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Bruce Law: The accidental stuntman

  • Story Highlights
  • Hong Kong stuntman is SFX coordinator on Shanghai set of "Mummy 3"
  • Hollywood uses more "computer-generated effects during post-production"
  • In the 1990s, Law was involved in 70 percent of SFX in Hong Kong movies
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By Cherise Fong
For CNN
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Hong Kong's veteran stuntman and special effects expert Bruce Law is busy coordinating car stunts and pyrotechnic effects on the Shanghai set of the new Hollywood production "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" -- or "Mummy 3" for short -- starring Jet Li.

Law recently took a break to discuss his career, from his first Hong Kong action movies to his latest work shooting in China.

Hong Kong stuntman Bruce Law has performed in some 200 films over his past 21 years in the movie industry.

CNN: You started out as a professional Thai boxer, and you were even part of Hong Kong's Auxiliary Police Force. What finally brought you to the film industry?

BL: I actually got into the industry by accident. When the opportunity came up to work within the industry, I jumped at it. Meanwhile, my previous experiences had laid a somewhat diverse, but very useful, foundation for me.

At 15, I was learning fencing and trampoline. When I was 16, I started to learn both Chinese martial arts and the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do. By the time I was 18, shortly after I earned my black belt, I entered and won the Hong Kong Tae Kwon Do Black Belt championship. It was also when I first started playing around with motorcycles, and when I was 22, I returned to professional Thai boxing.

I was 24 when I entered the film industry, and my first movie was Jackie Chan's "Police Story." The next movie I did was for director and producer Guy Lai, who asked me to be the car-stunt coordinator for his film "Sister Cupid."

I formed Bruce Law Stunts Unlimited in 1987 or 1988. I had already been involved in a lot of movies, but my name hadn't been mentioned in the credits of many of them. One film that really encouraged me in a big way was being mentioned in the opening credits of John Woo's "The Killer." That gave me a tremendous boost.

In 1992, I worked not only on Jackie Chan's "Police Story 3: Super Cop" but also "Crime Story" as the car-stunt director as well as the pyrotechnics and explosion director, which was another affirmation of myself.

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In 1997, I directed "Extreme Crisis." This gave me the chance to maximize my cumulative experiences in stunt work and help take Hong Kong action films to another level.

Now I'm immersing myself in the Chinese market, as well taking part in some of the larger Hollywood projects that have come over to shoot to China, including "MI-3" and "Mummy 3." I hope I can learn more from these projects and utilize these experiences in making the kind of movies I like in China.

CNN: How exactly are you involved in "Mummy 3"?

BL: My specialization is doing stunt work, but I also learned SFX (special effects) to incorporate into my stunts, because in Hong Kong I am not able to find good SFX people to collaborate with. The "Mummy 3" production initially approached me to be the stunt coordinator. However, my role in this movie is SFX coordinator.

CNN: How does the set in Shanghai compare with China's HengDian studios or your own studio in Hong Kong?

BL: The Shanghai sets are for scenes in contemporary Shanghai, while HengDian's sets are for scenes in old China. A lot of the movie is shot in Shanghai. Only one scene is filmed in HengDian. The main actors didn't need to be in HengDian, so there were only stunts and extras. My studio in Hong Kong is to support the stunts and SFX. That's where we build and maintain a lot of the equipment.

CNN: What have been the highlights and difficulties of the shoot so far?

BL: In regards to "Mummy 3," I shall not comment too much, because the movie is not finished yet. Based on my current experience, I have discovered that Hollywood movies have changed a lot from the past. Before they were more realistic on camera effects and stunts. Nowadays it's more computer-generated effects during post-production. Therefore, production work has become easier and less dangerous.

CNN: How do you feel about the evolution of stunt work from the Hong Kong movies of the early 1990s to the Hollywood action films of today?

BL: I got into the business in the 1980s. During that time, the stuntmen were not really very well respected, and I have to say that one of the main reasons was because they weren't always the most professional.

In the late 1980s, I think my participation in the Hong Kong film industry was quite influential in certain aspects. This was when the Hong Kong special effects and stunt people became more professional and gained a lot more respect around the world. In the 1990s, I would say that I was involved in about 70 percent of the SFX in Hong Kong movies, and this had quite an influence on the market.

Then in 2003, I read a German film critic's review saying that my movie "Extreme Crisis" was the first Hong Kong action movie. It changed the style of Hong Kong action movies; it had more of a Hollywood style. Now I hope I can take action movies in China into a new dimension, creating a new Chinese style of action movie.

In 2003, I was also given the opportunity to be represented by the ICM agency in the U.S. with the intention of launching my career in the States. But I ended up turning down that chance. I really feel that I want more freedom creatively. I think working in Hong Kong and China gives me more freedom than working within the American system.

Hong Kong is following close on Hollywood's footsteps. And the Chinese film and TV industry is growing much stronger. I hope that I can achieve in China what I was once able to achieve in Hong Kong.

CNN: How do you balance human performance and special effects in a film?

BL: The budget is one of the main factors. Visual effects in China and Hong Kong have a very different role compared to Hollywood. In Hollywood, VFX are more advanced and developed, and are more commonly used in all kinds of movies. It's still a developing department in the Chinese and Hong Kong film and TV industries.

Personally, I really feel that if the effect can be achieved on camera, I'd rather do it on camera. It's only with effects that are not possible on camera that I'd use VFX. I think that way the movie is more realistic, and even the effects themselves will have more energy.

CNN: Have you ever doubted the success of a stunt or a person's performance at the last moment?

BL: There are always doubts. Sometimes the doubt starts with the planning of the stunt, sometimes Hong Kong directors and action coordinators are not really familiar with all kinds of fighting, wirework, pyrotechnics and special effects. Therefore, there are sometimes impossible requests or suggestions for the scene.

When I began, the only way to prove myself to the directors and action coordinators and gain their trust was to be willing to sacrifice my own body! Sometimes all I would gain was pain and bleeding.

But slowly, people began to trust me and understand my point of view when it came to designing, coordinating and shooting a stunt. Now everything has changed, and I finally have full control during a shoot. I am the designer for all the action and stunts, as well as often performing the stunt myself. It's much easier this way, because then I am able to control each individual shot and shooting technique.

When I was directing "Extreme Crisis," only one person got injured. In a movie with that much action, only one person injured is very nearly a blessing. Of course, I don't want anybody to get hurt -- my original goal was to have zero injuries on the shoot, so I was disappointed that I wasn't able to achieve that.

CNN: How much of the stunt work do you perform yourself?

BL: I've been in the industry for 21 years now. For the first two years I was following other stunt coordinators. After that I began doing my own gigs, and I have been in about 200 movies now. I would say that about 90 of those movies have involved car stunts, another 50 have included someone being on fire or there being a controlled fire on set, and about 170 movies have involved pyrotechnics of some sort. Usually the most difficult stunts are the ones I perform myself.

CNN: You've developed and mastered an extensive range of special effects equipment, from wires and motorcycles to pyrotechnics. Which is your personal favorite?

BL: I like all of them, especially when they can be integrated as a whole package. If used together, they can achieve great results, which are hard to beat. I really enjoy the final result, when we can make use of combinations of various effects, as a collaboration between different teams and departments. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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