Interview with Andy Cheng

In the world of stunts and action, claiming a membership card with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team is a true badge of honor, and one that Andy Cheng can proudly list among his accomplishments.

A native of Hong Kong, Andy Cheng’s began a career in competitive martial arts that eventually led him into stunts and action moviemaking. What could be more fitting for that life trajectory that for it to lead him to eventually join the Jackie Chan Stunt Team?

Andy Cheng’s career in action movies has not only seen him work with alongside such legends as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, but other big names in the action world like Dwayne Johnson, Daniel Wu, Isaac Florentine, and many, many others.

Along the way, Andy would eventually form his own stunt team, and has moved into writing and filmmaking himself. Naturally, his long career in stunts in both Hollywood and Hong Kong has served him well in that career leap!

Today, KFK sits down with Andy Cheng to discuss his career with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, his vast career in martial arts and the movie business, and the incredible depth of knowledge and wisdom he’s gained from all sides. He’s also genuinely one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet, so without further ado, please welcome Andy Cheng!

Hi Andy, Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! It’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well. 

Yeah, I’m doing great Brad, thanks!

Awesome Andy! So, before we begin, may we get your views briefly on what you think of our mission to encourage 100 million people around the world to get into martial arts for all the positive benefits that it brings to individuals, physically, mentally and socially – what do you think about this goal?

That’s good, keep it going! Martial arts should never die! You guys are doing a great job!

Background & Influences

Thanks, we definitely believe in the benefit of martial arts! So, let’s begin with how you got started in martial arts. How old were you when you started learning martial arts and what different disciplines have you studied?

Well, I started very young, but I wasn’t really in a school when I started. My brother learned Hung Kuen, so I started when I was about 10 or 11 and started learning Hung Kuen, or the Tiger-Crane style, but I was with my older brother and not a teacher.

Then when I was 13, I started doing Taekwondo, and started to compete in the Olympic WTF style. So, I competed for Hong Kong, and then I got a chance to work with Jackie Chan, so that’s why I’m here now!

I was about to ask if that was what got you interested in stunt work?

Yeah, and then after that, about 10 years later, I was working with Jackie.

So, who would you say are your biggest influences in martial arts and moviemaking?

Definitely Jackie Chan. When I decided to work in movies, I was inspired by “Police Story”. That’s what made me say “Oh, I want to do movies”, and I actually grew up where he did the stunt where he went down the hill on the bus.

I slid down that hill every day after school and I said “I can do what he does!”, so that’s what made me want to work in movies.

Life with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team

Whoa, incredible! So what kind of mentorship or guidance did Jackie give you as you worked with him on the Jackie Chan Stunt Team?

Well, we’re really like family. He’d let us put things together how we wanted, then he’d come on to either correct it or put his own input on it, but the whole process is everyone working together like a team or a family.

So, that for me felt really good because of the chance to be involved in the creative side, and later on, when you’ve got his trust you do more, so that’s very cool.

Jackie has a very distinctive fighting style and approach to action, how has that shaped your own?

Well, I’ve still kind of followed him. I remember when I first saw “Mr. Nice Guy”, and his choreography, because that’s my first movie with Jackie, and I got to really see how he planned everything.

He never does one move, it’s a whole scene, so it’s very different from just doing one or two punches and then doing the next move. It’s more like the whole package, and he knows where he wants everything.

So mostly, we would have a core idea of the structure, and you’re building on it and we know where we’re going. In one fight, it might be “We’re on the table, and everything is going from there, or we’re on a scaffolding.”

So, it’s not really a style based on any kind of martial art, it’s based on what we want to do with the main object or idea, and then based on that, we put stuff into it.

For example, in “John Wick”, he uses Jiu-Jitsu and Judo and wrestling, and even with the guns, they’ve used it a lot like Jiu-Jitsu, so you can see “Oh, this Judo or Jiu-Jitsu”. With Jackie, you don’t look at it and say “Oh, this is Wing Chun”, we really are wide open with putting different things in the structure or the core idea.

It’s not really specific like “Oh, this is Taekwondo, or this is Karate”, when you see Jackie Chan, you don’t say “Oh, he’s using Taekwondo or Wing Chun now”, so that’s his style. It’s just about fitting whatever is the location or the situation or the props, like the ladder fight in “First Strike”.

On that note, what are some of your favorite movies you worked on as part of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team? 

Well, every movie has something really fun. “Rush Hour” was great, “Rush Hour 2” was amazing, they all have really good memories. If I had to pick some, I think “Who Am I?” and “Rush Hour 2” were some of my favorites.

