Visionary filmmaker Chuck Johnson is setting the bar high with his new movie Eastbound Traffic

Chuck Johnson knows a thing or two about breaking the norm. He has spent his entire life doing things differently from other people and carving a unique career path for himself. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Chuck has lived a nomadic lifestyle, traveling to 33 countries as an international peace activist and volunteer, and chasing his dreams and passions all over the world. 

Chuck Johnson behind the camera

A Visionary By Nature

Chuck started out his professional journey as a martial arts specialist, and later transitioned into the movie business as a professional stunt performer, actor, and motion capture artist. While those things would be more than enough to keep the average person busy, Chuck is far from being an average professional, and continues to push the boundaries of both his career and his dreams.

Eventually, this drive led him behind the camera as well, and in 2015, he formed his film production company, Quiet Flame Productions, with the launch of his first film, Fists of Absinthe, a Samurai time-slip action comedy film. After winning a multitude of international awards with the film, Chuck has since taken on the challenge of producing his first feature film, Eastbound Traffic, with the aim of using action cinema as a vehicle for raising awareness of social issues.

Let’s take a sneak peek behind the scenes and find out more about Chuck Johnson – how he got to where he is, the expectations he has for his film, Eastbound Traffic, and what fuels his passion for the industry.

Becoming Japan’s first black stuntman

Chuck didn’t always dream of becoming a film director and producer. It’s something that happened organically, after a long and fascinating journey that started out with a love for martial arts and a growing appreciation of the cross-cultural values that came with it. In order to understand the transition, we have to go back in time a bit and learn a few interesting facts about Chuck’s background.

Tokyo Japan at night

Chuck spent his childhood years in Detroit, where as a gentle and skinny kid, he had his fair share of experiences in dealing with bullies. At about 12 years old, he got his first taste of how transformative film can be in people’s lives when he discovered Jackie Chan. He realized from Jackie’s films that there were whole systems developed and dedicated to the art of self defense and that anyone could learn them.  From that moment on, there was no turning back – Chuck would binge all the martial arts movies that he could get his hands on, spending hours in front of the TV, rewinding the tapes and studying the moves so he could copy them.

His fascination with martial arts continued growing even after he moved from Detroit, and after years of stretching and practicing on his own, his best friend at the time, took him for a trial lesson at a local Taekwondo school.  With all his previous training, it came naturally to him, and he got his black belt in only two and a half years. Less than a week later he became the Michigan State Junior Olympic State Champion. As his wins and progress in Taekwondo continued to raise his confidence, his grades rose with them, eventually turning him into a straight-A student. Eventually, he graduated from Michigan State University with honors while also studying business, management, Asian economics and East Asian languages at overseas institutions like the Hong Kong University of Science and Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. All the while, he continued to walk the martial path, fight and compete and eventually become both a US national champion and a Hong Kong Intercollegiate Taekwondo champion, (the latter of which he won when he originally only came to the competition to watch).

Chuck Johnson Hong Kong newspaper article

(A Hong Kong newspaper article about Johnson becoming the Intercollegiate champion of Hong Kong when he originally only came to the competition to watch).

Eventually, he moved to Tokyo, Japan where he started off as a celebrity bodyguard before transitioning into doing action films in Japan- a move that earned him the title of Japan’s first black stuntman. Wanting to share everything he had learned, Chuck eventually opened up the Quiet Flame Dojo as an international training institution for actors, stuntmen and martial artists.

From martial arts expert to acclaimed movie director

In addition to running his Dojo and teaching martial arts, Johnson also took his teachings to YouTube. After a producer friend from Hollywood pointed out the lack of easy to understand self defense tutorials on Youtube, Chuck created a light-hearted Youtube self-defense show called How to Defeat Dudes that went on to earn his Youtube channel over 2 million views collectively. This was the beginning of Chuck’s experience in video production, and the explosive growth of his channel eventually caught the attention of Youtube Japan, who gave him the opportunity to produce a film in collaboration with Toei studios. With only a month to put the project together, Chuck’s film, Fists of Absinthe, garnered support from both Youtube and Google, and went on to win awards ranging from “Best Comedy”, and “Best Action” to “Best Short Film”. The film also won a nationwide distribution deal from TBS digital distribution in Japan.

Pushing boundaries with his latest movie, Eastbound Traffic

The success that Chuck experienced in producing Fists of Absinthe gave him the motivation to move forward with an even bigger project with an even bigger cause- Eastbound Traffic. Based in Tokyo, the film deals with the evils of sex trafficking; something that Johnson saw himself firsthand while working part time at a strip club to make ends meet early in his career.

Having promised himself that he would tell the stories of the women whom he worked alongside with in that club, Johnson spent 7 years working on the script, and drew on the experiences of other actors whom he knew had also first-hand experience in the sex industry, casting them to play the main characters in the film.

As a result, the story of Eastbound Traffic became one not just grounded in reality, but also close to the hearts of its main actors.

For Chuck, Eastbound Traffic represents an opportunity to bring awareness to an alarming issue that has always been and continues to be somewhat swept under the rug in first-world countries. As he explains, sex trafficking happens in all corners of the world and affects people of all races and backgrounds.

A fresh take on the action movie genre

As important as the topics raised and explored in Eastbound Traffic are- sex trafficking, social disenfranchisement, abuse of low income people, etc,  producing Eastbound Traffic is simply the first step for Johnson. As the son of a peace and social activist himself, and and a former activist himself, Johnson hopes to leverage his martial arts action film background to continue producing intelligent martial arts films that make a difference, and raise awareness of important social issues ranging from mental health to the perils of war.

Chuck Johnson from martial arts expert to acclaimed movie director

Action movies are known for providing pure entertainment, but Johnson wants to put a new spin on the genre and create intelligent socially-conscious films that not only capture the audience’s attention with fantastic action sequences, but also by addressing and intelligently exploring important social issues. While this may seem like a lofty and challenging goal for some, for Johnson,  both a champion of the ring and one of social causes, it’s exactly the challenge of it that makes it so worth it.