By James Lo and William Yen, CNA staff writer and reporter
Dangling from a wire harness after having just launched himself down four stories at a mid-air metal target, action choreographer Scott Hung’s (洪昰顥) director tells him to go again because the last shot lacked power.
After asking the wire operator to provide him with enough slack to freefall long enough, Hung ends up with the perfect shot — at the expense of a pair of injured legs.
“My landing point was a mechanical contraption that was dangling mid-air. So, since I was wired up, I thought the force I would sustain upon impact would be low, which led me to tell the crew that I didn’t need any protective gear and that we should just start rolling, seeing as how we were already behind schedule,” Hung told CNA in a recent interview.
The 31-year-old Hung has become a leader among Taiwan’s small community of professional action and stunt performers, and garnered a reputation for keeping a keen eye on safety when performing the spectacular.
“I learned from Hollywood [stuntmen] the importance of getting the best performance while keeping everyone safe, unlike the traditions of old, where protection was shunned upon in Taiwan,” Hung explained.
Studios in Chinese-speaking regions have traditionally hired action professionals from Hong Kong, thanks to their pioneering use of technologies and repertoires for stunts, honed through decades of trial and error.
Currently, the technologies created by Hong Kong stuntmen are now the industry standard, even in Hollywood. However, Taiwan’s action performers have also started to shine in recent years, especially in domestic film studios.
While Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, the world’s oldest annual celebration of film from the Chinese-speaking world, have handed out the Best Action Choreography since 1992, until Hung, a local stuntmen had yet to win in the category.
Hung’s ascendancy started from humble beginnings.
As a youth with a congenital heart defect, he often hated sports growing up. It was not until after watching action greats such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li breaking ribs with their fists on screen that Hung eventually fell in love with martial arts, which according to him, was still different from other sports.
Hung took up Taekwondo in high school, and his affinity for the sport made studying at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology’s Department of Exercise and Health Promotion seem like a natural choice.
But Hung said he discovered that a career in health promotion was not his calling, which led him to eventually search for opportunities as an on-screen action performer.
After a chance meeting set up by a friend, Hung made his first leap into the film industry initially as a stuntman and stunt double, later graduating to the position of action choreographer that he holds today.
In 2019, just five years after his official entry into the industry, Hung received two nominations at the 56th Golden Horse Awards.
His success on the night saw him become the first Taiwanese to win the best action choreography accolade for his work on the film “The Scoundrels.”
“The Scoundrels was a milestone for me,” Hung said, “because this was my first [pure] action film, and Taiwan’s first [pure] action film in years. The movie was also a progressive accomplishment that fulfilled a huge part of my goal.”
The goal in question for the young stuntman is a complete redesign of Taiwan’s action scene.
For years, due to a lack of industry standards and a plethora of competing styles, Taiwan’s stunt teams have lacked systematic operating standards.
Unlike the systematic approach taken in Hong Kong and Hollywood, where standard guidelines guarantee the production value and safety of a stunt crew, the operating procedures adopted by Taiwan’s action teams are different depending on which studio is running the shoot.
Hung said that while the division of labor in Taiwan productions is often obvious in other departments, such as the directing unit and the sound unit, there are a lot more gray areas for action professionals on set.
It is not uncommon to see less experienced assistants shouldering responsibilities designated to more experienced managers, while experts are forced to do jobs as mundane as transportation.
“What I wish to accomplish is to make our action industry more industrialized and more craftsmen oriented,” Hung said.
“I would like to develop a more practical and systematic standard of operation in our local film industry, and clearly define each job responsibility. I want to instill a professional work ethic in my team, so that we could be more efficient and beneficial to the films we work on.”
Hung said that his dreams is to establish his studio, “Four Action,” as a professional action directing unit that has respect and trust of those it works with.
And thanks to “The Scoundrels,” the Taiwanese action man is one step closer to his dream.
“Between six months and a year after ‘The Scoundrels’ got nominated, I felt that I had achieved a milestone, and that it was perhaps time for me to go to the next level,” Hung explained.
“I never felt that I was at a place to make any changes to things I didn’t like in our industry. But then, the nomination and win of ‘The Scoundrels’ made me realized that I had finally gotten somewhere where I feel comfortable enough to implement my ideas, and the backbone that could support me in such an endeavor, would be a team who shares my vision, who would also be willing to help me push my ideas upward.”
With his current reputation, Hung and his stunt team have slowly been able to push their goal forward.
While Hung also said that it would realistically take at least another decade for his dreams to come to fruition, the amount of invitations from different directors proves that Hung and Four Action’s hard work is gaining recognition from industry professionals.
Much like his accomplishment in 2019, Hung has once again been nominated for best action choreography for two separate films at this year’s upcoming 58th Golden Horse Awards.
“There are a lot of powerhouses this year,” Hung said. “There are so many respectable action choreographers, tackling stunt genres like martial arts and car stunts. I don’t know if I will win, but I feel honored just to be nominated.”