Stunt Coordinator Andy Cheng Talks About The Bus Fight In Shang-Chi – Exclusive Interview
The bus fight early in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was featured heavily in advertising, and for good reason: It’s the inciting incident of the movie. We learn that this guy is more than just Shaun, the Hardy Partying Valet, Katy realizes that she knows absolutely nothing about her best friend, and a guy named Razor Fist gets to pop a razor out of his fist.
The bus fight was coordinated by Andy Cheng, a Hong Kong cinema action veteran and an alumni of the Jackie Chan stunt team. He has been coordinating stunts for decades. He’s worked on Jackie Chan vehicles like the “Rush Hour” franchise, other superhero fare like 2003’s “Daredevil,” and even mainstream conventional fare like “Twilight.” In anticipation of the home release, Looper spoke with Cheng and learned the ins and outs of Shang-Chi’s first on-screen fight — from the planning to the influences and to the green noodle that caused everyone to constantly break out in laughter.
The first punch and two buses
Let’s start from the beginning of the bus fight scene, which is the first punch he delivers. How much thought and care went into how that first punch was delivered?
This is something very interesting because we were trying to figure out the first move. In the whole [rehearsal process], the first move [was generating] many, many different versions. I would say close to ten different versions. This version comes from Chris Cowan because originally, since he never wanted to fight, he’s hiding from his girlfriend, Katie, so he doesn’t want to show he is a martial artist. He doesn’t want to show he knows how to fight.
So then based on the script and the story and the director, Destin, we’re trying to avoid it, but we end up removing it because ideally he avoids the fight. He tries to dodge the people, pretending he doesn’t know to fight. And then when they start hitting Katie … he’s angry about hitting his girlfriend, and he starts fighting. The very early version we’d been doing … [the moment] he started fighting is much, much later, but now, as you see in the movie, he starts right away. That is a little change from the original plan.
I was watching an interview with Destin. He was mentioning that there were two buses. There was the regular bus and then there’s the bus that could be twirled around, and he said the bus that was meant to be twirled around, he claims he spent a couple minutes in there and then he got too nauseous and left. Is this accurate to your recollection?
Yeah. I mean, we had two buses set up onto the gimbal for moving. We have one bus that is the on the one-meter-high platform, so very low to the ground. They [can use that one for] the regular driving and shaking. And then we built one about five meters high, and then that one can do the rollercoaster tipping or any crazy movements.
That [higher] one is what Destin was referring to. And the first time, when we put everyone up there to try testing the speed and then the rotation, that gets him a little nauseous. I mean, even me, everyone goes up there when you’re off angle and then you will feel weird … That’s why we do spend a lot of time rehearsing with everyone, the passengers, and even the camera crew.
The jacket spot
Given your background with Jackie Chan, I’d imagine you’re probably used to some ridiculous stunts. How does that being in a gimbal that high up shaking back and forward compare to any of the other things you’ve done?
For me, it’s okay. I mean, I’m not afraid of being super high, so it’s easier. For me, it’s okay, but for a lot of people, they never really get into this kind of environment so they can feel weird. What I learned, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie called “Who Am I,” we were much, much higher in the rooftop. That’s the kind of experience that makes me go into this much more easily.
There was another thing that I remember seeing Destin bring up in an interview, which is when Shang-Chi basically uses his jacket as a weapon. He said that it was inspired by “Rumble in the Bronx.” Can you break down that scene for me, how you put that together?
That reference, what Destin said, I think that is from Brad Allan, my little brother, his second unit director. I think he used those for reference so that we would use the jacket. That’s what Destin’s saying. But I don’t even know he’s showing [that scene to them]. After I did [the scene like they suggested], I said, “Oh, we’re talking about the ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ spot?” Because when we did, I came up with maybe 20 different kinds of [scenes involving] the jacket. We just said, “Okay, we want to play with the jacket, we’ll try something.” So we came up with many different things. We took off the whole jacket and put it back, and then we used the jacket as a weapon.
And what we ended up with, it’s more like they’re using elbows instead of punching. For reference, “Rush Hour” is a little different. “Rumble in the Bronx,” when he’s in the supermarket, he’s using [the jacket] to trap his hand, and this one is more like rotation and using the elbow and then you put it back. It is different. We have 20 versions and everyone liked this one. We cycled through three versions, [thinking] we don’t like this, and then we changed another, so we kept changing and then we found this is the best one we like.
The one that really amazed me is how smoothly he got the jacket back on. Just one motion, got it around like that. How much rehearsal did that take?
Oh, that took a long time to get everyone happy because we originally took the jacket off one arm, then went back and had it off two arms, and then we flip it back and put it there. So we had many versions and then ended up with this version because you feel very sneaky, [with] one move. It doesn’t go long because some of the versions will feel a little too long. This needs about five to ten seconds. This one’s like three, four seconds, and then right away. So it’s kind of not even out too much. You’re off the shoulder, and then you went in and then come back, so it’s kind of faster.