One of Jackie’s movies that I didn’t work on but I wish I did was “Drunken Master II”. Back then, I was still in the TV company, but I wish I had gotten to work on it. That would’ve been one of my favorites.

The Life of a Hong Kong Stuntman

“Drunken Master II” is definitely a classic! So, what is the worst injury you’ve experienced in your stunt career, and how did you work around it?

Probably my worst injury was when I dislocated my elbow working with the TV company. It was a whole year after that where I couldn’t really bend my arm. The one that almost killed me was on “Rush Hour 2” when I almost drowned.

We had a big fight scene on the boat, and I was supposed to kick Jackie, he bounced into someone, and they pushed two of us stunt guys into the water.

I asked to double the guy being kicked into the water, I thought it’d be a fun stunt to do. But I got trapped under the current, and it was after midnight and we had no safety divers or anything.

So, I’m spinning under the current, and I’m saying to myself in English “Andy, this stunt is not fun anymore!”, but I was lucky to be saved by Jackie.

Oohh! Glad to hear you made your way out of that okay! So, what are some of your personal favourite fight scenes or stunts you’ve helped stage in your career so far?

Hmmm. I think the rooftop fight in “Who Am I?” is pretty cool, and then another would be the massage parlour fight in “Rush Hour 2”.

A little personal note from me – “Who Am I?” was actually the first DVD I ever owned as a kid!

Oh really?

Yep, excellent first DVD to buy! So, as a Hong Kong industry insider, what are some of your favorite Hong  Kong action movies aside from those from your own filmography?

One of my favorites that Sammo Hung directed was “Heart of the Dragon”. I really like it, it has a good story and crazy stunts, so that’s why it’s one of my favorites. I tear up at the bathtub scene, and it has great fights too. I also really loved one of Donnie Yen’s movies, “Dragon Tiger Gate”, and “Sha Po Lang” is also good.

Yeah, Donnie’s really exploded in the last few years outside of Hong Kong, too.

Yeah, and I got to see “John Wick: Chapter 4” early, because I know the director, Chad Stahelski. It was really, really good, mind-blowing! You certainly won’t be disappointed. If you like martial arts movies, this movie gives you everything!

Awesome view of “John Wick: Chapter 4”. What are your impressions of some of the martial artists in the cast like Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror?

Yeah, Scott is amazing in it, and so is Marko Zaror. Everything in “John Wick: Chapter 4” is A+ for me, and it’ll be very hard to top!

That’s to be expected with a “John Wick” movie, of course! So, what would you say are the biggest differences between working in stunts in Hollywood versus Hong Kong?

Well, 20 or so years ago, working in Hong Kong, we didn’t have that much rehearsal time. We’d pretty much do on-set choreography and shoot, so everything would be happening right there.

When I started working in Hollywood, I remember on Rush Hour, we had much more prep time compared to Hong Kong. Overall, Hong Kong is much more fast-paced, and has more surprises – and what I mean is there’s a lot more that you just end up figuring out right then with the choreography.

In Hollywood, mostly you’ll follow the script or choreography or the rehearsal, and you’ll also have a pre-viz where you’ll see the scene before you do it in Hollywood, but you won’t in Hong Kong.

Now, with laptops and on-set editing, you can see on set what the scene is and decide “Oh, we need to do one more shot.”

I haven’t been back to China in a while, but I know they’ve improved a lot, and I did “Tai Chi Zero” with Stephen Fung back there about ten years ago where we did rehearsals and pre-viz for about three months.

So, now, the working style in Hong Kong and Hollywood is a lot more alike, they do rehearsals and prep time and pre-viz before shooting on set, so now, both have almost blended a lot, and that’s a big change.

Working with The Rock

You’ve also worked on movies with The Rock, beginning with “The  Scorpion King”. What was it like working with The Rock on his first movie as a leading man?

“The Scorpion King” was interesting. It was The Rock’s first movie, and I was there when they were doing reshoots and helping with the fight scenes.

The opening sequence wasn’t in the movie originally, so we created that, the middle fight in the movie with the gong, and we redid the ending, and we spent about two or three weeks doing that, and we also added to the fight with The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan.

It was my first studio movie as a stunt coordinator, and right after that, “The Scorpion King” did well for what they were expecting, and the producer brought me into The Rock’s next movie, “The Rundown”.

On “The Rundown”, I was stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, and second unit director, so that helped me get into the Director’s Guild of America (DGA). So, those were really good stepping stones for me.

