It is not a trick: There is a talent of Vietnamese descent in the cast of Marvel’s latest superhero title, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings. That said, tricking is one of martial artist Andy Le’s many skills, going by some of the videos he’s in with his brother Brian and Daniel Mah on the YouTube channel Martial Club. Want to bet if the name is a reference to the 1981 Shaw Brothers film?

In the film, which our own’s Nguyen Le called “a blockbuster with grace and values” in his four-star review, Le plays Death Dealer, the masked and lianpu-patterned henchman of the main villain Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), trainer of young Shang-Chi (Jayden Zhang, then Arnold Sun), and enemy of grown Shang-Chi (Simu Liu). The Paper Tigers actor is also part of the production as a stuntman and a trainer for the lead actor.

JumpCut Online got to Zoom with Le to talk about how (much like Shang-Chi’s plot!) his past plays a role in his present and future, getting to work with the late Brad Allan and a bevy of experienced action designers, and — most importantly — the sensation of being a Vietnamese in filmdom.

Andy Le arrives at Disney’s SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Premiere held at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, CA on Monday, ​August 16, 2021. (Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA)

~o~o~

How are you doing?

Good, man! Still, you know, winding down from the premiere. A lot of emotions, running high. But, I think, things are starting to calm down and ready to move on to the next part of the journey. You know?

I would say, maybe don’t move too fast! This is a glorious moment for you. And I’m just so happy that you’re taking the time to share that with me.

I appreciate it! It’s been a crazy journey. And now it’s nice to share with people.

So, apparently, Death Dealer is both a member of the YouTube-based Martial Club and has Vietnamese heritage! And when he came to the premiere, he also wowed everyone a backflip.

To be honest, that backflip… You could tell I had the jitters! I practiced like all suave and, “This isn’t my first red carpet!” I practiced like that. But as soon as I stepped on, I got really nervous. You can tell and it shows, but I think it was good that the audience finds it— I hope they like that! Genuinely! And doing the backflip put me back in my own element a little bit. That was fun.

Absolutely, they really dug it. Marvel’s YouTube channel put together a “Best Moments” video at the premiere. Your backflip is in it.

Yeah, I’m glad I did that! I think that definitely helped, not just for me but also the movie. We’re all here to support the movie.

Speaking of, through you, I feel very close to Death Dealer. Not because we’re related by blood or anything, but because there’s the Vietnamese connection. It feels great to know there’s someone like me up on screen, if masked (laughs). Do you have any reflections on your way from being a key figure of a Martial Club figure to a Marvel villain?

This journey started way back, you know, when I was a kid. I knew, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to just change the world. I always got bullied a lot in school, got picked on. And my parents would always put on kung fu movies. When you watch kung fu movies, you watch Bruce Lee kicking 20 guys, [Jackie Chan] fighting 10 guys at once — it does something to you, it makes you feel a sense of empowerment, you know? I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be just like the heroes that I saw on screen. Like how they changed me. I wanted to use the same platform: do martial arts films, inspire people and change the world.

Fast forward, years later, I was fortunate enough to meet my teammate, Daniel Mah. And Brian Le has been my brother, has been with me ever since we were little. Together, I would like to say, “We’re like the modern-day Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao — the modern-day Trio.” We all share this genuine passion for martial arts. One day, we decided to pick up a camera, we started learning to act, to fight, to shoot, edit our own fight scenes, and make martial arts short stories, put it up on YouTube, and, kind of use that as a stepping stone, as a platform to show the world who we are, the martial arts journey, and what we’re really made of.

Fast forward 10 years, plus grinding on YouTube with my brothers, it’s been a really hard journey. It finally feels like the stars are aligning right now. I think being here on the platform of the MCU… because I also realised the MCU has a big impact on the social current. I think to be able to be on this platform, to do martial arts to change the world, it’s, for me, a blessing. It’s a dream come true, ever since I was a kid. If I were to look at myself, as a young Andy, looking up at me, I’d be like, “You are 110% of what you believed in, good job!” Mind you, this is only the beginning.

Death Dealer in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Brilliant, brilliant. I have to say, some of your tricking videos… My goodness, I don’t know how y’all do it. I don’t know how y’all were able to bend 1000 years of physics.

