APOCALYPSE THEN AND NOW: An Interview With Alex Chung
Nope, I didn’t see it coming, but it happened nonetheless. Stuntman and independent filmmaker Alex Chung’s latest foray into action and comedy finally saw my own shortfilm debut in Hit Me: Apocalypse. It’s no biggie really, but it left me hugely thankful and buzzed to be included in something I follow regularly, and if you read Film Combat Syndicate frequently, then you obviously know what it is.
While I won’t hammer on and on about my small contribution to indie action and comedy, the project did finally give me the opportunity to talk to Chung and share a little about himself in an interview. Having followed his adventures in collusion with his own team, Eclipse Stunts for up to three years now, he’s proven himself to be another fine talent whose boldness behind the camera has led to some wild, wacky and entertaining results – one including his most recent action horror piece, Werewolf Assassin.
Of course, what stood out to me the most though was the Hit Me trilogy which began in 2014. In following independent action, I hadn’t seen anything like it, and I often wonder a fair number of “what ifs” when it comes to concepts like this. Granted, the series has its roots inspired from other properties, but it’s put together so freshly and with an innovative and workable approach to action and comedy that you can’t help but ponder the idea of its own fruition as potential full-length project or a webseries.
Essentially, this is the brilliance that I talk about when it comes to independent action. Often nowadays, you’ll see masses of netizens commenting about how unoriginal and unproductive big studios are for using tonedeaf applications to make the next big adaptation of some literary or gaming franchise, and the overhype that ensues.
Are all these studios permanently horrible for trying? No. Personally, I’m all for whatever I feel they can accomplish, granted that the right cast, crew and vision are applied according to said project. But like all things, nothing is set in stone, and this is where paying attention to genuine, ripe and up-and-coming talent comes in – people working from the bottom up who deserve a way bigger break for erecting original ideas than people realize.
Chung, an industry stuntman aspring for greatness in front, as well as behind the camera, is certainly one of those people. In observing his work in the last three years, he shows an adhesive, sharpening knowledge, boldness and understanding on how to entertain on film. For this, he deserves an audience for it, as well as the opportunity to do more with his craft, and I’m happy to help introduce him to you as of our interview completed a week ago.
Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Alex and thanks for stopping by our site. How have you been this year so far?
Alex Chung: It’s been very good, thanks for having me.
AC: I started shooting videos in 2001 at the beginning of high school. I went through phases. I spent the first year obsessed with horror films and that’s all I watched. After that, I was really into martial arts films, most of them from Hong Kong. Having a background in martial arts, I decided to shoot my own martial arts films and I guess that’s where stunts started for me. A lot of my short films would involve fight scenes or stunts in some shape or form.
When I moved to Toronto in 2005 and discovered the stunt community, I felt encouraged to keep doing it. Filmmaking has always been in the cards but I never imagined doing stunts professionally.
AC: I started formally training when I was roughly six. I started in Tae Kwon Do and eventually moved into Judo and boxing. I also did gymnastics around the same time. Since then I’ve been training on and off and trying to learn other disciplines.
AC: All of my teachers were very nice people and have each given me fond memories. I took my martial arts training very seriously so it was pretty straight forward. However, in gymnastics I clowned around often, which is probably why I didn’t become very acrobatic. After winning best boy for several years, my last year in gymnastics they created the best clown award just for me. It was a funny gesture and I dug it.
FCSyndicate: Nothing wrong with that in my book [laughs]. So tell us about the first time you picked up a camera and how you came to be apart of Canada’s stunt community with Eclipse Stunts.
AC: The first time I picked up a camera it was a Hi8 and I edited with two VCRs, and from that point on everything was self-taught. Eclipse Stunts (formerly Eclipse Stunt Crew) was formed when I moved to Toronto and started working with DL MacDonald who also just moved to Toronto. We met on the old stunt people forums (along with Eric Jacobus, Fernando Huerto and so on).
Eclipse was a way to promote ourselves and through making our own videos and training with other people, we got to know a lot of people in the community.
AC: With the addition of Thomas, Vincent, and Mao, there would be nine of us. We don’t get to all train together often but we do have some projects lined up.
AC: [Laughs] ..The one I’m working on right now, and I’m not trying to be philosophical – the one I’m working on right now is literally the most challenging thing I’ve ever done period. I don’t want to reveal anything until we’ve completed principal photography, but the only thing I’ll say for now is if you’ve been following me for a long time (like all the way back to the old Eclipse Stunt Crew days) you’ll be excited to see what we’ve been working on.