“The Rundown” is one of my favorite of The Rock’s movies and you brought a lot of Hong Kong influence to it with the fight scenes, especially with The Rock’s fight with Ernie Reyes Jr. What can you share about the experience of crafting all the amazing action scenes in “The Rundown”?

That fight I talked to the director, Peter Berg about, and I said “In ‘The Scorpion King’, he had a lot of fight scenes with big soldiers, so how about here, he fights with some little guys?”

So, we picked a lot of young stunt guys, and a lot of them were dancers or Capoeira guys. I also wanted to have a main guy leading them, and I knew Ernie from “Rush Hour 2”, so I suggested him to the director, and they liked Ernie and they made him the leader.

Working with Garrett Warren

Yeah, that’s a great fight scene, and the whip fight at the end with Garrett Warren leading the villains was also fantastic!

That was actually Garrett’s first movie as a stunt man after he lost his eye, and I suggested him to the director.

So, we had three guys with the two whips each, and the whip fight in the movie is actually about ten percent of what we shot, but they decided to cut it down and add a few things like when The Rock takes down the building and the water tower.

Originally, the three whip guys were almost like Spider-Man with a lot of wire-work, almost like out of the ladder fight in “Once Upon A Time In China”.

Wow, I love that fight and it turned out great, but sounds like a lot got trimmed out unfortunately! OK, so in general, what was it like working with The Rock when he was just starting out in movies at that point?

First of all, The Rock is a great guy, a great man with a good heart, and he is really good with choreography because of his pro-wrestling background.

He remembers choreography so well, and he’s one of the best guys I’ve ever worked with as a fight choreographer.

Once or twice in rehearsal, and by then he has it down, and the good thing is you can say in the middle, “How about we change this or that?”, and he could’ve worked on it for a whole month, but if you change it, he can still get it down easily.

He’s also a very humble guy. When we did “The Scorpion King”, it was his first movie as the star, but he was already a star in the wrestling world. He’s really humble, so we had a really good time when we did “The Scorpion King”. And then “The Rundown” was even more fun because we had more time to do rehearsals.

Did you guys try to put a lot of kung fu or Hong Kong influence into his fighting style in the movie?

Well, just as working with Jackie Chan, we fit it into what the sequence needs. In the big fight with the little guys in “The Rundown”, they throw tomahawks and pick him up and throw him into a tree, and then he does the kip-up and the double push-kick to kick two guys before he lands.

That was very different from what he had done in pro-wrestling before with the wire-work, so that was kind of the Hong Kong action influence we had there.

Was The Rock a big Hong Kong action movie fan?

Well, he knew my background of working with Jackie, so we talked a lot about Jackie, and “The Rundown” itself is an action-comedy.

Andy Cheng on Working with Isaac Florentine

And a great one! Looking ahead now, you also worked with Isaac Florentine on his movie “U.S. Seals II”.  What can you share about that experience and working with an acclaimed martial arts filmmaker as Isaac Florentine?

Isaac is amazing, and he’s a really, really crazy, die-hard martial arts fan, and I was really lucky to work with him. And I even got to play a character in the movie, which was new for me because I’ve never really been an actor on camera.

He also let me direct the second unit and I did all the action for him. He gave me a lot of freedom and really trusted me, and I also got the chance to work in Bulgaria on the movie.

Michael Worth is a good guy to work with, and Isaac, because he’s such a die-hard martial arts fan, whenever I’d suggest “Let’s do this or that”, he loved it.

He’d never worked with a guy from Hong Kong before, and I remember after that, he also called me up for “Special Forces” with Scott Adkins, but I was working I think on “The Scorpion King” at the time, so unfortunately, I had to turn it down.

We haven’t had a chance to work together since, but I would love to work with him again. It’s fun, because it’s very hard to find a director who will let you do a full-on martial arts movie, and he is the one!

Working on “Into The Badlands”

Yeah, Isaac is a true martial arts nerd! You also worked as an action director on the TV series “Into the Badlands”. What can you share about working on the show and putting together its amazing wire-fu driven fight scenes?

That goes back to when I went back to China to work on “Tai Chi Zero”, which Stephen Fung directed. Stephen was also one of the producers on “Into the Badlands”, and they did the first season in New Orleans.

When they were picked up for the second season, that’s when Stephen called me up and asked me if I wanted to come and join the show, and I said “Yes!” On “Into the Badlands”, we had the drama unit and action unit, and I was on the action unit, and I continued with the third season, which had even more episodes.