More like, you know, breaking your bones for a few years. We weren’t wealthy growing up, a lot of us didn’t even have beds. [Then we] found one, pulled it out, brought it home, and we were just learning backflips on the mattress on that bed. It’s self-taught, I’d say 90% of what I know of what we learned is self-taught.

I think being able to condition yourself to train and teach yourself is you build an eye to pick up things. So when we got into doing martial arts action, it was easier for us to watch Jackie Chan’s fight choreography and pick up exactly what he’s doing. I think that, in a way, self-taught is kind of a blessing. And it did help us a lot.

Awesome. Obviously, all of that prepared you to become the Death Dealer. How did the audition process happen?

First of all, there was no audition.

What?!

There’s a story, and I’ll tell you. Initially, when word of Shang-Chi first started coming out, Brad Allan, Jackie Chan Stunt Team veteran, one of the best and unfortunately passed away very recently—

First and foremost, I want to give my respects and condolences to Brad’s family and anyone who he’s positively impacted in his life because he was always looking out for undiscovered talent and giving us opportunities, myself included.

When the word of Shang-Chi first started coming out, Brad actually found us on YouTube. He called us and he was like, “Hey, like, dude, I’m working on this movie, a Marvel film. And I think, you know, this style of martial arts action is actually tailored for you guys. Like, it’s Martial Club style, and I want you guys on it to help me.” Initially, it was as a stunt performer. I told him, “Hey, Brad—” I mean, me and Brian, we had our foot in the door doing stunt work. We knew really quickly it wasn’t for us, we knew that we wanted to do more. That’s not to, you know, downplay the amount of work the stunt performers do; they work really hard, day in day out, to make sure the actors look good. But, Brian and I, we wanted to act. We wanted to do more. Then [to Brad] we were like, “If you need our help, at any time, we’re here for you,” just because of our deep respect for the Jackie Chan Stunt Team.

Initially, he had us started training [Simu Liu], so it was me, Brian, and one of our teammates, D.Y. Sao. Very good martial artists! We were training Simu for, like, two months as we were prepping. Then Brad told me, “When the opportunity comes, I’ll call you.” By whatever miracle the stars aligned, Brad calls me one day, and he’s like, “Hey, they wrote in this role called Death Dealer. I saw the concept art, I looked at the comics, and I’m like, ‘Yo, this ninja character, it’s kind of tailored for you! Because your style of martial arts is very ninja, your aesthetics is very shinobi-like. I think it actually works for you!” It was meant for me, you know? And the physicality of the character, it was just me. That’s how it came to happen. That’s pretty much the story of how I ended up on this project.

Thank you for sharing that story. Brad’s loss is a great one.

The final words I never got to say to Brad were he can rest easy because he did do his job. He pushed us into the future. Me, Brian, my brothers, and Martial Club as a whole—we will do everything in our power to carry on his legacy. He did do his job.

Death Dealer in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Awesome. Back to an earlier point… I know that Simu had a stuntman background as well, and would that make the training process easier? Or is that a myth waiting to be busted?

Definitely! Definitely. I knew he has a background mainly in tricking. So he was able to do backflips, he was able to do his gainers, his corkscrews. Training him in martial arts— we worked on his foundation a little bit, even he said this himself on Jimmy Kimmel, I think he said, flexibility was like his biggest issue. We were stretching him hard!

He said, and I do agree with what he said, you can tell the expertise, the level of martial arts by the flexibility. Flexibility is, you know, a basic skill that’s overlooked in martial arts but it’s so important. For him, like we did our due diligence, stretching him—I felt bad for the guy, when he put his legs up, one of us would hold them open and then the other one will literally just step on him to make sure he gets loose.

The good thing was, initially, we were training him for two months. Me, Brian, and D.Y., you know, little did we know that those would build the chemistry. We were, technically, his martial arts instructors. And fast forward a few months later, when I got the role as Death Dealer, I play kind of, his coach, his martial arts instructor growing up in the movie. That chemistry, definitely, kind of transferred over to the screen when it was time to shoot. So I think it all worked out perfectly, actually.

No pain, no gain!

Indeed.

