In the world of cinema and even video games there are unsung heroes who despite their efforts may go relatively unnoticed to a degree. For every car crash, intense martial arts sequence, or daring leap we see a character make it’s not a simple case of having said action perform by itself as there’s a person behind each of those things. Stunt performers, especially those with a martial arts background, are in a way some of the best performers in the world as they give us fight scenes that boggle the mind and despite not making immediate contact with every hit they dish out still put their bodies on the line for their profession and giving us, the film goers or gamer, an experience that won’t be forgotten.
One thing that I think gamers and those who enjoy martial arts won’t forget is the live action debut trailer for the video game Sleeping Dogs. Once known as True Crime: Activision when the game was at Activision, Sleeping Dogs returned in an unlikely way with a debut trailer whose quality eclipsed action movies that are released in theaters. Taking the core elements of the game, intense melee based action, fast gunplay, and the occasional motorcycle getaway moment, the Sleeping Dogs trailer provided us with a three minute video that was the epitome of fun and showed some excellent fight choreography and performances.
At the center of the Sleeping Dogs trailer was stunt performer/actor Brian Ho, the man who portrayed Wei Shen – the protagonist of Sleeping Dogs. While silent throughout the video, Brian showed a level of intensity combined with martial arts skill that not only made the video, which was basically a short film, believable but also sold people on the concept of the game.
Being a fan of martial arts films and those in the stunt profession I had the chance to chat with Brian about his role in the Sleeping Dogs video and about his career as a stunt performer. If you’re a fellow devotee of martial arts films and the people who help bring fight scenes to life I think you’ll dig this interview as Brian shares some nice insight on things.
Ian Fisher: Can you tell us a bit about your background as an actor/stunt performer and how you ultimately got into the stunt business?
Brian Ho: I’ve been a stunt performer for about 12 years. I first got into stunts/acting when my wushu instructor, Bruce Fontaine, who at the time as was working with Electronic Arts, hired me to do some MoCap for a game teaser that EA was pitching to Marvel. From there, I landed a Hasbro toy commercial, and then a month later I was hired as a stunt/fight double for a kids movie called Agent Cody Banks. After that I was hooked! I had always been involved in martial arts ever since I was a kid but never thought I could make a living doing so. Once I made this career choice, I never looked back and have been loving my “job” ever since.
Ian: Over the course of your career you’ve managed to work in some cool projects such as Underworld, Resident Evil: Retribution, and the forthcoming Man of Steel. So as a stunt performer, what has been the most enjoyable gig you’ve done so far, either because it presented a nice challenge to you or because it allowed you to showcase your skills in one way or another?
Brian: Two Movies come to mind actually. The first was “Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief”. I was one of 2 stunt doubles for Logan Lerman who played Percy in the movie. I had been on fight teams, and stunt teams for movies and TV shows before but that was the first time that I had the opportunity to work on a movie from the concept stages, to rehearsals and then shooting, not to mention being one of the lead’s doubles. I learned so much from that experience.
The other film is “The Warrior’s Way”. It was a “western” except with ninjas and cowboys. We shot this in New Zealand back in 2007. This was the second time that I traveled there for work (the first time was in 2003 for “The Last Samurai”) We had a very international team and they were awesome. Every day I went to work, I got to do something different: fights, wires, high falls, ratchets, decenders, guns, free running…you name it, we did it. In terms of getting an opportunity to showcase my skills, that was definitely THE movie: )
Ian: You’ve managed to work on a lot of diverse projects ranging from TV and film and of course doing such a thing has allowed you to work with quite a few talented directors and stunt choreographers. Most recently you’ve worked with Darren Shahlavi for the Sleeping Dogs project but for you who is the one person you would love to work with if given the chance? Is there a particular actor or fight choreographer you would really like to have a go with?
Brian: I have been fortunate enough to work will so many amazing fight choreographers and action directors over the years but so far I haven’t had the chance to work with Yuen Woo-Ping. I grew up watching his movies (Asian and North American), and would love to work on one of his films.
