As late as I was in discovering Hong Kong cinema per my own fandom by the mid-1990s, I proudly went with the momentum, keeping up with as many Dimension, Miramax and Sony releases as I could. One of my favorite DVD picks in the years going forward would be a blind purchase of Aman Chang’s 2000 action adventure comedy, Fist Power, pitting Vincent Zhao against co-star, actor, stuntman and nowadays a stunt coordinator, Jude Poyer.
It’s been years since I’ve seen that film, although anyone, in my view, who watches and follows Asian films for as long as I have, or even longer, knows that someone like Jude stands out in a particularly cool way. His career was even subject as part of the Red Trousers Hong Kong stunt documentary in 2003 alongside the likes of Ridley Tsui and the late, great Lau Kar Leung.
Jude spoke plentily about his career and much more in my latest interview, and he’s much more modest about it throughout as he shares his story with us. I shared these questions with him in the wake of having reviewed David L.G. Hughes’s new movie, Of Gods And Warriors, on which Jude served as action director, and he was more than willing to break down the ever important specifics and nuances pertaining to the leadership and team role of stunts and action on set.
Greetings Jude and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us! Please tell us about yourself and how you came into stunts and working in film.
I’m from London, England. I grew up loving movies – mainly on VHS tapes. In the mid eighties, at the age of 8, I saw my first martial arts movie “Ninja 3: The Domination” – a crazy Canon movie starring Sho Kosugi. Not long after, I started training in Karate. From there I discovered Bruce Lee, and a bit later Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Hong Kong action cinema.
So I grew up loving martial arts, and film. In the 90’s Hong Kong was producing so many incredible movies. The action blew Hollywood out of the water, and filmmakers like Tony Scott, Tarantino and Renny Harlin were clearly being influenced by what was coming out of HK. I saw a lot of white faces in the Hong Kong movies. Guys like Bruce Fontaine, Jeff Falcon and Mark Houghton. Full of the arrogance of youth, I thought I’d give that a go. So aged 18, knowing next to nothing, I flew to Hong Kong.
Your career is celebrated by many a fan of action and martial arts cinema who know your name and affiliations. Are there any particular happy, joyous or challenging memories that stand out to you, looking back to where you are now?
It’s very kind of you to say that, but I don’t believe many fans really celebrate my career. I’m just one of many guys to have been fortunate to have worked in Hong Kong, and most of them were far more talented than me, and did more memorable jobs. If there are any Hong Kong movie fans who do remember me, it’s likely from “A Man Called Hero”. That was a big movie with a decent budget and schedule. I treasure the experience of being part of that. Fighting Yuen Biao (who I was and AM a big fan of), getting some early stuntwork opportunities – wire pulls, explosions, being on fire… It was a friendly, happy experience with a very capable cast & crew. People like Andrew Lau & Dion Lam… It was a privilege.
“Man Called Hero” is just one though. I’m really, really fortunate to have had many joyous experiences. It seems the older I get, and the less seriously I regard some situations, the easier it is to form happy memories. Even if a film shoot isn’t going well. Even if the movie looks destined to be a dud, you can still enjoy the process of working with your friends and trying to make the best of things. Afterall, we get paid to tell stories. What’s to be unhappy about?
You’ve also shared commentary on DVD releases – the one I remember most was for a Hong Kong Legends release. It was UK only and I live in the States, but I remember they had some amazing reviews as I saw on HKFlix when they were still in existence. Tell us about this area of your career.
Hong Kong Legends was a really wonderful DVD label. At the time, the market in physical media could support a company like HKL, who acquired quality Hong Kong movies and put real effort and expense into mastering, subtitles and bonus content (audio commentaries, interviews and so on). I was contacted by the boss Brian White asking if I was interested in contributing to the special features. To him I guess it made sense in that I lived in Hong Kong, worked in the industry, and also could relate to what UK fans might want to see or hear.