I notice that people are praising you, recognising you as being a Martial Club member that became big. Has there been any recognition of you as a Vietnamese person that became big, though? Being in a Hollywood production?

I think that’s what we’re doing these for. Doing these interviews and going on the red carpet, it’s a platform for me to tell the world that, “I am of Vietnamese heritage, and I’m here to show the world what the Vietnamese can do.” I feel like, Vietnamese, we have a lot to say, man! For me, my family came over from an embattled country and you know, just the trauma of the stories they told me really sparked the fire in me to do something great. We got this far. The roots go deep, you know?

I’ll just tell you a quick story on my dad. Him and his family [were running from the war], they got caught. He took one for the family, saying, “Let everyone go and take me instead.” Concentration camp. Gun to his head, while he was scrubbing the bottom of the toilet. When your parents tell you that story, especially if you’re a kid, like, it’ll hit you. And coming over here, growing up watching my parents struggle, from nothing. We were barely able to break bread.

Obviously, they then want me to become a doctor, a lawyer. Do something that, you know, “We’ve struggled to come here for you to live a comfortable life, we don’t want you to go through the struggles that we did.” Where they messed up was that they fed me martial arts movies.

That’s when I knew I wanted to change the world. And I knew I wanted to be just like the heroes I saw on screen. So that fire, and all the stories they told me, it makes us Vietnamese like, “We want to fight for something.” As soon as I discovered martial arts I recognise my dream right away. I channel all that fire toward that outlet. It’s a testament to show that like, you know, we can do a lot.

(L-R): Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Ying Li (Fala Chen) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Of course, being the film has you interacting with other screen legends. Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh…

Let’s say this movie has a lot of kung fu, Hong Kong veterans who have had a lot of impact on my life. It’s really, really mind-blowing. Anyways, this wasn’t my first time working with Michelle Yeoh. I worked with her on a project recently, and it hasn’t been released yet, so keep an eye out for that one.

Oh? [Side note: It’s the upcoming sci-fi actioner Everything Everywhere All at Once]

I practically worked with her for over a year, we spent a year together. And, in this time, I’ve gotten to know her as a person. She’s, in a way, kind of taken me under her wing. And, you know, even to this day, after a year of working with her on several projects back to back, I still get star-struck standing next to her. And that’s just one of the many veterans I was able to work with! And these are the people who have impacted my life! It’s still kind of surreal for me, to be honest. I know for sure this isn’t going to be the last time I worked with them.

I’m sure of it, as you’ve said, you’re just beginning. But we’re coming to the end of our allotted time, now, so is there anything else you’d like to share to our readers? It’s possible some of them are fans of Martial Club!

I believe that dreams do come true. From my family coming from nothing, to being here. I think it’s a testament to show that like if you have a dream, you have the heart, and you really believe in something, you go for it. 110%. In martial arts, I call this the Warrior Spirit.

With years of training, you get to a point where you’re physically tired, and physically you’ve given up but your mind doesn’t. That’s the Warrior Spirit. This is the type of energy you need to channel while pursuing your dream, into anything that you believe in. Of course, there’s going to be people who are going to doubt you, there are people who are going to try to put you down. Ignore that, ignore them. This is your life, this is your dream. There’s no way that you can’t reach it. I’m working to be the living proof, that my journey can inspire everyone else, many others to pursue what they want. And succeed.

Thank you! Seeing how both of us are creatives in our own disciplines, it can get difficult. So many people are ready to give us the “I told you so” speeches, but we have no time for that. We can’t make time for that.

Nobody should have time for that.

Before we go, I want to let you know that my family watched you and Brian in The Paper Tigers. When my mom saw you both in your fighting sequences, she said, “Hai đứa đó đá đẹp quá đi!” [“Their kicks are so beautiful!”]

(laughs) That’s so good!

She even jokingly told me, “Sao con không như người ta vậy?” [“Why can’t you be like them?”]

Ah, that’s the thing with Asian parents, the comparing! (laughs) But please tell your mom I said thank you.

I definitely will. Again, thank you so much! Cám ơn rất nhiều!

Không có gì, man! Thank you so much!

 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be in theatres on Sept 3, and on Disney+ on Oct 18, 2021