FCSyndicate: I’ll do my best to research that, and you’ve done a lot of things in film with people from different indie groups, including partaking in the the Do The Damn Thing series with Jabronie Pictures and Rising Tiger. How did your later involvement come about?
AC: That all started with Jay from Jabronie Pictures. The first Do The Damn Thing seemed like a century ago. Having hijacked the series from Rising Tiger, haha, Jay wanted to shoot the latest one in Canada when he visited us the first time. Then when I visited L.A. it seemed like providence as Lester Nguyen and Edmond Shum (the original gangsters of Do The Damn Thing) were visiting at the same time. While I was seeing Jay in San Diego we were feverishly writing and filming the latest installment as we went along. My last day there before Lester, Ed and I had to all fly back was the day we shot the big fight. It was one of the best experiences in my filming life, working with those guys.
AC: Yeah, I was in an experimental mood. I had never seen a fight scene that only involved one person (fighting himself) in the indie action world so I wanted to try it. I obviously drew inspiration from Edward Norton in Fight Club as well as Bruce Campbell fighting his own hand in Evil Dead 2. I wanted to do that but with an added Hong Kong flavour.
I never intended to do a second one, but I was possessed with the idea of doing the 3-way fight (with the imaginary person included). I liked the idea of that character being in love (with the wrong person) and the opportunity to get more talent involved. Tyler is one of the best so it was a treat to have him be one of the supporting characters and Tally has always been one of the most impressive girls around.
I definitely didn’t intend to do a third as I felt like I exhausted my ideas, but once again an idea grabbed me. Honestly, I wasn’t as compelled to do the third one story-wise, my main drive was to bring even more talent on board. Hit Me was a glorified test fight, so being able to get people who I admire, work well with, or simply think would be cool to make an appearance made me very happy. What started as a showcase of me being able to perform a fight solo, became a great way to get so many people out to shoot something fun and become part of that universe.
FCSyndicate: How challenging was it for you to put these meta-style fights together throughout the trilogy, compared to simply performing and filming a regular fight sequence? Were there a lot of takes in between?
AC: Although what’s going on in the story is a bit irregular, the process is relatively the same. The only thing that’s different are any shots where I don’t show the other fighters and it’s just me. It’s actually much easier fighting yourself, haha, because you don’t have to worry about another person. The timing, rhythm, control and level of contact all depends on you so only you can screw it up. No joke, any shots where I fight myself took on average 1-2 takes. The normal fight scenes, would be 2-5 takes on average. As you’ll see in the outtakes, more difficult shots like throwing and catching the baseball bat took many tries.
AC: I might. Creatively I’m done with that whole concept, but if I was asked to do a web series/feature and a good opportunity came with it, I don’t see why not.
AC: Yes, that is the main thing I’d like to see resolved. I’m still new to doing stunts professionally, so there’s much for me to learn and as time goes on I’ll probably recognize more issues within the industry that need attention. But for the time being, like most others, my main concern is stunts getting the recognition it deserves at the Oscars.
AC: Mad Max: Fury Road is the big one. I do look forward to Captain America: Civil War, [laughs].
AC: I get very warm responses from them. They think it’s pretty cool, [laughs].
AC: Everyone! [laughs] I’m slowly getting to work more and more with people I look up to. When you love so many genres and you’re a fan of so many people it’s hard to narrow it down as I feel like I’d be leaving so many names out. So I guess, no, I don’t have anyone in particular I’m set on at the moment.
AC: Definitely. Although the big project I’m working on is hush hush, I can talk about everything else. I’m currently writing my next shorts, moving away from action for a while. I’m excited to do something different. I’ve had the pleasure of doing fight choreography for a few projects that weren’t my own and you should be seeing them surface over the next year or so.
AC: One thing comes to mind and it is to be patient. If stunts is your main career goal then you should commit to it and save your complaints. I’ve seen people get frustrated doing unpaid or non-union work. And when it comes to improving their skills, some are impatient and want to learn everything too quickly. These things take time. It’s just about putting in that time. If this is your passion, then there’s no rush, just enjoy the journey.
AC: Thanks, Lee. I enjoyed our chat and look forward to more.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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