Brett Chan is one of the world’s foremost stunt coordinators and fight choreographers with over 20 years of experience in the industry. His creativity and strong work ethic have taken him to the top of his field as a stunt coordinator and second unit director. Brett recently received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for his work on HBO Max’s “Warrior” based on the original concept and treatment by Bruce Lee, executive produced by Shannon Lee and film veteran Justin Lin, and show run by Jonathan Tropper.
Brett’s many credits include stunt coordinating Paramount+’s highly anticipated original series “Halo,” The CW’s critically-acclaimed “Kung Fu” reboot from Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, TBS’ sci-fi thriller series “Snow Piercer” and Universal Picture’s “Skyscraper” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Furthermore, he stunt coordinated and second unit directed the action sequences and fight choreography for the epic period battle scenes in Netflix’s “Marco Polo,” and he has crafted many martial arts masterpieces for Netflix and Marvels’ original TV series.
Brett is also the founder of HITZ International, a professional stunt organization comprised of stunt performers, stunt coordinators, second unit directors, and horse masters from around the world. HITZ International is the culmination of Brett’s many years of seasoned work experience and it sets the stage for emerging and visionary talent in the global action genre.
Brett stopped by The Action Elite to talk about his work on the action-packed series Warrior.
First of all, congratulations on the Emmy nomination for outstanding stunt coordination. That’s awesome.
Thank you very much. Thank you. Had a great team so they made me look good.
I’m ecstatic that season 3 of Warrior has been announced. What stage is it at?
The showrunner is finishing up SEE but also making sure everyone is going to show up. So they have to get all the actors contracts and make sure they’re all available, which I think right now it’s supposed to be starting to shoot in September of next year because they’ve got to write all the scripts and everything still. When they finish SEE which is coming up soon then the writers will start.
Whenever you get a script for Warrior, what is your process for putting together a fight scene?
First you talk to Jonathan Tropper because it all depends on where the story is happening and at what point. If you’re talking about a script, let’s say episode 4 or 1 or whatever it is where the character is coming in. I talk to Jonathan Tropper to determine where he wants to see where it will go, because he’s also very elaborate in how he writes, although he says “don’t do my writing martial art wise”. I just put the story in there. But as long as I can keep certain points like one, two or three points”, then we’ll choreograph it.
Then I talk to the director and see where he wants to go with it. Then from that point, I discuss with the actors; I discuss where they’re at with the storyline, where their mindsets at so that will change how they move, like if he’s in a desperation moment or if he’s in a just mess-around-with-dude’s moment or whatever it is at that point. Then I get into that story mode so I can actually involve the fight and create good drama in the fight itself. Otherwise, you’re looking at a fight which is just a fight. You can make fights and they can look really cool but, in my opinion, if you just watch fights for the whole show and it’s just fights, it gets kind of boring. No matter how cool it is after a while, just like combat fatigue.
I take that moment there with those guys, and then I start incorporating the choreography of where it would evolve to, depending on how their character progresses, within a fight or where he’s going and then we put the fight together. I take it all and then I shoot it, pre-viz it and then we edit it. I have my right-hand men Johnny Yang and Jason Ing so either one of them or other guys, too, like Steve Davis or whoever we have available and then I’ll bring the pre-viz to Jonathan Tropper and the director – this is the story we all talked about, and they might say, “well, change that and move that. Change this. Take that out, add this”. OK, go back again, put those points and reshoot it again but he lets me have full creativity on how it’s done, and he just wants to see those points. Wants to feel it, so then I take it over to them, they like it then great, that’s it. That goes to distribution to everybody, and I shoot it exactly like that. I don’t give a lot of room for editing other than the way it’s shot because everyone has a great perspective on it.
If I’m living, breathing, eating the characters with these guys and the story and everything like that, people outside aren’t necessarily going to understand because they’re not necessarily martial artists or they’re not there living the story with the actors. They understand the editing process, but they don’t understand all that. So, when I shoot it, I have another editor on the side there so I have to make sure I have everything because we also don’t have a lot of time on this show, It’s crucial where we can’t just walk in and say, “maybe I want to shoot it over here. Maybe I want to try an angle over here” but we won’t have the time. It won’t get done. Because Jonathan has trust in me putting the drama in it, that’s how it’s shot. Then I edit it afterwards and send it to our editors in New York. They piece the rest of it together then they add all the effects and everything.
The fight scenes in it are incredible and they’re better than a lot of movies. Do you have a preference of working from TV compared to film or is it just different?