I was lucky, because I got to be there for seasons two and three, and originally, we were supposed to go for four seasons, but unfortunately, something happened with the network behind the scenes, so it ended up being cancelled at the last minute.

Season four was going to be even crazier, because we were going to have guns. In the end shot of season three, the boy picks up the gun, and that was setting up season four which was wuxia with guns, so it would be like “Shanghai Noon” with wires and chi.

The plan for season four was to be even bigger in scale, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to do that. 

That’s a pity. HBO Max picked up “Warrior”, so hopefully, another streamer could maybe do that for “Into the Badlands”.

Yeah, you never know! I think they would love to do it. We got cancelled in I think October, and we were supposed to go back in February, but we didn’t get to.

Got it. Okay, so, what are your fondest memories working with so many amazing martial artists on Into the Badlands like Daniel Wu, Cung Le, Lewis Tan, Sherman Augustus, and many others?

I loved Daniel Wu breaking out stateside, and also Cung Le showing up on the show, and then again in season two.

The ending is very cool when Bajie pulls Pilgrim to the sky and Daniel defeats him. Daniel comes from a Wushu background and he’s great with sword fighting and choreography.

His stair fight and in the snow with Cung Le is really cool, and Cung is amazing. I also really liked the fight with the Widow in the red coat and the other in the black coat, and she’s fighting herself, so there’s a lot of storytelling because it’s one actress fighting herself. Daniel fighting the Moon in the church in season 2, I also thought was really cool.

“Into the Badlands” definitely had some incredible kung fu action! Looking back at your work with Jackie now, one of his Hollywood movies you worked on was “Shanghai Noon”? What can you share about that experience? Were you also a part of “Shanghai Knights”?

I didn’t work on “Shanghai Knights”, because by then, I had moved into directing myself.

“Shanghai Noon” was a really fun, because I’d worked with Jackie on modern day movies before, so “Shanghai Noon” is the only one that was in a different genre. So we had more chances to fight with swords and weapons, and Jackie also fights some Indians in the movie.

So, I loved the opportunity to do something very different from what we were doing. And after Jackie had done “Drunken Master II”, I knew he was really good with weapons, spears, staffs, and rope-darts. We actually learned how to use the rope-dart with the horseshoe for the first time right there, and he picked it up so quickly.

Andy Cheng on Working on Shang-Chi with the Late Brad Allan

Jackie’s a quick study! Looking a bit into the superhero world now, you were also one of the fight choreographers on Marvel’s “Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings”. What can you share about working on Marvel’s big kung fu movie?

What was it like working with some of the incredible performers from the Martial Club and your fellow Jackie Chan Stunt Team alumnus working with Brad Allan, who we all dearly miss after his unfortunate passing?

Brad Allan was my little brother on the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. When he got the show, he called me if I was interested to come aboard, and I said “Of course, yeah!”, because it had a lot of Chinese content and Chinese culture.

So, he had a lot of ideas and wanted me to come on-board to help him, and he also asked me what I thought about it as the first Asian superhero. And I said, “Well, first of all, Shang-Chi is based on Bruce Lee, and also, none of the Marvel superheroes are using much kicking”.

They all use hammers and shields, so I said we should use more kicks. Simu Liu had learned Taekwondo, and he had some background in tricking, so we all agreed it could be really good, and we have one of the best superhero kickers.

Brad Allan’s Massive Break

So, that’s how I came on board, and then Brad also told me “This is the first martial arts movie with this kind of scale, with a big studio and huge budget”, so we knew this was a big opportunity for Chinese culture and martial arts.

You know you’re part of a franchise, but with this one, you’re saying “Okay, we want to make this one the best we can with the martial arts and Chinese elements”.

After I came to the States, we’d all [on the team] started working independently, so this was really the first time we really collaborated as a team after 20 years.

It really meant a lot to me to work with Brad Allan again, because his style is so different from mine, but I learned from collaborating with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see it, and he’s up there now, but I think we did a good job with the first Asian superhero.

We were all shocked to hear of Brad Allen’s untimely passing.

Yeah, he was a great man, great father, great filmmaker, and he didn’t have any bad hobbies like drinking or gambling, he was very focused.

By any chance, have you gotten the call for “Shang-Chi 2”?

We’ll see. Right now, I think they’re still waiting for the script. The first one is a lot about where the father comes from, and the second one, I think he’s going to be more a part of the Marvel Universe.

Andy Cheng’s Sources of Fight Inspo

So, what would you say are some martial arts films you look to as a basis or inspiration for fight choreography?

