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Old 12-03-2011, 04:07 AM   #1
DiP
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Default Action Director

This is a good old-fashioned term of Hong Kong action cinema which is still being used today. Can anyone give a detailed view on what it really describes when someone or others are involved in designing action scenes? And what would be the best way to describe each party's duty in participating in the whole creative process of setting up action scenes?

Last edited by DiP; 12-04-2011 at 02:30 AM.
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Old 12-03-2011, 12:36 PM   #2
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Hi

There are no specifics or definitives

In the English language credits of HK films, you will see the terms "Action Director", "Martial Arts Director", "Action Choreographer" etc etc. Usually the Chinese version of the credits will be the either "Dong Jok Ji Do" ("Action Coordinator") or "Mo Suet Ji Do" ("Martial Arts Coordinatorr"). Generally, these terms are interchangable.

In comparison, in the west, the term "stunt coordinator" seems the most popular term for the person who orchestrates the action and takes charge of safety, but sometimes you will see "stunt director", "stunt arranger" etc. The terms are generally interchangable.

In both HK and elsewhere, you can tell more about who did what when you have more than one credit in that category. For example, in the west it's not uncommon to have a Stunt Coordinator credited, and then a Fight Arranger/Director/Choreographer credited. In those instances, we can tell pretty much who put the fights together! In HK you will see some films have a credited Action Director, but then , say Bruce Law is credited as the Car Stunt Director, or for Fire Stunts. In "Drunken Master 2", Law coordinated the stuff where Jackie is on fire, and on hot coals. You can be pretty sure he didn't choreograph the sequences, or direct them, but rather his expertise with pyro and advice was there to achieve the Action Director's vision safely. He does/did however pretty much direct the car sequences of many HK movie.

The question of who "creates" or "directs" the action scene varies from film to film. In Hong Kong, some action directors/martial arts choreographers literally run the set when an action scene is being filmed: dictating angles, lenses, frame rates (fast or slow motion), cut points etc. For example, on "Downtown Torpedoes", Teddy Chen pretty much let Stephen Tung Wai get on with directing the action scenes.

Other directors want collaboration - so on "The Killer", John Woo had a pretty clear idea of the choreography/staging of the action that he wanted, but he looked to Tony Ching Siu-tung not just to ensure it was safe, and that the shots worked, but also for more ideas and angles.

And then you have directors who want to control the camera and cut points, and merely want the action director/martial arts choreographer to choreograph physical movement. On "Full Contact", Ringo Lam was very much present when Lau Kar-wing and his team choreographed, and Lam called the shots. Andrew Lau is another director who tends to avoid a "hands off approach". A former cameraman, Lau will often operate the camera himself to shoot sequences which an "Action Director/Choreographer" (like Dion Lam on "A Man Called Hero" and "Storm Riders") has choreographed/staged.

Sometimes films will have separate Action Units filming while the director is filming drama on the main unit. This tends to happen more in the west on big budget films than in Hong Kong. On "The Medallion" Sammo Hung was in charge or directing an action unit - a whole crew shooting the action setpieces - while Gordon Chan shot mostly non-action stuff. Of course in a perfect world, the director and action director will have some communication/crossover in ideas, or a film can be quite schizophrenic.

Generally, stunt/action/martial arts people in Hong Kong had/have more input than their counterparts in the west. For example in Hong Kong it's not unusual for the action director/choreographer to sit in on the editing, and dictate the cuts.

In the west some Stunt Coordinators do direct 2nd Unit, but usually they don't have the control, input or creative freedoms of their Eastern counterparts. They are often working to a brief: eg "We are shooting this scene and we want 2nd Unit to go off and get us these two storyboarded stunt shots to cut in with the Main Unit footage".

Vic Armstrong is one of the few Western stunt coordinators to really be given a large amount of control , and I'm told he sometimes prefers to be credited as "Action Unit Director" as that more fairly reflects his role than "2nd Unit Director" or "Stunt Coordinator".

I hope you weren't bored by my drawn out ramblings. To summarise, it's safe to say that the role and input of "Action Director" varies from film to film. At least it involves ensuring safety, at most it can involve staging, directing and editing the action scenes of a film.
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Old 12-03-2011, 02:00 PM   #3
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Great feedback. I don't mind long posts at all, that is the point of this thread. You're making good points here.

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Old 12-03-2011, 08:36 PM   #4
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Depends. You have Ads and their crews. ADs can get to do it all on their own if that is what is agreed to by the director, or in line with what the director wants.
Chor Yuen said he let Tong Gaai do the action all on his own. As a result, Tong Gaai was creating weapons and created a style that was all his and his crew's.

Sometimes a director is an action director that has an AD working for him. Chang Cheh, John Woo and Tsui Hark come to mind in regard to this. No matter who the AD is, they will work to bring out the visual style and/or theme of the director who is doing action in their movie.