To be frank, I think I was bad at audio commentaries. My voice is dull and quite boring. The only commentaries which might be ok are the ones where I shared the microphone with director Clarence Fok, where he talked about his movies “Naked Killer” and “Dragon From Russia”.
Regarding HKL, I am quite happy that I got to direct interviews not just with well known names, but also lesser known heroes of Hong Kong cinema, such as stuntmen who were personal friends, character actors and so on.
Your latest involvement in “Of Gods Of Warriors” heads to DVD and theaters in the U.K. this month. How did you land this particular production with David L.G. Hughes at the helm?
One of the movie’s producers, Andee Ryder and I had previously worked together on a couple of projects, one a thriller called “Alleycats”. When Andee told me about the project – a Viking movie with fantasy elements, several fights, and some battle sequences, of course I was interested.
As an action director and stunt coordinator, what are some key essentials to putting together sequences like these?
The stunt coordinator has to oversee the safety aspects, select doubles, rig stunts, risk assess and so on, while the action director has to design the action, thinking about how it will be shot and edited. There’s a reason why on big movies like “Kingsman” or “Atomic Blonde” the action directors (who are stunt coords themselves) employ stunt coordinators. To wear both hats is a lot of responsibility.
My normal approach to action design (if given the time, resources and freedom) is to establish what “the story” of the sequence (ie a fight) is. This might be obvious from the page, it might not. So I might discuss with the director what the fight is telling us about the characters, what drama beats they hope to hit… The action is then choreographed, and I will shoot and edit a previz. This will ideally capture the framing, camera movements, speeds (slow/fast motion) and edit points which I hope to recreate on the proper shoot.
Previz is a wonderful tool. You can use the process to explore different approaches (different lenses, angles etc) and settle on the one which works best in the edited sequence. Previz takes a lot of guesswork out of filming. It prevents debates on set between departments as to “will that work? Or “will this cut together?”. It’s a great way to show the different heads of department what we hope to capture. So they know, for example, what props to prepare, or alternatively to not worry about dressing a certain part of the set because the camera will never see it. Previz can cost money to do, because stuntpeople need paying, but it can save a lot of wasted money & time on the main shoot.
When the sequence is shot “for real”, I’ll usually provide edits for the action sequences to the editor, so they see how I think it should be cut together. Sometimes these are used 100% unchanged in the finished movies. Sometimes not.
Talk about your approach to the action and what your core choreographer, Andrei Nazarenko, brought to the table.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it was just me, but I think a lot of fans when seeing “Action Director Yuen Woo-ping” or “stunt coordinator Jackie Chan” might think they choreograph every single movement – each kick and block. But that’s not the case. They oversee the action design, but their teams contribute to choreography, and action ideas. I think Brad Allan is the best 2nd Unit & action director working in the west. His results are top level, and Brad doesn’t choreograph every physical movement. He works with brilliant fight choreographers, stunt performers and riggers who all bring a lot to the table. Brad oversees it all, then makes sure it’s shot properly and well performed.
It’s only an insecure person or inflated ego that cannot relinquish to other experts. On “Of Gods & Warriors”, as I was action directing, stunt coordinating, editing previz etc I welcomed designating one of my small team to be the fight choreographer. Andrei and I have similar tastes in and ideas about what makes good action, so I think we are well matched. But his weapons knowledge and skill far surpasses mine. He’s studied a lot of Chinese weapons forms, so has a good vocabulary of moves to draw upon. David had written one unusual weapon which I don’t think has been seen before, so Drei and I discussed different ways it might be utilized. Then he drew upon some Chinese rope dart techniques…
What neither of us wanted was a boring hack & slash movie where everyone fought with a sword, the same way. So we tried to mix up styles, and the kinds of weapons used.