It is different; with film you have so much more time. There is so much more time to prep it, to get it together, see what you need to shoot it on the day. There’s just like so much more time on us. We’re like, bam, bam, bam, bam. It’s just run and gun. I’m doing block shooting so I’ve been shooting four episodes or two episodes at once. Then we’re basically choreographing for shooting both and directing both. It’s definitely not an easier process. I like both. I started to get to features and then I got pulled into TV again. This is a lot more high-end TV. I think there seems to be a big trend of a lot of big actors just doing high end TV or Netflix, Amazon, or HBOMAX now; they’re not necessarily doing all the big features. I think maybe some of the big features aren’t necessarily making the money that they used to especially due to all the streaming platforms. I mean, Disney released Black Widow the same day they put in the theatres. Those lines are starting to cross and so, if I’m being honest, I’d prefer if we had a nice big feature, but right now it’s where we’re at.
When you get in to features, there’s a lot more politics involved because you’ve got these big studio houses so there’s all these different things going on. A lot of times when you get on a TV series, but one you can really sink your teeth in and really get involved, like how Jonathan Topper’s allowed me to on the show. Justin Lin has given me the range too and Shannon Lee. I mean, when you have that, you just have more fun on the show because you’re being creative. I’m doing stuff where it’s not just do this and do that. No we’re actually creating and doing things which is awesome. I think it’s actually given rise to a lot of stunt coordinators to get into directing. You get people like Chad Stahelski, David Leach and Sam Hargrave. Now you just have a lot of guys like Tom Williams making his breakthrough. We’re all kind of moving to directing and it’s great because I just love the creative process.
Can you talk about how you execute the challenging and unique stunts while incorporating the homages to Bruce Lee like how he plays with his opponents and doesn’t destroy them straight away?
Bruce Lee always talked about his philosophy and how he hybridizes a lot of martial arts together to make it like a better system for yourself. You can do four different martial arts and you’ll take things from all four of them to suit you, your body, your needs, what works for you. I can take those exact four martial arts, but I’ll use different moves or techniques within it because we approach it differently. It becomes like one piece. Andrew Koji did not want to be Bruce Lee and I don’t think Bruce Lee meant for this character to be Bruce Lee, although he was going to play it. But you can’t really be Bruce Lee. Any time that someone tries to emulate to be Bruce Lee and their own thing, then it just doesn’t work. If it does work, you have to be spot on if you’re going to do that. If not, it gets ripped apart. He just wanted to give it his own and we call them Bruce Lee-isms so he’ll have a bunch of characteristics that he does and he’ll add it in his character. I’ll add those in the fight and Jonathan Tropper, Shannon or Justin Lin will come on board and say “OK, so now we have to pay some homages to Bruce Lee for some of his movies”. So then you’ll see some key moments that are very iconic in a lot of his movies that we’ve added into certain fights. Just to give you a hint. This is very much Bruce Lee’s story that it was meant to be, and so then we just add those in.
You sent Andrew Koji away to study karate and fight techniques, bringing culturally authentic fight choreography to the show, can you tell us about that?
Andrew Koji is a martial artist and is a trigger martial artist. He also does a lot of acrobatics, but he hasn’t done it in a while. So getting him on board in season one was just getting him shedding the rust and getting to see what he can do, what he wants to do. Then in season two, I kind of wanted to give everyone just a little bit of flavour to every scene that kind of comes around so it’s not all the same thing. Although when you’re pulling it from their character, when you’re doing the choreo it still looks kind of different. You can give them something… an edge that’s a little bit different. So we sent Andrew to Korea and he trained with two masters over there. Mr. Lee and Mr. Kim – one basically invented this system called TKDD and he teaches all the special forces for Korea, China, Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico and it’s crazy. It’s how it incorporates what taekwondo is supposed to be, not just all kicks, but taekwondo is really known for their kicks. So the other master he was training with was specializing in his kicks, although Andrew does kick very well but we wanted to make it look a little bit different where he chambers and how he executes power and how he can move, allowing him to be a little more versatile with it. Then we just incorporate his other style back into it and then we just create fights that way.
In season two, Ah Sham’s got inner turmoil where he’s more ruthless in his approach to combat with his opponents, and you reflected that in the stunts. How did you approach that?
That’s very character driven. When I talk to him about where he’s at at this moment he’ll kind of tell me “well, this is where I’m at” and he knows if it’s this fight where his character has had enough. For example, these guys who are killing Chinese people and he’s just brutal, it’s savage onset so there’s no time for dilly dallying, no time for anything that he’s stabbing the dudes and breaking their arms. He doesn’t care, he just wants these guys gone because of what it’s doing to their people.
When you see him in the ring when he’s fighting those guys he’s not full-on savage. He’s trying to beat them, but he’s trying to get the best out of it because he wants to learn more. He wants to feel more where he’s at. So, he’s not trying to kill them. You can tell the difference between the two when he’s fighting those guys until he starts getting into the street, then that’s even more brutal. He’s fighting Dean. He’s not trying to kill Dean. He’s just trying to humiliate him and beat him bad enough to know that “when you come back to Chinatown, I have an army, and this is what we’re going to do to you” kind of thing. Because he can defeat their champion like that, it kind of deflates the Irish so they don’t want to come back.
