Wednesday 24 October 2018

Karate club welcomes Hollywood stunt man

He coached Daniel Craig in Skyfall and appeared beside Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon. So how did LA-born Roger Yaun end up in Newcastle?

Hollywood actor and stunt man Roger Yaun puts Greystones Karate Club through their paces.
Hollywood actor and stunt man Roger Yaun puts Greystones Karate Club through their paces.
Hollywood actor and stunt man Roger Yaun puts Greystones Karate Club through their paces - three generations Rachel Dore, Ken Loftus and Lynne Loftus with Roger.

Mary Fogarty

Roger Yuan has enjoyed a remarkable career so far, having worked as a stunt man, fight choreographer, actor and physical trainer to the stars, most recently coaching Daniel Craig for Skyfall.

He trained under action legend Chuck Norris, as well as other masters of a number of disciplines, and acted alongside Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon.

His CV in the film industry is formidable. He trained Michelle Pfeiffer for Catwoman in Batman Returns, is personal trainer to country and western star Tim McGraw, and appears in Bulletproof Monk. And that is just a small sample.

A native of America, Roger now lives in tranquil Newcastle with his Irish wife Christina and their two daughters.

Last Wednesday evening, students of Greystones Karate Club were lucky enough to get the benefit of Roger's vast expertise when he generously agreed to give a seminar in martial arts.

His passion for karate and other forms started when Roger was just a little boy. His grandparents were very protective, and not too keen on their Number One Grandson receiving training, as they worried he would get hurt.

His young parents were starting out in life, and didn't have the money to send him to classes, so the boy improvised.

'I was self taught,' he said. 'At six or seven years old I would go to the library and find out what I could about judo and karate from books.'

He befriended others who were going to classes, and asked them to teach him what they had learned.

'I did a lot of research at a very young age,' he said. 'It was piecemeal research forming different pieces of the puzzle in different disciplines, even ballet.'

He explored any exercises which would produce the physical results he was seeking.

When Roger entered formal instruction, it was in kyokushin, a hard form of Japanese martial art in New York called and achieved brown belt.

However when he went to UCLA to study maths, there was no instruction available. He stumbled on a gym in Los Angeles teaching the Chuck Norris method of karate, went in to enquire and found Norris himself inside!

'He was very friendly,' said Roger. 'I told him I was looking to start training again. He said his style was very similar to my background and said I should train there. When you get recruited by the main guy, you do it!'

In LA, Roger had access to the world's top trainers and managed to exploit his obsession fully, eventually making it his profession.

'My degree was in maths, but a 9-5 job would have been a boring thing for me.' For his first stunt job he was hired by Chuck's brother Aaron for a TV show, and started gathering momentum.

'Being a stunt man is very rewarding, but there is also a factor of fear,' he said, explaining his move in to the acting world. 'I was always very very shy, and I wanted to address that fear.'

There was also a tendency in the pre-Matrix or Jackie Chan days to de-value the action sequences. 'At that point Western films and TV put action as second fiddle in terms of importance to the story and dialogue and acting. They would put the action toward the end of the day, especially in serial television. A lot of what I wanted to do in terms of action, of telling the story with physical action, I had to cut down; there wasn't the time to shoot at the end of the day. Since the heyday of Jackie Chan and Jet Li coming over, there's much more time given to action sequences.'

Later, after meeting his wife and starting a family, Roger and Christina decided that they wanted to raise their children in Ireland. Newcastle has been very kind to the family, and Roger enjoys living close to the sea, and being part of the close-knit community.

The travel he is required to do for work is a bitter-sweet phenomenon, bringing him all over the world from Hollywood to Vietnam.

'It's great to be able to have those experiences, but hard to be away from family. It's nice to come back home and be just one of the locals though.'

'I've been involved with many things and I've liked something unique about each one,' he said, on his journey thus far.

Working with Jackie Chan on Shanghai Noon was, as we would presume 'really cool.'

He choreographed for renowned director Blake Edwards, which was a connection to 'Old Hollywood,' and of course working with Daniel Craig on Skyfall was unforgettable.

While Daniel has his own personal trainer, with Yuan he concentrated on movement and coordination. Craig was intensely focused on the task at hand, and they worked on yoga, martial arts movements and boxing and kickboxing.

The Shanghai tower office fight, filmed in silhouette, was one of the triumphs of the film and a personal favourite of Rogers.

'The director, Sam Mendes, decided to have it not move, stay central. It was all in shadow, so you didn't know who was winning; it's just two shapes that are outlined, until you move outside the building. We had 22 versions of the fight.'

Other projects are looming, and Roger expects to be out of the country again shortly, so is making the most of his time at home.

His daughters are interested in martial arts, but also other creative pursuits, and their parents will encourage them to follow whatever their passions may be.

'The film business can be draining and physically tiring, with 12-hour days, six or seven days a week, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.'

Wicklow People