Brad Allan: a tribute to a movie action legend

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A few words about Brad Allan, a hidden hero of the movies and cinema stuntwork, who left us last week.

It has long been a point of consternation amongst the filmmaking community that stunt performers don’t have their own category at the Oscars. Not only do they take the most risk, but the nature of their work means they must be experts in several fields – camera awareness, direction and choreography.

Bradley James Allan, who has died at just 48 years old, was all these and much, much more. His name may be unfamiliar, but if you have enjoyed any Hollywood action film in the last 20 years or so, chances are Allan was the man choreographing the carnage. However, it was in the Far East that he made his name.

Born in Australia, Allan trained in a multitude of martial arts from a young age including boxing, karate, judo, wushu and aikido. In an interview recorded for the DVD release of Dragon’s Forever, he cited Jackie Chan as a huge influence. The films Allan considered to be amongst the apex of the artform include the genre-defining Drunken Master and, Allan’s personal favourite, Chan’s directorial debut, Fearless Hyena.

Allan began training in gymnastics as well as martial arts, although a ruptured Achilles tendon at 17 kiboshed his career in professional athletic performance. Now focusing exclusively on martial arts with a strong gymnastic bent, Allan began combining the two, performing extraordinary combinations to prove his prowess. All of this was to provide the perfect training ground for his career in action filmmaking.

Receiving a scholarship to study in China, Allan began his career with a small part in Drunken Master 3, but it was to be Sammo Hung’s 1997 film Mr Nice Guy that would see him cross paths with Jackie Chan for the first time and change his life. Filmed in his native Australia, Allan managed to get onto the set and, being multilingual, was able to converse freely with Chan. Piquing his interest, Chan asked for a demonstration.

Allan delivered.

Impressed with what he saw, Chan cast him as a stuntman in the film and promised to keep in touch. Not only did Chan keep his word, but he also offered Allan a spot in the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, arguably the most elite collection of stunt performers in the world. It was especially gratifying for Allan, as he was to be the first Western stunt performer inducted into the team.

The Jackie Chan Stunt Team are unique in action cinema – a plethora of performers, each with their own specialty and each trained up to Jackie’s extraordinarily high standards. Keep an eye out and you will begin to see the same people pop up again and again as thugs or heavies who take Chan on in various films.

Allan was first used to double Dutch kicker Ron Smoorenburg for the final fight scene in 1997’s Who Am I? after Smoorenburg continued to have difficulty mastering the tempo and timing of the choreography. This is documented quite spectacularly in the wonderful Jackie Chan: My Stunts, in which Chan can be seen in a rare moment of frustration trying to teach Smoorenburg the necessary moves. Allan was told in no uncertain terms that this was a make-or break-moment. With him being the first Westerner on the team, Allan called it his ‘probation period’.

To be a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team is far more than simply being a body to be bashed around on camera. For Allan, it was a font of filmmaking knowledge, a school in which he learnt to choreograph, rig, shoot and direct action scenes, as well as acting and performing. This is demonstrated in the aforementioned documentary, which I recommend to any action aficionado or aspiring director. Allan partakes in a demonstration of a fight scene, showing how to choreograph, shoot and edit to Jackie Chan’s standards. It is an invaluable resource, and shows Allan in full flow, taking on several opponents at once.

Allan really earned his stripes on his next picture as an official member of the team, Gorgeous. Chan’s first foray into romantic comedy territory, the plot sees him as an investment banker (who can fight, of course). Allan makes for a formidable foe, the two fights choreographed to sensationalize the skills of each performer. Considering Chan was 45 at the time of filming, with Allan almost 20 years his junior, the fights are an incredible display of athleticism and dexterity with the latter using every trick in his arsenal, including an astonishing array of kicks. It also allowed him to show his physical comedy chops for a slapstick section in which Chan wields Allan like a baton, twirling and spinning him like a ballerina.

He rose up the ranks of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, eventually becoming its leader. Throughout this period, he began taking on Hollywood projects, choreographing stunts and action scenes in films as diverse as The Pacifier to The Chronicles of Riddick, both released in 2005. He graduated to action designer and second unit director. 2010 alone saw him oversee the brutal beatings of Kick Ass and the fantastical fight scenes in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Allan interspersed Jackie Chan’s style with his own to create action sequences that were at once frenetic but always easy to follow, avoiding the Hollywood trend for shaky-cam and ensuring that any film he was involved in was always a cut above.

He continued this form by getting Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan fighting fit for 2013’s The World’s End. which included moulding Colin Firth into an action hero for 2013’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel. The pub brawl and Church massacre stand amongst the best fight sequences of recent years.

At the time of writing, his final two projects are yet to be released – Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the next instalment of the Kingsman series, The Kings Man. So, the next time you are watching an action film, take a moment to register the names of the people behind the stunts. Allan’s legacy will live on not only in the action scenes he helped to create, but the amount of new talent he nurtured along the way.

I will leave you with the man himself in one of his only in-depth recorded interviews, in which he goes into detail about life as a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team and his experiences in Hollywood:

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