How Marvel Carefully Crafted Its Best Action Sequence in 'Shang-Chi'
Speeding buses, practical fight sequences, and a year's worth of work led to the best seven minutes of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Near the end of the film’s first act, the bus scene sees Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his best friend (Awkwafina) ambushed by the members of the Ten Rings. The action sequence, which takes place on a moving bus, goes on for roughly seven minutes and is easily one of the best fight sequences on film in recent years.
Not only is this the best “hero shows off their powers for the first time” scene, but it is captivating in how it uses San Francisco’s MUNI buses.
As someone who rode those buses every day for three years, it was exciting to see the double-length buses be used in a fight scene that pays homage to the iconic stuntman himself, Jackie Chan. To bring these scenes to life, the stunt team and performers paid close attention to the bus’ previsualized route and practical stunts that would showcase Shang-Chi as a force to be reckoned with.
While the exterior shots of the bus spiraling out of control down steep San Francisco roads were done on location, the fight stunts were captured in the safe environment of a soundstage in Australia.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton focused on raising the stakes for this fight scene by planning out each moment with the stunt team through previsualized CGI shots of the bus’ wild ride, providing an accurate roadmap for the stunt team to create their epic fight sequence.
Inspired by a lesson he learned while working with Jackie Chan, Cheng stated, “Sometimes when you read a script, [you say], 'Oh, this is happening in this thing,' but you just do it at the gym. You start pretending. For me, I feel when you go to the location and see it, that’s how you create things because [you’re] not pretending.”
BTS Simu Liu as Shang-Chi on the 3ft bus rigCredit: Befores and Afters
Practicing on the bus allowed the crew to solve some practical challenges that they wouldn’t have caught earlier on. For example, Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) was so tall that he kept hitting his head on the top of the bus. The crew constantly reminded him to duck down when moving through the bus to prevent him from hitting his head.
The rehearsals also helped identify where rubber padding should be added in the bus to keep the performers safe from injury.
To make the fight sequence look practical, the team reconfigured two MUNI buses on a soundstage that could be taken apart and put back together. All the chairs, poles, and windows could be removed to make space for stunt people and camera operators. The crew also built a sliding camera track on the bus’ roof to allow the stunt performers more room to move around as well as capture dynamic shots in a single take.
After rehearsing, the next step was how to execute a fight scene on a moving set that was engaging and exciting. Many of these stunts couldn’t be performed on location safely, so the crew constructed two bus rigs that simulated the movement of a bus moving through San Francisco.
The bus rigs used for 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'Credit: Befores and Afters
The first was built 3 feet off the ground on a rig capable of moving, shaking, and tilting up to 10 degrees. For shots of Shang-Chi outside of the bus, this rig was used to keep the bus stable enough for stunts to be performed. A treadmill was also placed on the outside of the bus to mimic the road passing underneath the bus.
The second rig was built on a 15-foot high gimbal capable of tilting up to 45 degrees. This rig was great for sharp turns that would whip the second half of the bus.
The crew made many adjustments to make the ride feel naturalistic through lighting. Cinematographer Bill Pope built light grids around the bus to emulate the light captured on location and cast accurate shadows for each turn the bus makes. Wind on the broken accordion flaps was manually moved by the crew.
Through the power of detail and amazing editing, the on location shots are hard to tell apart from the soundstage shots. The sequence is fun to watch, and each detail was carefully looked at by the fight coordinator and crew.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a film that has a lot of love put into its filming, and you can see the cast and crew's love and appreciation shine in the fight sequences. Not only is the bus sequence carefully crafted, but it also highlights Shang-Chi’s personality, skill, and will to protect those around him.
Is there a detail that you love from this fight sequence that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments why it stood out to you!