Stunts, Parkour, Action!

Updated: 2015-04-24 11:25

By Matt Hodges in Shanghai(China Daily USA)

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Stunts, Parkour, Action!

In this stop-motion photograph, parkour athlete Martino Chen trains for the city's only Ninja Warrior program.

But French naval officer Georges Herbert, who was active in both world wars, is credited with drawing up the original blueprint after he served in Africa and adapted the tribal dance movements he saw into his "method naturelle".

It is getting more Hollywood treatment this month courtesy of independent filmmaker Daniel Benmayor. Tracers, featuring Twilight star Taylor Lautner, revolves around a New York City bike messenger who links up with a gang that uses parkour to pull off heists so he can pay off his debts to the Chinese mafia. It hit US theaters on March 20.

"Honestly, before I even learned how to, I was actually doing some parkour," Lautner told Entertainment Weekly, adding that two of his co-stars broke their ankles during filming.

"I am that weirdo that chooses the difficult route down the side of the street. I could easily just walk on the sidewalk but no, I see some obstacle and I'm like, 'Oh, I wonder what it would be like to get over that?' So, yes, I am definitely that person."

To give an idea of its broad appeal, CBS ran a series of photos last October of Palestinian boys sharpening their skills amid ruined houses in Gaza City after a seven-week Israeli offensive. Videos of young Iranian women, and old age pensioners in the US, training in parkour can easily be found on video-sharing sites like YouTube.

Shanghai, given its love affair with all things Gallic, could hardly be a better place to foment interest in the sport on the mainland.

French restaurants abound; French-run Bar Rouge on the Bund riverfront is the city's most famous bar; expats drink the nights away in the former French Concession; half the foreigners in the city wear chic neck scarves - even when it is warm.

Fusion power

Over in Toronto, Shapiro got hooked as a teenager. He also studied kungfu at the Shaolin Monastery in China's Dengfeng county, Henan province between 2007 and 2009 before relocating to the country in 2010.

But in-between getting his business off the ground in 2011 and being beaten up by China's most famous action star last fall, the self-styled "action coordinator" must have wondered if life back in Canada would have been half as fun.

"I originally came here to film in action movies as a stuntman," said Shapiro, who spent several weeks last spring on the set of Chan's latest blockbuster, Dragon Blade.

The historical epic, one of the most expensive movies ever made on the mainland, was released in China in February. It had a production budget of $65 million.

Shapiro got to rub noses with Chan, John Cusack and Adrian Brody while performing stunts dressed as a Roman soldier in Hengdian, a town in East China's Zhejiang province.

"My role kept switching between good and bad guys," he said. "I had a few back and forths with Jackie. One stair scene involved an exchange with a spear. He knocks me down and rolls over my back and kicks another soldier. It was pretty fun."

"I remember he was handing out t-shirts one day over dinner. When he got to me, he said, 'Sorry, I've only got XL. I didn't expect foreigners to be so small.'" Shapiro is 173cm. Chan is 174cm.

Dubbed "Chinawood," the town is home to Hengdian World Studios, Asia's largest film studio. It was sparse farmland until business mogul Xu Wenrong showed up with a fistful of dollars, so to speak, and a vision in the mid-1990s.

Chen, who met Shapiro in 2008, said he was drawn to parkour by Belle's seminal film.

"I just watched this movie called District 13 and thought, 'I can do that,'" said Chen, who was born in Shanghai.

"Then I went to Melbourne to study and linked up with the Australian Parkour Association," he added. "When I came back in 2012 I kept getting calls from people wanting professional performances."