A cramped environment and a green noddle
I know certain parts of the bus were added later, specifically the yellow poles and such, but that doesn’t change the fact that the bus is a very cramped environment. What are the challenges of putting together a fight scene in such a small place?
Yeah, that’s for sure. But then the good thing is that we had the bus from the very beginning, even during our rehearsal in Los Angeles, we already had the bus. Those poles are always there. It’s a real bus, with everything. And then when we do the fight, when something is in our way or something for which we need a safety or if it’s for the camera, we will take it out and put it back. We are always moving around with that.
But when you talk about CG, we never really cut the pole. The CG will help us do the cut. But for the rest, the pole is real. We were always around that. The toughest [aspect of the pole] is to adjust for Razor Fist. Florian is such a big guy, and is a very narrow place for him. It is a challenge for him because he also had a fake arm, so he had to constantly move the arm, but nothing can get in his way. So it was kind of tough for him because like I said, he’s such a big guy inside the bus.
Florian is very tall. And they said just a little hop or standing a little high meant he’d bump his head on the roof of the bus. What was it like coordinating with him because he has an athletic background? Did that make it easier for you?
No, he had the athletic background, but he doesn’t have the martial arts background. He [comes from] boxing. So when you fight with a weapon, then you’ll be different because [the other] hand has to cooperate. And also, because of his height, he always hit something where [a sidebar is located inside the bus]. The bar can totally hit his forehead. So sometimes we will have to remind him, okay, top down, make sure you’re ducking here. Then, we sometimes have to take it out. For Florian, this is [a major issue]. He has to watch out or his head because he can easily hit his head everywhere.
The other thing I’ve heard is that we see a razor in the final product, but it was a green sleeve with a little noodle on it. How long did it take before people stopped laughing at that thing and sort of taking it seriously?
I don’t think they stopped at all. They’re always laughing about it. Sometimes the flipper thing is right in your face or Simu’s face and kind of weird. At one point, we took it out. In the earliest stage, we tried it [the other way] so we could feel the distance between Simu so we can react the tip of the blade. But then [we decided] to take it out. I mean, I think it would have taken half the time [if we left it in]. In the end, we don’t have it. We took it out.
Few stunt doubles and Jackie Chan comparisons
There were a lot of faces in this scene. How many of these were the actual actors, like Simu and Florian, and how many were stunt performers?
I mean, for Florian it is zero. It’s only him. We can’t even find a stunt double his size. He does everything himself. And then Simu, we have a stunt double for him in rehearsal — remember he does parkour and then over the ceiling and then comes down to grab the bus and saves everyone — we have a parkour champion helping him do that. And then we have another double that is doubling him for the physical fight scene and the martial arts.
But mostly, Simu does everything too. He can do it all. If he looks outside the window, jumps up to the bus and runs all in one shot and swings back, that’s all Simu. The only thing is if we have something think [could risk] an injury, we worry about him getting hurt. So for a couple moments, we have a stunt double, but the rest, almost everything is Simu too. He does all the fighting too.
There was a laptop spot I loved, where the laptop was used and cut in half. How was that coordinated and put together?
Yeah. That is a prop. The laptop has two pieces. They cut it in half, and then they have the metal [motions indicating a zipper or magnets] that can stick together. So when Simu holds it and then Razor Fist hold it, we use CG for the break and then he just whips it open.
You obviously have a huge background with Jackie Chan. I don’t need to tell you that. And Destin has said that Jackie Chan was a huge influence on this movie. When you were putting this together, were you thinking about any Jackie Chan stunts you’ve helped put together? Or were you thinking just on your own, working on your own? Basically, were you thinking about Jackie Chan when you put anything together?
Well, that’s why I said from the very beginning, when I talked to Brad, I already said, it looks like that sequence and right away, people will think about Jackie. We don’t want to be. And other people would say, okay, Shang-Chi is another Jackie Chan. So we want to avoid it. Even the reference, even anything, we want to create Shang-Chi as the Shang-Chi style, not the Bruce Lee style or the Jackie Chan style, so we avoid it. Destin said how much he doesn’t want to be [compared to others].
But whenever you do something like this kind of situation, when the fighter, when the actor jumps around and then fights with an object, like the laptop or something else, we can very easily [draw comparisons] to the grand master, Jackie, because that’s what he does. When you have a jacket fight like this, you will look to Jackie.
So we tried to avoid it, but it’s easy to lean into it because that’s the legacy, this legend people will think of right away when the people fight, not like grand master or Donnie Yen. Right away, you go to Jackie Chan. But we tried to still make sure we created Shang-Chi’s own style.
“Shang-Chi” is now on Disney+ and all other major digital platforms, and will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on November 30.