“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” wastes no time in getting right to the exciting martial arts action. And just as in recent action hit “Nobody,” the intense combat plays out on a city bus.
In the sequence, Shang-Chi, aka Shaun, played by Simu Liu has yet to learn about his past and superhero ties. He’s just a regular guy who works in the valet of a posh San Francisco hotel. When he and his friend Katy (Awkwafina) are ambushed, Katy learns about Shaun’s martial arts skills as he faces off against Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) and his sidekicks in a thrilling display of palm strikes, axe kicks and fist-to-fist punches, as Razor Fist tries to grab Shang-Chi’s jade pendant.
Fight coordinator Andy Cheng, who has worked closely with Jackie Chan, spoke with Variety about how the sequence took over a year to choreograph – the pandemic forced the production to shut down two months into filming – and went through numerous iterations.
“The bus sequence scene happens early on in the film, and it was as if we were testing the waters of what’s to come. It’s an introduction for Shang-Chi and his character.
“People will see it and think there’s the Jackie Chan style in that sequence, but we never had that as a reference.
It was a long process, it took us a whole year. We started early in Los Angeles with preparation. Director Destin Cretton had a lot of ideas about how the bad guys would get that necklace and talked it through with the stunt team. The structure that you see in the film is similar to what we started with, where it goes from inside to outside the bus and back in, which never really changed.
“It was the fight inside the bus that went through at least 20 different versions. It was long and then it was shorter. At one point, we had Shang Chi starting the fight when he saw someone hurting Katy, but that changed.”
Training Simu Liu
“Simu already had a great base coming in with his own martial arts training, but that bus scene also involved wire work and stunt work. We had three months of additional martial arts training with him that included different forms of it and tai chi.
“He’s such a hard worker and very smart. When we put him in the wires, he caught up to that very fast. He did a lot of the fight scenes throughout because Shang-Chi doesn’t wear a mask and it would be very hard to hide. If anything was going to hurt him, then we used a stunt double.
“We had rehearsals and then stunt rehearsals and wire rehearsals. Also, he’s the star, so in a situation like this, we had to make sure he wasn’t hurt.
“COVID shut us down midway into the shoot, so when we came back, we had to retune everyone to finish that sequence. It’s one of the longest sequences I’ve worked on in my career.”
Building the Bus
“We had two different buses that we shot on. We had one on a 15 feet high gimbal for all the big moves you see in the film. We also had another one on a lower gimbal which was one meter high.
“Again, we had to consider safety issues because we had extras who were bus passengers, they were not stunt people. We had to train the actors and cast to work with the bus on that gimbal, how to walk around and run around when they needed to. Everyone needed to feel safe.
“It was also a small space, we had to find a way to make that scene work so we cleared things out such as pulling out chairs and windows for filming. We put a lot of mats in too for padding. We took the windows out when the bus tips sideways, and without the gimbal, it would have been impossible to do those angles.
“The hardest part was figuring out how the bus would be sliced in half and how to create the fight around that. We had to create situations for Shang-Chi such as why he was suddenly outside the bus and seeing the danger so he makes this decision. We had that to make that whole process unbelievable.”