Updated: 2011-12-16 11:30
By Todd Balazovic (China Daily European Weekly)
Ted Duran has played several roles in Chinese kungfu series and films. [Provided to China Daily]
Foreign kungfu fan punches his way on to silver screen
During his nine years living in China, Ted Duran has taken more than a few hits. The 29-year-old martial arts actor and stuntman from Britain has seen the wrong end of the fist more times than he would probably like to count.
Duran played the role of martial arts icon Bruce Lee's nemesis-turned-friend Blair in the popular Chinese TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee.
In another the role as Nikoliski, one of Mao Zedong's Russian advisers in the 2011 film The Beginning of the Great Revival, he was bruised after jumping out of a three-story window.
And at the 2011 Hong Kong International Martial Arts Competition, Duran absorbed the blows of opponents as he fought his way to a gold medal in fist form, employing his specialized martial arts technique cannon fist.
But the tale of Duran's rise into China's martial arts circles reads like a kungfu film in itself.
Previously a customer service worker at a Lloyds TSB bank in England, Duran's plunge into the world of kungfu films began in 2001 after he was attacked outside a pub in Brighton following a dispute over a stolen cell phone. While Duran narrowly escaped the fight, he witnessed the attackers stabbing his friend to death.
"It was the darkest year of my life," he says.
"A switch was flicked when that happened. It made me not want to be in England anymore. I wanted to get out."
Shaken by the death of his friend, Duran decided to rededicate himself to kungfu and left his job, flying to China to study martial arts in the cold mountains of Jilin province.
"There was a lot of guilt with that experience. You feel like it's your fault," he says.
"People keep on telling you it's not your fault, but you just kind of think 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' - you still have that feeling that you could have done something.
"I guess I just wanted to go and figure out what I could have done different; how to really defend myself."
Duran enrolled in a six-month intensive study session at the internationally renowned Northern China Shaolin Martial Arts Academy, waking up at 5 am each day to begin a rigorous 10-hour training regiment, which included several laps up and down 200 steps leading to the temple.
The demanding sessions left Duran with a solid base of Shaolin kungfu, sanda, qigong and taiji skills. But it was not until he finished his training and moved to Beijing to study Chinese that he met martial arts expert Zhang Yi, who taught him the Three Emperor Cannon Fist style.
Based on three legendary emperors, Fuxi, Shennong and Gonggong, cannon fist focuses on speed and bursts of power.
Duran began taking one-on-one lessons with the kungfu master, slowly learning the technique while working in finance and polishing his Chinese language skills at Tsinghua University.
"Studying with Zhang Yi was very different than when I was doing the Shaolin stuff. It was more practical, not as intensive. But because it was one-to-one I picked up the style much quicker."
It wasn't until 2006 that the martial artist made his break into Beijing's burgeoning movie scene.
Having done some small gigs while living back in Britain and doing some minor acting work in Beijing, Duran spotted his opportunity to join in the excitement of the silver screen when he landed a gig as a casting director's assistant on Jackie Chan's 2006 film The Forbidden Kingdom.
"It was an amazing set to work on," he says.
His start was behind the scenes, and Duran's ultimate goal was to shine in the spotlight.
His chance to do so came shortly after working with Chan, when his command of Chinese and his martial arts training landed him a leading part as the protagonist Blaire in the 2007 TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee.
The character made him a recognized face on Chinese streets.
"It doesn't happen so much anymore, but occasionally Chinese people on the streets will stop and look at me strangely before asking, 'Are you that guy from the Bruce Lee series?'"
The role was a break for Duran who says China's increasingly competitive acting scene has made it more difficult for foreign actors to find roles.
With an increasing number of foreign actors traveling to China in search of that golden opportunity, Duran says it is now a must for would-be stars and starlets to learn Chinese. "It's not just about being a face. Chinese film is advancing and so is the recruitment process for foreign actors."
Since showcasing his abilities in the TV series, Duran has enjoyed a successful film career, choreographing the fight scenes for the History Channel's Ancient Discoveries 3: Death Weapons of the East and playing a part in China's epic big budget historic film The Beginning of the Great Revival.
Asked how much of kungfu scenes are Hollywood magic, Duran is quick to respond with the grim truth of fighters and stunt people.
"It's very real and injuries happen often."
In one scene on the set of The Legend, Duran recalls taking a particularly gruesome beating when fighting Tim Storms, who played Willie Jay in the TV series and was a stunt trainer for Toby McGuire in Spiderman 2 and 3.
"That guy can hit. I didn't feel it after the shoot because my adrenaline was going, but the next day my entire arm was just black and blue. It took a week to recover."
Would he ever employ his honed martial arts skills off the screen? Duran says no. "The idea of wushu (martial art) isn't about being able to win fights. It's about knowing how to avoid conflict while having the skills to neutralize a situation if necessary."