An AD may be a choreographer as well, or may not do much of that at all BUT be the full AD. Sammo was the AD on Tsui Hark's Knock Off but Yuen Bun was the choreographer. He did a bit of Double Team. The end stadium stuff. Hung Yan Yand did some as well. The hotel fight, maybe more. Hung Yan Yan did Time And Tide. BUT the visual style and end result was all TH. No AD's individual style ever comes through in a TH project.

Sammo had his old school crew. Look at the names attached to Warriors Two. He was the AD, they were the choreographers. Look at SPL. Donnie was the AD but he had chors. with him. In the BTS stuff from the alley fight, his team is actually doing the chor. for the scene, not him. Saw some pictures of Don't Give A Damn once where Chin Kar Lok was showing the scarf choke moves to Colin Chou and Bobby Samuels. Sammo was in the background sitting behind the camera. Chor. did action. AD set up shot. ADs will choose the feel, angle, length etc., while the team will do the chor. Tong Gaai always had Huang Pei Chi(Wong Pei Chi) by his side and Yuen Wah and Yuen Bun with him as well. LKL first worked as a team with Tong Gaai. He had his team at Shaws. He had Wilson Tong with him, then after he left to do his thing in the indies, he had Ching Chu and Siu Ho with him. One man does not do it all.

Sometimes an individual's style can come out in other work that shows you what they did with someone else. When I saw The Phantom Killer with action by Billy Chan, I saw his style all over past works with Sammo. Look at the Yuen Clan. YWP would be the AD, with Shun Yi and Cheung Yan as choreographers. When Cheung Yan got the Charlie's Angels gig, he did all the stuff that they had already done in HK. It showed me that that was most likely his stuff. Look at Yuens, Tak and Kwei. They work together. Look at the end of Hero. YT is doing movements almost verbatim to the movements of Wen Zhou in Fong Sai Yuk. That tells me most likely that that was choreographed by him. YK was the AD on both.

Woo's action style, mentioned above, was dictated by him. It's why others aped his stuff but never got it the same because of his nuances. I did hear one story about Hard Boiled. It ws said that time and budget were getting tight during the end with the hostipol scenes. As a result, they were split into 3-4 teams shooting at the same time. I had heard that Kuo Chui was doing the action and JW and others were shooting other stuff. This was post the long take shot stuff.

In the US you have 2nd units that seem to just shoot what and how they like and the director and editor do whatever from there.
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Old 12-03-2011, 09:00 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BaronK View Post

An AD may be a choreographer as well, or may not do much of that at all BUT be the full AD. Sammo was the AD on Tsui Hark's Knock Off but Yuen Bun was the choreographer. .
That's not strictly accurate. It wasn't as simple as that. "Knock Off" had a lot of action, locations and scenes. Often Sammo was in charge of an action unit, while Tsui Hark was on the main unit with Yuen Bing (Yuen Bun). Sometimes Tsui would be present at the start of the action scene, then go off onto another scene while Sammo, assisted by the likes of Lam Hak-ming got down to shooting the intricate stuff. Sammo did choreograph things.

It wasn't unusual for the stars to be on one unit with TH/YB, and their doubles with Sammo, then vice versa.

Yuen Bing got one credit, Sammo another.

Last edited by Reel Power Stunts; 12-03-2011 at 09:07 PM. Reason: clarity on name, plus added more info
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Old 12-03-2011, 09:50 PM   #6
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Interesting stuff guys! You've made an awesome effort to piece together what its like on an HK set based on interviews, docs etc.... That is not easy.

Any possible input from people that have worked on an HK / Taiwan film? I know there are more of you on the forums than is generally let on.

I always wondered how much an action scene's creative content came from the AD, Director, stuntmen, choreographers or any combination thereof. I think there is a degree of collaboration behind the moves and ideas on screen, as you guys have said. I was amazed when Fung Hak On said Woo made him "juggle" the swords in that Last Hurrah for Chivalry interview. That's the type of intricate movement I'd think a choreographer and/or AD would decide on. I knew Woo had worked out a lot of details on the action.... but that is pretty specific stuff in the context of the film.
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Old 12-05-2011, 02:46 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BaronK
An AD may be a choreographer as well, or may not do much of that at all BUT be the full AD.
That depends too. Like you said, action directors don't work alone because it would be way too much to handle. But there's absolutely no reason why the choreographers should always have the full hand in doing the actual choreography when they don't even have slightest idea of what the AD or the director wants to achieve and what they are instructed to do when they are brought onboard. So I don't think Sammo and Donnie had/have their teams just to fill in for them for not knowing how to form a basis to work from. Choreography is teamwork and everybody gets to have input in what works and not, just as long as there's relevance to or stays intact with that the AD or director is reaching for. In other way, I think the choreographers are mainly there to assist the ADs and not otherwise, unless given the chance for freedom of course.

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