July 08, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

The license plate on his Mercedes reads 1 DRAGUN. A ceramic dragon sits atop a TV set in one of his two apartments. White dragon, a style of kickboxing, gave Don ”The Dragon” Wilson his nickname and made him a world light-heavyweight champion for 12 consecutive years. But his athletic career didn’t bring him the Benz. Breathing white-hot fire at the video store did. With 15 low-budget martial-arts movies under his belt — including New Horizon’s recent Bloodfist V: Human Target — and one more in preproduction, Wilson is a small-screen superstar.

”I’m at the top of the bottom,” he says, smiling. The Japanese-American Florida native stands a lean six feet, 190 pounds — not the overpumped body you might expect of a lethal weapon. Combine that physique with boyish handsomeness — he’s almost 40, looks 30 — and it adds up to a strange kind of action hero. ”[In my movies] I’m the good guy. I don’t drink, smoke, swear, do drugs, and I don’t have explicit sex scenes,” he says. ”Parents know, when they rent my movies, that there are good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys lose.” This, he believes, is the reason the average height of fans at his autograph signings is four feet.

”These films tend to be followed by a specific, loyal audience that we can access directly through video,” says Mike Elliott, who, as production head of schlockmeister Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures, has overseen Wilson’s Bloodfist movies. ”[Concorde puts] out 30 pictures a year, but Don’s films alone could keep the company running in profits.”

In 1987, Corman discovered Wilson in a karate magazine and gave him a call. ”I read for Roger,” Wilson remembers. ”He sat back, stared at me, and said, ‘You’re gonna be a big movie star.”’ Two days later, Wilson signed a deal and began working for scale (about $1,200 a week). In the last 18 months, Wilson has earned well over $1 million.

Things weren’t always so, well, kicky. Wilson arrived in L.A. in 1985, pulled into a Holiday Inn, and spent a month reading books about acting. Hollywood, however, was unimpressed. ”There’s not much call for six-foot Asian actors with Southern accents,” says Wilson. One La Choy Chinese-food commercial and one stint as Thug No. 1 on General Hospital later, Wilson met his video destiny.

The actor has mixed feelings when he’s referred to as the next Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’d love to follow in the Belgian’s big-screen footsteps. But in the ring, forget it. ”He was a member of the Belgian national team. That’s like being part of the Bahamian football league,” explains Wilson. ”If we boxed, it would be like Stallone fighting Tyson.”

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