On day two of our Comic-Con 2012 visit, Darren Shahlavi stopped by the booth and remembered me from contact him on Facebook. I gave him a copy of Death Grip, and he spent an hour giving me the low-down on what it’s like being a “gwailo” (foreigner) in Hong Kong films. From his big debut as “Smith” in Tai Chi Chuen to his recent role as “Twister” in Ip Man 2, Darren’s been a force to be reckoned with on screen.
I mostly asked him about Ip Man 2 since it was his latest big gig. Darren had originally seen Donnie Yen in 1991 at a seminar in the UK. You can see Darren as a teenager in the clip, and from that moment he knew he would eventually work with Donnie one day. After almost two decades it happened in, and he said they flew him around promoting the film using the story of a young boy wanting to work with Donnie finally realizing his dream, with Donnie proudly telling everyone Darren was his student.
When it came to working with Donnie, Darren used the familiar term “incredible” in describing him and detailed moments like this:
“They’d have me run the choreography with a double, and Donnie would just sit there watching me. Then when it came time to shoot, he’d just get up and replace the double without any rehearsing.”
Darren would go home daily with bruises from the fight, since so much of Donnie’s choreography involved strikes to the limbs and chest and all that. “Plus I had been working out to get ripped for the fight anyway.” The fight with Donnie took ten days, which should give anyone who shoots action scenes Hong Kong-style some relief. So yes, Hong Kong takes a long time too. But they’re by no means slow. Sammo would dictate the shot style, lens, choreography, almost without any thought.
“I’ve never seen someone more in command of a film set than Sammo.”
Consistent with stories from other stunt folks like Cynthia Rothrock, Shahlavi detailed the “no-script” method of shooting in Hong Kong. Much of the English dialog was unservicable. Darren said,
“‘Guys, I can’t say this!’ So I started rewriting it there on the set, and they were ready to roll camera and here I am still writing the script on a piece of paper.”
Meeting Darren was no less than awesome. Here’s to a guy who made it into big Hong Kong films from just being a kid with a dream.