Loco, is a member; the roster also includes Justin Strack, who served in South Korea in the Marine Corps during the Iraq War; Brendon Huor, Mickey Facchinello and Nate Hitpas, the three members of the Naperville-based performance team Sideswipe; Alex Meglei, Cody Beltramo and Alex Hashioka, all of whom Manzanares met while training in Parkour; Keith Min; and Jessie Bayani.

The team isn’t just an extension of the brotherhood culture the martial arts tend to cultivate, but also essential to stunt performer careerists. “The best way to stay on top or have a better chance of being in a stunt coordinator’s list of go-to guys and gals is to have a wide variety of skills,” Manzanares says. LBP Stunts does more than fights—itself a broad category that can be broken down into subcategories like military fights, street fights or brawls, boxing, wrestling—but also “wire work, acrobatics, Parkour and freerunning, weapon work, motion capture,” Manzanares says.

He has been pursuing this work seriously for four or five years now and still hasn’t quit his retail day job, but says he knows it’s a game of who-you-know being played out in a bad economy and is still building a foundation. He also possesses the relentless optimism all people who last in the film industry for longer than a daydream seem to have. “I’ve been lucky to work when I do work, and I really enjoy it,” he says.

Real Fighting vs. Film Fighting

In the movies, a fight can make a graceful kind of dance–The Matrix and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series spring to mind. “It’s art,” says Manzanares, who majored in theater at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “It’s performance.”

Not to be confused with a real fight, however. “Fighting is messy,” Manzanares says, somewhat surprisingly with a definite shudder in his voice. Rogers Park wasn’t the best neighborhood for a kid when Manzanares lived there, and part of the reason his mother supported his boxing and martial arts training was in hopes he would be able to avoid a street fight. This—although the defensive maneuvers and street smarts helped somewhat—wasn’t always possible. It is therefore from personal experience that Manzanares says real fighting “is not pretty. It’s scary. Generally, when people ask me, ‘What should I do in a fight?’ I’m like, ‘Well, you should run. If you can get out of the situation unharmed, you’re the smart person. Even if you know how to defend yourself. This is not a movie, and it’s never going to be a movie. … Even if you’re trained, you’re going to bite and scratch and claw and throw whatever works at them. It’s easy for someone in a film to fight three bad guys at once. But if you look up a real street fight on YouTube and it looks weird and messy and stupid, that’s because that’s what it is.”

Even a professional can forget everything he knows in the heat of a moment. And savvy street fighters don’t necessarily make the best fight performers, either. Some guys come in and say, “‘Fighting is no big deal. I can throw a punch, I can throw a kick,’” Manzanares says. “But I’m like, ‘Can you touch the guy without hurting him? Can you do that twenty times over and over and over and over? Can you do it on time? Can you act?’ Because not only do you have to move your body in a very intricate, accurate and controlled way, but you also have to act. Anyone can throw a punch. But no one’s going to believe you’re a special agent or that you’re trying to kill this guy if you don’t look convincing.”