The huge riot scene near the end of season two is just amazing. It’s my favourite sequence of the TV series, and I think it’s one of the biggest fights I’ve seen on a TV show. What was that like logistically putting that whole sequence together?
It was insane because we were shooting four episodes at once. I think it was episode eight, seven was when they were in the prison and Ah Toy was going through the prison and would kill those dudes, freeing those girls at the same time, right after we were shooting Ah Toy almost getting killed. Then while we were doing that, I was choreographing and establishing the other two, which is the big riot, which had like a gazillion fight and riot scenes and the same time choreographing and having to rehearse Episode 10, which is Koji and Dean. So I had such an awesome team like they make me look so good. I had literally like three guys pre-vizing all at once. Then I’m in meetings I come back, I’m directing, I’m back and my team is working away. So they’re all running that side over there. They’re doing the riot stuff with the carriage going. Then we’re going to sort out all the fights for all the different actors and then train the actors. It was just insane. Dennie Gordon was the director of that one. She was great, she just said, “OK, go over there and direct it and I’ll see you later”. So I’m over there directing all the pieces around while she’s doing the meat and potatoes with the acting stuff and stuff like that. I’m shooting everything else around it.
Then we come back together in the final fight where there’s nunchucks and then we shot it together. So it was just great but if you watch everyone fighting, especially Young Jun like every stab is killing. There’s no room for mercy, there’s no room for feeling bad. When he walks by the laundry shop and sees what happens, he runs in slits the first guy’s throat then he goes right to the next guys. It’s all savagery. It’s all it is.
Tu is the guy that’s with Ah Toy and you know how he kills those guys; he breaks their backs or throws them on the walls. That’s what we’re trying to get. Even the police officer Lee when he tried to get that guy who hung the Chinese guy, he was just seeing red. Both equal sides were just going savage because of their hatred and what was happening.
There isn’t a single fight in the show where you’re not emotionally involved, it is such an important part of the characters especially the riot scene when they’re attacking the Chinese and you’re so just emotionally involved in it.
See, that’s awesome and I’m glad that you got that from it because that was hopefully what I was trying to get across with all the different fights, depending on the stage where they’re at. Being emotionally involved in the fights is good. It keeps you in the fight with the characters. That’s what I think is important that you have to do that, because, like I said, otherwise, it’s a fight that OK it’s a cool fight, but only cool for so long.
Yeah, the fight itself needs to tell a story.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
This is actually a question from one of our fans called Sean and he said there are so many different fighting styles where you have kung fu, Western and European styles like Irish bare-knuckle boxing. What kind of challenges are there to choreograph so many different fighting styles, especially in a show that’s such a big part of the characterization and story conflict?
Young Jun didn’t have a martial arts style, he was just really handy with knives and he knew how to move them. Chen used a little bit of martial arts but he used a chain all the time. I was kind of trying to give the guys their fighting style according to their stature, like how big they are, how skinny they are, how they want to move like Bolo in season one. Any time he hits you it was like breaking something and that’s because he was stronger. He was bigger kind of thing. So that’s what his martial arts was kind of based on so I took martial arts like Hun gar and stuff like that and added a couple other beats there too, to just give him a look and then give him a little bit of hybridization in there of something else.
Andrew Koji definitely JKD and he had taekwondo, he has Wing Chun, he had a whole bunch of different fast moving martial arts and his play on everything was speed. You saw him fight Bolo; the contrasting moves between the two of them until they got tired was speed and power, Bolo was all power and Andrew was all speed.
Then you had guys like Joe Taslim. Joe was a mixture, but Joe has a background in judo so with judo comes grappling but also a little bit of striking but he’s not a striker by nature. He actually had to learn how to be a striker on The Raid. He’s just naturally gifted at moving. Every time he gets a hold of you, he breaks something. You just don’t want Li Yong on to ever get a hold of you but he’s also strong enough to really hurt you when he hits you like he doesn’t need to hit you six times to take you down; like maybe two or three times or one time. He knows the points where he’s going to hit.
Dean is like a tank; his moment in season one when you see him and Andrew, first meet off in the coal mine. It’s basically, when Dean’s going, he’s going. It doesn’t matter what you do, he’s going. So while he was charging in, Andrew was hitting him, but he’s still having to back up because Dean was just a freight train coming through.
With episode six we bring certain martial artists in for certain styles. It’s important to keep those styles and not just have them do cool moves because it’s cool. The capoeira guy was something we had to stick in there because he was fighting a judo guy. Every time the judo guy tried to come in to grab the capoeira guy, he was flipping out of those movements.