Ian: As a fan of action films produced both in the West and in Asia I more than appreciate the time and skill that goes into creating thrilling stunts and fight scenes. With your background being that of a stunt performer/martial artist do you ever feel that some people perhaps underappreciate the work that people such as yourself put into choreographing a fighting scene or doing something else that takes a huge amount of skill? At times I feel that stunt performers are kind of the unsung heroes of the entertainment industry so do you have a similar feeling since you’re a veteran of the business?
Brian: You know what, as a stunt performer, our number one priority, besides safety, is to make the actor(s) or action look good. If people watch a movie and are impressed by what they see, I know I’ve done my job and that’s appreciation enough. The only thing that really bugs me, and most stunt performers, is when they want us do a difficult or very dangerous stunt during shooting and then the editor either cuts it up to look like nothing or the gag gets completely cut from the final edit. We all understand the actor is usually going to be the main focus but why put a performer in danger if all you are planning to show is a blur through frame and then a close-up of the actor.
Ian: The style of fighting and general choreography in the Sleeping Dogs trailer has a nice mix of the style found in Chinese action flicks while maintaining some of the flash that Western audiences love. As a martial artist and performer, are you fond of action movies produced in the Chinese market, some of which Sleeping Dogs is taking inspiration from, or do you prefer the more in your face approach that certain Western films take?
Brian: I like both kinds of movies equally. I’m a huge fan of the HK style of fighting and action. I grew up watching Hong Kong action films with my dad, and those films were my inspiration to learn martial arts. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched HK fight scenes in slow-motion and tried to copy their moves, LOL. There was a time when Hollywood couldn’t come close to what HK cinema was doing in terms of fighting and wire work. Now the Asian flavor had made it’s way west, but North America didn’t just copy it, they improved some aspects too. But in the end, when it comes to fighting and Choreography as long as it’s entertaining and I’m not taken out of the movie watching experience by something that doesn’t fit the scene (ie military guys doing wushu flips, in a WWII movie, etc) or poor CG I’m good.
Ian: Prior to jumping into the Sleeping Dogs project did you have any previous experience working in a video game related project by providing some motion capture performing? And in general are you fond of video games or is that something you can appreciate but in a more hands-off sort of way?
Brian: Yes, as I mention before, my first stunt job was a motion capture job for Electronic Arts. Since then I’ve done a number of video games for them and various other game companies. MoCap is definitely hard work, but fun and a welcome change to film work. It’s a lot of creative physical acting on top of just doing the stunts, especially when it comes to creatures. Now when I play some games, or watch the game trailers I often wonder who was doing the MoCap for those games.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a hardcore gamer or anything. But I do have a Xbox and there are times that my buddy and I will play Need for Speed, Star Wars or Battlefield for hours until our thumbs hurt, hahaha!
Ian: Gamers knew about Sleeping Dogs when it was formerly called True Crime: Hong Kong but I think no one ever expected a thrilling live-action trailer to be used to promote the game. So with that said how did you join the Sleeping Dogs project and land the role of Wei Shen in the trailer?
Brian: Darren Shahlavi, is a friend and co-worker of mine and he had called me to audition for the job. It was actually between my other friend, Don Lew (super talented martial artist and stuntman) and I. They where originally thinking about using our bodies but use Wei’s face via digital face replacement. Fortunately, when we did a camera and makeup test, I looked enough like Wei that, not only, did they decided to use me, they didn’t even bother with the face replacement.
Ian: Veteran actor/martial artist Darren Shahlavi was responsible for choreographing the fight scenes in the Sleeping Dogs trailer and he did one hell of a job since everything was amazing. Can you talk about what it was like working with Darren and were you able to add any unique moves of your own to the mix?
Brian: Working with Darren is always awesome. He’s done a lot of films as both an actor and a stuntman so he know what looks good on camera. During rehearsals, Darren was super prepared, he had already choreographed most of the fights and the directing team of Paul Furminger and Kody Sabourin, already had a good idea where the camera was going to be. Basically, we, the performers, just plugged ourselves into the scenes that Darren and the Directors had pre-viz’ed.
As far as my input goes, there were spots that would be featured moments, so Darren would ask me what I could do. I would give him some options, they would film it, and then decide which version they liked. The triple flying side-kick in the kitchen scene was an example of this. Also, sometimes when we’d be rehearsing or filming, we would need to add a couple moves here and there (for whatever reason) so then we’d just make it up on the spot.
