Stuntmen a dying breed in Hong Kong says daredevil expert, as Hollywood comes calling
Stunt master Bruce Law is highly sought after by both Hollywood and mainland filmmakers, writes Yvonne Teh
Bruce Law Lai-yin is a man in demand these days. The Hong Kong-born stunt and special effects expert's latest credits include Hollywood blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction, Indonesian actioner The Raid 2, and mainland films No Man's Land and The Great Hypnotist; not to mention John Woo Yu-sam's upcoming The Crossing.
Though no longer performing actual stunts, the 52-year-old former Thai boxer turned stuntman continues to thrive in a profession that has been on the wane, at least locally, for the past decade.
"Times have changed, and I think there are only about 50 stuntmen left in Hong Kong. So in Transformers: Age of Extinction, you get to see every Hong Kong stuntman," Law says. "It's not like the old days - there are way more stuntmen in mainland China than here. Even for a small movie there, they have at least 50 stuntmen."
So although he still maintains a base in Yuen Long, he has been spending most of his time north of the border.
"The past three or four years, it's been easier for me to find work," Law says. "Maybe it's because of my reputation, maybe it's because a lot of people quit, and also because of the increase in Hong Kong and mainland co-productions, but there is more work for my style of action."
His "style" is what he refers to as contemporary action.
In the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's global success in 2000, a number of Chinese filmmakers sought to ride on the coattails of Ang Lee's wuxia work.
Although period epics featuring swordplay and other kinds of martial arts action continue to be made - latest examples include Jacob Cheung Chi-leung's upcoming The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom - audience preferences these days are more diverse.
"On the mainland right now, there aren't that many action films, and those that have action are more than just films with martial arts, sword fighting and traditional kung fu," Law says.
"My style is more Western. People know I can do a lot with cars and explosions, so I am in demand for that kind of movie."
Law's talent for movie stunts was spotted early in his career. His first job was in Jackie Chan's original Police Story (1985) and even though his work didn't make it to the final cut, it ended up being reworked and added to another Chan film, released later that year: Heart of the Dragon, directed by and co-starring - Sammo Hung Kam-bo.
That was the start of a long partnership with Chan. Law's company, Bruce Law Stunts, worked on Chan films such as Police Story III: Supercop (1992), Crime Story (1993), The Myth (2005) and CZ12 (2012).
Law looks back at Hong Kong's action-packed cinematic heyday with fondness. When asked to name some of his favourite works, nearly half of the 11 on his list are Hong Kong films from the 1990s - Police Story III and Crime Story, Thunderbolt (1995), Full Throttle (1996), and 1998's Extreme Crisis, the last of which Law directed.
Law received a Hong Kong Film Awards best action design nomination for his work on Extreme Crisis. And while the action flick was lauded for its impressive pyrotechnic prowess, it wasn't without flaws. That Law hasn't directed since could be taken as a sign that he was told to stick to his day job. But he insists it was his choice.
"I do want to direct again, but with reservations - I want to do it on my terms," he says. "Just a few days ago I rejected a directing opportunity because I just didn't like the story and the concept.
"If I am going to take the time to direct a movie, I need to really spend a long time on the project, so I want it to be something that I feel strongly about. I don't want to accept a job and just direct for the sake of it."
During the past decade several overseas filmmakers have sought to collaborate with Law. "I realise a lot of overseas directors know me from the [Hong Kong] movies I made in the 1980s and '90s," he says. "They are aware that I've done some big stunts - like the Michelle Yeoh motorcycle jump in Police Story III."
While some Hong Kong film professionals have had difficulty breaking into Hollywood, Law has managed to become their go-to guy for stunts and special effects work on the mainland.
He says Hollywood filmmakers often hear of him from others, and auditions are rarely needed.
"If you can do what they like, they will find you," he says.
When he was in town last month, Law had already finished working on Michael Mann's Cyber (due out early next year), and signed on as action director for Jiang Wen's Gone with the Bullets. He will also oversee the vehicle stunts in Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto's The Night Comes for Us.
"It's getting so busy that I sometimes have to say no to projects, even Hollywood productions," he says.
"Two years ago I had to decline work on the fourth Bourne movie [ The Bourne Legacy] because I was already working on another project. I wanted to do it, but just didn't have the time."