Cover Alan Cheng. Courtesy of Alan Cheng and TS Crew.

Martial arts NGO TS Crew member Alan Cheng, who is a stuntman in Hong Kong action films and Tai Kwun’s latest circus performance, has more than taekwondo and martial arts under his belt.

Neither movie star Chapman To’s karate fights in 2017 Hong Kong film The Empty Hands nor the scenes of thugs ravaging massage parlours in 2021 crime thriller Kowloon Walled City would have been possible without stuntmen like Alan Cheng. Cheng, artist in residence for performing arts group TS Crew, is a master of martial arts tricking, a type of martial arts that combines kicks with flips and twists, gymnastics and dance.

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But Cheng has more than tricking up his sleeves. Most recently, the crew performed in the original show The ChristMice Cracker in Tai Kwun’s December and January circus performance series. Cheng combined circus, beatboxing, Chinese opera and acrobatics with elements of local cultural and daredevil moves. Other performances in 2021, which were supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, included a modern twist on a lion dance without the costumes and props, to showcase the unseen skills of traditional Chinese arts acrobats.

Here, Cheng shares a typical day in his life as a stuntman.

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11am

Unless I have a morning performance, I like starting my day late so that I can catch up on sleep. This also means that I’ll have to skip breakfast. But once my day starts, I become very active. I always do my morning stretches. I focus on stretching each muscle from my head down to my feet so that I can fully warm up for the day’s rehearsals or performances.

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12.30pm

Because I skip breakfast, my lunch is usually a full-on meal. I love meat; every meal includes protein to make sure I gain enough fuel for my muscles; steak and mussels are my favourite. I also love Japanese food. I finish the meal with a nice cup of coffee, which keeps me on my toes throughout the day.

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3pm

When I arrive at my studio in Tai Po Arts Centre, I start training with my crewmates, who include Steve Ng and Hugh Cho, the artistic directors of TS Crew. I started out as a student of TS Crew to learn martial arts tricking in which I now specialise. Before I learnt martial arts tricking, I was a black belt third Dan (“level”) taekwondo practitioner.

Martial arts tricking is a sport that combines different elements, including kung fu, capoeira [the Brazilian martial arts that combines dance, acrobatics and music], gymnastics, karate and taekwondo. What differentiates tricking from these sports is that there are three key moves: kicking, flipping and twisting. A “tricker” must combine the three moves to present the choreography. My taekwondo experience helps me build my signature kicking move; in my choreography, I love adding rounds and rounds of kicks. I’ve now been practising this sport for almost 10 years.

Members of our crew have different professional experience, so we each lead the training session related to our expertise. We share our skills so that we can all become more comprehensive performers.

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6.30pm

We take a one-hour dinner break before we start rehearsing with the other performers our crew is collaborating with. We work until 11pm.

I practise until I can do the moves accurately and smoothly as there may not be a soft place to land when I perform. When I’m not in the studio, I go to the gym to do clean and jerk weightlifting exercises to improve my strength, speed and reflexes. Once a week I teach tricking.

In a movie fight scene, I often need to pretend to be hit, and I have to react realistically to create an illusion of being punched before I fall on to the floor. Sometimes I stand in as a stunt double for actors who aren’t able to execute some of the moves. In 2020 for example, I stood in as stunt double for Chin Ka Lok in the stage play Let’s Hunt for a Tiger Tonight, a comedy where there were live action fight scenes with punching. I was a stunt double for Chapman To in The Empty Hands, the 2017 film about a karate player, which also featured Olympian karate athlete Grace Lau; and worked as a stuntman in the 2014 Hong Kong crime thriller The Line Walker, and in the 2021 action crime drama Kowloon Walled City.

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11pm

After a full day of training and rehearsals, I do stretching exercises and use a foam roller to massage my muscles before leaving the studio. By the time I arrive home at midnight, I’m usually exhausted but I am committed to spending time with my girlfriend. I enjoy sharing interesting things about my day with her, watching Netflix, and having a glass of bourbon together. That’s when I feel the most relaxed.

‘A Day In The Life’ is a Tatler weekly cultural series, which delves into lives of the tastemakers in Hong Kong’s arts scene.

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