Then we had a taekwondo guy and then we had brawlers. We had the homage to Bruce Lee with the guy with the claws in the beginning then you get to some big brawler guys. Then you had Michael Bisping who’s a force on his own, so he’s his own style. If I have a guy who has a martial arts background, I’ll just try and enhance what they have and then add to it. I won’t try and change them into something completely different unless the story calls for it. But the actor will always be better if they’re comfortable in what they do and they can add to it to give it a flair. I think they appreciate that too, because then they’re more confident in their movement and it’s also more safe at the same time.
Where the riot scene was my favourite did you have a fight scene that really stood out?
I really like all of them. They’re all crazy but Ah Toy getting almost killed; it wasn’t a super duper fight, but it was an emotionally charged fight, watching her try and battle these two big guys and then almost getting killed. Then her having the vengeance afterwards, which is kind of cool. But the one that really sticks in my head is Episode Five when Joe was coming down the stairs and those guys came up the stairs, he fought them with a short sword. If you watch his movements and everything and the way he did it is like he stabbed them in places or did things on purpose where it would just hurt so much with so much savagery that it almost like he wanted their ancestors to feel it. Like that one guy he pulled them up and stabbed him in the armpit. You see it and you just really feel it. The scene where he cuts the guy’s throat, he just throws him down the stairs. That was one of the things that really stuck in my head and I really enjoyed doing that one, too.
Then the fight with Joe upstairs, too and I think that was just a particularly charged fight emotionally because of what was happening with Mei-Ling and the struggle that Joe was having to go through to go behind Mei-Ling’s back to set this up, even though she didn’t want to deal with it so it was kind of cool. I can’t really pick a favourite one, but that one of Joe coming down the stairs was one of my favourites. Definitely.
Any time Andrew Koji takes out the nunchucks I just want to start crying with joy (laughs).
(laughs) And if you noticed J.T. wanted to shoot it like Enter the Dragon when Bruce Lee is swinging them and taking out each of the guys one by one. We kind of did that and wanted to from the beginning because that’s the homage part and then you start going to multiple guys and hitting them from behind and all that jazz. But yeah, I mean, I think everybody was waiting for the nunchucks to come out and believe it or not Koji just learned how to use nunchucks that season and that was in the midst of learning his lines and working six, seven days a week and learning the choreography and training the new styles and still having time to learn the nunchucks.
Do you have any plans to write or direct yourself in the future?
Yeah. So I just finished doing Halo, the live action series for Halo and now I’m on a Tim Burton project out here. Coming up right after this I have a movie that I’m co-directing and Joe Taslim’s one of the stars on it and that’s going to happen early next year as we start prepping end of this year or early next year. We shoot it January, February. It’s called Fox Hunt. It’s about two assassins and they’re lovers but then they want to leave the business because she got pregnant. Their old boss sends a hit team after them and it turns out that the hit team after them was their best friends. Then she has to try and figure out where the hit had come from. So the guy dies and we’re just kind of trying to figure it all out. Then a police officer kind of saves her by accident and then gets entwined in it. So he has to be involved in it.
The next one is called Sixteen, and I’m directing that one. That’s about a guy who was betrayed by his employer (he was a htiman); through a ceremony of some sort (it’s actually difficult to explain) but his body essence, basically a soul went into the body of a 16-year-old boy and he has like literally not one day, but as soon as this boy goes to sleep because his spirit will leave and so he won’t be able to exact his vengeance. So he has to be able to try and do that by trying to stay awake through meditation and trying to exact revenge, find his old partner and see how he can exact his revenge. The daughter of the guy ends up being the love interest of him in the 16-year-old boy. And so that becomes complicated now at that point and at the same time is part of trying to keep him from doing things that are so outrageous that because when his spirit leaves, whatever he’s done will then sit with the 16-year-old boy that he’s inhabited at the time.
That sounds like a cool concept.
Yeah, I’m trying to keep it very more drama oriented; it still has action. The original script when I got it was like just caked with action. I took over half of it because it’s going to make sure that whatever action we do have is really punctual? and make that really cool. But just really want to show and want to put the drama in there so that it didn’t look like I can’t do drama.
Awesome. How far along are you with Halo?
Done! I would say season one is finished. So it gets released early next year.
Are you working with a lot of special effects?
Yeah special affects always but a lot of practical effects too like the armour. The armour is huge. I mean it’s like seventy-five pounds. It’s massive armour, it’s one of the most intricate built armours for all the Spartans and quite the chore to work with that (laughs). Pablo Schreiber is the lead so he’s great. It comes out some time next year and will be on Paramount+.
I’m really looking forward to it; it’s been a long time coming…
I know! It was supposed to go then it went away and then COVID hit and then it stopped then it was going again and then COVID hit again. So then they came back afterwards and that’s when I joined them.
Well thanks so much for taking the time to chat and I look forward to seeing these future projects.