It’s got to be Jackie Chan! There are many, many different great ones – Sammo Hung has a really good style, Yuen Woo-ping has a really good style, Ching Siu-tung has a really good style, Donnie has a really good style, as does John Wick.

I mean, every different style has something special, and for me, it’s a lot like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do – what fits for the scene, for the character, and the Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do philosophy really got into my head.

Remember, Jackie’s style doesn’t have to be anything specific, it’s about what fits into it. Donnie also has his style, he puts a lot of MMA and grappling into his, so his is like a real, modern-day, street fight combat style.

When you see Jackie, he can do that, which you see in “Police Story” in his early movies, but he also does comedy. So, sometimes, it depends on the story or the character, so it has to be really flexible and no form is the form.

On Reflection

That’s a great approach to have in designing action. So, Andy, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?

Well, for myself, I was the first Bruce Lee Award recipient last year, which I got from Shannon Lee and the Bruce Lee foundation. So, personally, I think besides working with Jackie Chan so much, that’s one of the biggest ones for me personally. My son has also won some big golf tournaments, so as a father, I’ve been really proud to see him accomplish that.

Fun & Leisure

Wonderful accolade. Looking at fun and leisure now, what’s one geeky or interesting thing that people don’t know about you?

I like to golf, and my kids do too. Especially my son. So, besides making action movies, I love golf and that it’s a very mental game and also a sport.

Nice! So, if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?

I think The Flash is pretty cool, and I’d love his speed and to be able to go back in time. I remember in the original Superman movie where he reversed time, and The Flash can do it with his super-speed. So I think that’d be pretty cool, because nothing can kill you.

It’s funny you should ask that, because just this morning, I was looking at a comparison video of both versions of “Justice League”. It’s very interesting with the lighting and color and everything, and I like Zack Snyder’s style more. So, The Flash’s speed and time-travel, that’s a really cool superpower.

Yeah, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is definitely the version of the movie to stick with!

Yeah, I like Zack Snyder’s style a lot. He’s visually very interesting and his camerawork is very intriguing, and he’s also a great action director.

Zack Snyder, call up Andy Cheng and bring some Hong Kong action into your next movie!

Yeah, I would love to work with him, I think he’s an amazing filmmaker!

Future Projects

Agree! So what other projects does Andy Cheng have coming up, what other dreams, goals and ambitions are you keen to accomplish?

I’m glad you asked that question. My thing is I started as a stuntman, and I became a filmmaker, and the biggest stage in movies in the Oscars, and my hope is to direct something that at least gets nominated.

That’s one of the highest goals I can reach for.  I won the Bruce Lee award and a lot of stunt awards, so that’s a big accomplishment, and winning medals in Taekwondo. And in the business, besides Oscars, I don’t know what would be higher than that.

Knights of the Zodiac

For other projects I have coming up, I did a movie called “Knights of the Zodiac”, that’s based on an anime, which is the first one I’ve done, and it’s in post-production now, and I can’t wait to see it come out.

I’m also working on a couple of scripts as a director, and that’s something I’m trying to focus more into. A few of the scripts I’ve written aren’t really action movies, they’re more dramatic movies, so I’m very excited about those.

Andy Cheng’s Warrior Wisdom

We definitely look forward to seeing those! So, what’s a warrior-wisdom or philosophical quote that has helped you become who you are today?

I always really liked the saying in the Nike commercial, “Just do it!” I always tell people, whatever philosophy you follow or what you believe, you still need those three words, Just do it!

Whatever you want in life, you’ll never have it if you don’t chase after it, and I even tell the up-and-coming people, “Make the goals as high as you can and chase it”, so that’s why I really love the saying “Just do it!”

Andy Cheng has a Message for KFK Fans & Followers

Well said! As we sign off, what special message would Andy Cheng like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your fans and followers around the world right now?

You just have to find your passion and something you love, and just do it!

Ask yourself if you only had a day, what would be the last thing you would do? You’ll find it will always be your passion and something you love to do.

If you’re crazy about martial arts, you get up and just do it. Finding your passion is the most important thing, and when you do, just do it!

Well said. Thank you Andy, it’s been a real pleasure and we’re looking forward to hearing about your next action projects in 2023, keep in touch! Xie xie!

Thank you Brad and your team for having me on Kung Fu Kingdom.

So that wraps our interview with the great Andy Cheng – we hope you enjoyed it!

What are key insights did you pick up from Andy about the action movie industry that you weren’t aware about before? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram!

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Brad Curran

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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