Maria Trần calls the shots in ‘Echo 8’

Maria Trần ready for action in ‘Echo 8’.

Actress, filmmaker, martial artist and fight coordinator Maria Trần had long wanted to direct a film but nobody asked her, so she decided to self-fund, co-produce, direct and star in Echo 8.

In the midst of a hectic 11-day shoot in Sydney’s Western suburbs, she is playing a highly trained assassin in the psychological thriller scripted by her sister Elizabeth H. Vu.

Her character code-named Echo 8 grew up in a dysfunctional family, runs away, gets kidnapped and is then raised in the underworld as an assassin. The twist: She has no memory of her previous life.

Takashi Hara plays Agent 5, Echo 8’s boss and mentor, with David Vuong as fellow agent Delta 1, Mike Leeder as her nemesis Z12 and Gabby Chan as Hanh. The DOPs are Adam McPhilbin and Nancy Trieu.

It’s the first feature from Phoenix Eye Film & Media Production, which Tran formed with Therese Chen and Trieu, whose bread and butter has been music and corporate videos.

Serena Hunt and the Compton School’s David Court are also serving as producers. Chen met Court when she pitched the project to the Greenlight Network, an event developed by the school and presented in partnership with Information + Cultural Exchange, and came second.

Trần’s experience in working as a stunt attachment and stunt performer in such films as Jackie Chan’s Bleeding Steel and Warner Bros’ The Meg helped her prepare for the action scenes in Echo 8.

So her big challenge has been handling the dramatic elements of the story. “There is a big group of people in Western Sydney who love filmmaking and are so hungry to get on board Echo 8,” she tells IF.

Maria didn’t discover her sister was a screenwriter until a few years ago. Vu’s day job is a nurse so she writes at night. The film is their second collaboration following the web series Breathless, which will premiere in March, co-starring Maria and Takashi Hara. Commissioned by Cancer Council NSW, the drama depicts three people who are trying to quit smoking.

The producers aim to raise another tranche of money to shoot a big fight scene later this year.

‘Echo 8’ cast and crew.

The Brisbane-born Trần, whose parents are Vietnamese, did a degree in psychology at the University of Western Sydney with a view to becoming a police officer. But she soon decided she wanted a career in the screen industry so she spent weekends working as an actress and co-producer on Timothy Ly’s 60-minute film Maximum Choppage, which was later turned into the ABC series by Matchbox Pictures.

Australian born, Hong Kong-based filmmaker Antony Szeto helped her break into the industry when he hired her as fight supervisor on Fist of the Dragon, the 2015 mixed martial arts film produced by the legendary Roger Corman. After the lead actress dropped out Szeto cast her in the role of the villain Zhen.

It was a thrill for her to work with Jackie Chan in Bleeding Steel. As she told him, 10 years ago she started shooting the feature doc Quest for Jackie Chan, in which she roamed around Australia interviewing people who had been inspired by the superstar.

Chan agreed to let her film and accompany him on the trip to Canberra where he lived for two years, attending college and working as builder’s labourer where he was nicknamed Jackie by fellow workers who struggled with his Chinese name.

She hasn’t finished the doc: maybe she will get around to that after Echo 8 is released.

Phoenix Eye has started shooting scenes for Femme Fatales: Seen & Unheard, a feature doc on female stars and stunt people from the 1980s reflecting on their careers, which will include behind-the-scenes footage of Echo 8, and is developing a feature based on her 2013 short Hit Girls.