When I stunt coordinate or action direct, I like to have an environment where the team all contributes. So one of the stunties might make an observation about something I missed, and I’ll consider it. Or they will suggest an alternative technique which might be better than what we have. I don’t care “who’s idea” it is because that’s not important. It’s how it affects the movie audience that counts. The stunties I regularly work with understand that’s how we like to work. Drei knows that he might be fight choreographer, but I will still suggest techniques. I know that if I shoot or edit something which he thinks doesn’t work so well, Drei can and will tell me.
Tell us about action directing Anna Demetriou on her impressive debut.
Anna has a long, strong career in front of her. She has a good attitude on and off set, and is sincere in her work. We did not have a lot of prep time on this movie, and Anna had no prior screen fighting experience (she had some stage combat training). Andrei worked with her on swordwork and posture in the weeks running up to the shoot. Anna worked hard, and made good progress.
I remember though, a quote from Hung Yan-yan when talking about “The Matrix” school of fight boot camp for actors. He said something like, “In 6 months you aren’t going to make Keanu Reeves look like he can do what has taken me 20 years of training to achieve”. In “The Musketeer”, Hung liberally employed doubles for his cast.
On the shoot we were very fortunate to have one of the best fight/stuntwomen in the UK, Rubie Planson, double for Anna. Rubie was an awesome double, and a great part of the team.
There is one fight in the movie which neither Drei nor I had any part in, and Anna performed 100% herself. I’ve not seen the film, so don’t know how it compares to the fights I gave a more Hong Kong approach to shooting. Hopefully the audience will like it.
Are there any other projects you’re involved in that are forthcoming? And how excited should we be?
“Final Score” which I worked on in 2016 is out in September. I was the assistant stunt coordinator on that to Peter Pedrero. It’s a terrorists-in-soccer stadium movie starring David Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. There’s loads of stunts & action – fights, shootouts, motorbike chases, explosions, fire… and I got to do quite a lot of choreography. Rubie worked on it as a double and got to show some of her ferocious kicking. Also it was the first time I worked with Martyn Ford, who has two roles in “Of Gods & Warriors”.
Then later in the year “Apostle” gets released. This is the new movie from Gareth “The Raid” Evans. I feel truly blessed to have worked on the action design and as the fight coordinator. Gareth is unlike any British director I’ve worked with. He is an Asian filmmaker, with the same amount of appreciation and understanding of action as a Hong Kong director. He comes up with original, sometimes bizarre ideas for action, and he always photographs them in an interesting way. I absolutely loved working with him, and we will be working together again. I’m interested to see what people make of the film. It’s not “The Raid 3”. It stands on its own.
A couple of movies worked on recently as stunt coordinator which are less actiony but nonetheless were interesting to make (and I expect will be to watch) were “Farming” and “A Private War”. The first is based on writer/director (and “Lost” star) Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s childhood being raised by a white family in a racist part of Essex in the 70s & early 80s.It has a strong cast, including Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kate Beckinsale. “A Private War” is the true story of war correspondent Marie Colvin (played by Rosamund Pike), who was killed in a Syrian airstrike. The director is respected documentarian Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”, and the director of photography multi Oscar-winner Robert Richardson.
For some of our readers, including those who perform stunts in your industry, what are some of the biggest lessons you take with you going forward in stunts and playing a bigger role behind the lens?
Well the first “lesson” was 8 years based in Hong Kong. That was my school. Working with the masters taught me so much. It’s sometimes shocking to witness how backwards filmmakers in the UK can be regarding action and fights. They all need to study under the Hong Kong masters! Learning from the likes of Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-ping has been integral to the successes of Brad Allan and Chad Stahelski…
For as long as I can recall, I’ve loved movies. Still do. What has kept me in this business is that enthusiasm. It keeps me learning. Stunts and action filmmaking isn’t just about physicality. There’s camerawork and editing to consider. There are tools like VFX to utilize. So for me, learning about cameras, editing, and reading up on new technological developments has been integral to my stunt coordinating and action directing work. If I’m on set, or eating with crew, I will likely be asking questions about their fields. I have a lot to learn.