Luckily for us, we’re all martial artist/stuntmen who have all worked together numerous times before. We know what each other can do so modifying choreography on the fly was pretty easy. Other than that, Darren being the choreographer, gives you the moves, certain key points or poses to hit, and then I try to perform it the way that I think the character would do it, and hopefully everyone is happy.
Ian: The fight choreography in the Sleeping Dogs trailer was amazing as it felt natural but had a certain stylish flow to it that was definitely gritty since people got stabbed in the hand and in some cases lost their hand. So with that said what was the general goal of the fight choreography for the Sleeping Dogs trailer? Did you and the rest of the team get to see any clips from the actual game, perhaps to include a signature move/moment, or were things more or less open to interpretation?
Brian: I think the general goal of the fight choreography was to take moves that the character already does, add to it, and make something entertaining to watch. The team had a good understanding of how Wei’s character fought in the game and Darren choreographed it accordingly. I had also researched and watch some gameplay footage on YouTube. There were a few moves that we took from the game. One was the sweep kick, you can see Wei do it a few times in the “Sleeping Dog E3 2010 Gameplay Footage”, and I do it to my friend, Alex Chiang, who I sweep and slam onto the kitchen floor. Also, in the game, Wei makes good use of the environment, he one-hand vaults over tables and ledges, and slams people into objects so we incorporated that aspect into the fights as well.
Ian: Having worked on the Sleeping Dogs trailer and being able to show off quite a few of your skills, what was your favorite scene about the trailer or moment working on the project? Did you have fun pulling off a certain fight segment or in general was it just cool to be part of the project and work with a team of talented people?
Brian: I think my favorite scene is the one in the kitchen, the fighting was fast and raw, there was a sick fire burn by Darryl Quon, and I got to do some cool moves. But honestly, I really like working on all parts of the show. The production team was awesome to work for, we had great directing team, and the DOP, Norm Li did his usual magic with the lighting and cameras. The fight team, well, we’re all friends who love working with each other and kicking each other’s ass, LOL. I was really stoked to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing team on a project like this one.
Ian: I don’t know if you can answer this, but is there any possibility we’ll see you again in a Sleeping Dogs related project, whether it’s in another short film type thing or possibly in an ad campaign since you’ve literally become the face that people associate with the game?
Brian: Hahaha, I’m not sure but I really hope so (crossing fingers). I know there were talks of a possible extended cut of the current trailer, or maybe even a TV commercial but we’ll have to wait and see about those. Hopefully the games does well and they make a sequel which could then open up more possibilities, like maybe doing the actual MoCap or another live action trailer, etc.
Ian: Besides the ever amazing Sleeping Dogs trailer, what else can gamers expect to see you in next? Are there any projects we can maybe see you in next or anything you want to let folks know about?
Brian: Well, for gamers, Prototype 2 will be released soon. Myself and another performer did probably 95% of the MoCap for that game. All the characters, their movements, creatures and cinematic sequences etc. A few years ago, I MoCap’d part of the original Prototype and then in 2010 the game team called me back to work on the entire sequel.
As far is films go, there are a few coming out this year. In the upcoming “Resident Evil: Retribution” movie, I play one of the zombies that Milla Jovovich fights in the “corridor of light”. And then in the reboot of “Total Recall”, I play a bunch of the robots (white), as well as the main badass robot (black) who is Cohaagen’s personal bodyguard.
Currently, I’m working on a movie called Still Seas/Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Our action sequences are coming up at the end of March so hopefully, we’ll get to do some cool stunts : )
For something as small and straight forward as a video game promo video, the lasting impact of the Sleeping Dogs debut video is something that still has people talking today – not only because of the tone it established for the game but because of the sheer quality it provided as a mini action movie.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Brian for taking the time out to chat with me and share some insight on the process that went into making Sleeping Dogs into a reality. As a fan of action movies and martial artists I look forward to seeing Brian kick ass as a robot bodyguard in Total Recall or even taking on Milla Jovovich as a member of the undead in Resident Evil: Retribution.
Originally posted on March 7, 2012