Among those martial arts stars/directors in the entertainment industry that are from Guangxi, perhaps the most famous is Xiong Xin Xin. Yet, few know of 谭俏 Tan Qiao, who also hails from Guangxi – or more specifically, Guilin. While the name Tan Qiao may not ring a bell to most people, he ranks alongside the foremost kickers and martial arts choreographers ever to grace the silverscreen.
In 1985, Tan Qiao, who was already 16, joined Guangxi Wushu Team, “It’s unusual to see anyone start taking wushu lessons only at such age. So, at that time, many people said I was a genius, in particular, they were amazed by my exceptional kicking.”
Being noticed by Cheung Sing Yim and the Yuen Brothers
It wasn’t long before director Chueng Sing Yim and Lau Kar Leung’s Martial Arts of Shaolin moved location to Guilin and needed some young wushu-trained actors. After holding a recruitment drive at a local wushu school, Tan Qiao and some of his teammates were chosen.
Perhaps, because of his great skills, director Cheung Sing Yim was paying special attention to him. After filming was completed, their ties remained. In 1988, after Tan Qiao left the wushu team, Cheung Sing Yim enquired Tan Qiao if he would like to join the stunt profession. Since then, Tan Qiao formerly entered the entertainment industry, progressing from a stuntman, to an actor, to wushu advisor, before becoming a full-fledged martial arts director.
“Whatever you do, as long as you put in all your effort, there would be bound to be some returns.” is Tan Qiao’s catchphrase. In Fist of Shaolin, he got to play a major role alongside the late Wang Qun as Wong Fei Hung’s disciple Leung Foon. And that was when his film offers started rolling in, such as White Lotus Cult.
But in 1993, when Cheung Sing Yim retired from Sid-Metropole, almost the entire team under him left as well, including Tan Qiao. Two years later, Cheung Sing Yim teamed up with Yuen Wo Ping to direct Tai Chi 2. Under Cheung Sing Yim’s recommendation, Tan Qiao joined Tai Chi 2 as an actor (as Wu Jing’s cousin) and stuntman, and he has since worked with Wu Jing on numerous occasions. Tan Qiao gave Yuen Wo Ping many ideas and suggestions on filming, of which Yuen Wo Ping thought that this lad was pretty creative, and thus, promoted him to be his assistant, keeping him by his side. Recalling those days, Tan Qiao smiled, “At that time, I didn’t know that Yuen Wo Ping was such an influential figure in the industry.”
Thence, Tan Qiao walked on the path as a wushu director, working behind-the-camera (and sometimes making an appearance too) on Master of Tai Chi, New Shaolin Temple, Charlie’s Angels, The Musketeer, Shaolin King of Martial Arts, Daredevil, Thru the Moebius Strip, 36th Chamber of Southern Shaolin, etc. and more recently, a series of telemovies on Water Margins, as well as The Banquet, Coweb, True Legend and 《海鹰战警》 Sea Eagle Marines. Apart from a cameo in Tiger Chen’s Kungfu Hero, Tan Qiao has, since the beginning of this year, been working as a martial arts choreographer for Chinese-Vietnamese TV production 《李公蕴到升龙城之路》Lý Công Uẩn’s Path to Hanoi.
Everyone addresses Yuen Wo Ping as Eighth Master, and so does Tan Qiao, “Eighth Master is a very open, broadminded person. While he would not alter his main direction and goals, he is, at the same time, very receptive to suggestions from others, and he also has a very mild temper. In addition, he would give you plenty of opportunities to do things.”
Tan Qiao finds working with Yuen Wo Ping gives him a special sense of achievement, “Eighth Master would teach you, without any reservations, everything about filming, for each action scene, why must it be fought that way, how to show the character’s personality… after learning all these, you would know the meaning of ‘drama within action’.”
Tan Qiao truly looks up to Eighth Master, “Once, when Eighth Master was filming in US, I was staying in Mainland filming New Shaolin Temple TV series, I missed him very much, and would, in my dreams, saw myself working with him.”
Tan Qiao also shares a very close relationship with Yuen Cheung Yan, he feels that both the Yuen brothers are rare talented geniuses. Yuen Cheung Yan’s kungfu is beyond superb, and he has also taught Tan Qiao many things. Later, when Tan Qiao gradually became independent enough to be an action director himself, he would still keep keep in touch with Cheung Sing Yim, Yuen Wo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan, calling them and sending his regards to them on special occasions like Lunar New Year.
Tan Qiao’s brush with Hollywood could be traced back to before Charlie’s Angels, “When Yuen Wo Ping was invited to be the martial arts choreographer for The Matrix, he had intended to bring me along. But I didn’t have a passport, and couldn’t leave the country, what a pity.”
Following that, Tan Qiao missed to opportunity to work on another major film – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yuen Woo Ping had thought of letting Tan Qiao join the project, but at the last moment, he gave Tan Qiao a call, “Do you have passport this time around?” Tan Qiao replied, “Yes!” Yuen Wo Ping continued, “Would you be able to go US with your passport?” Tan Qiao said emphatically, “Certainly!” To which Yuen Wo Ping told him, “In that case, you shall not be doing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Fly straight to Los Angeles to shoot Charlie’s Angels!” Thus, by a twist of fate, off to Hollywood he went.
As a “specialist”, he was given his own lodging and trailer, “We only worked for 8 hours each day, and weekends are off. No rush work at all, very laidback. While the conditions are very relaxing, they treat their work very earnestly and carefully, spending ample time on preproduction. For instance, our stunt team arrived three, four months earlier, to give the cast advance training. They were very smart, they spent money inviting us over, and let the actresses and their stunt doubles train together. So now, we don’t get as much chance to be the martial arts directors in Hollywood anymore, for they’ve learned those things from us.”
However, Hollywood isn’t always very sophisticated in everything, “Their directors are fond of letting we, who are from the martial arts choreography team, carry out and shoot the action scenes in place of the actors on DV. If the directors are satisfied, then the actors would be trained that way, otherwise, we would change.”
While this is very methodological, it’s very inflexible. Tan Qiao still prefers how Yuen Wo Ping shoots a film, “Action scenes are about inspirations, Eighth Master advocates shooting the actual action directly on the set, after meticulously designing the moves, the actors would execute them on the spot. It produces the most authentic, logical and thrilling martial arts sequences.”