China's daredevils to stars

Updated: 2012-01-11 15:56

By Xu Pingting and Lee Michael Hannon (

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And he has every reason to be concerned.

Li once broke a rib while filming an explosion scene for a movie and had trouble breathing for six months.

Cao Xu, another stunt performer working on the movie, was hospitalized after jumping from a building for a scene in another movie. He misjudged the jump and went spiraling to the floor headfirst. After regaining consciousness, he discovered it was only the quick-thinking of his friends who moved the safety cushion that stopped him from breaking his neck.

And it’s not just men who risk their lives to give action scenes an authentic feel. Women stunt performers are in great demand in China.

Wang Meiying started learning kungfu at the tender age of six and only graduated from Tianjin University of Technology in 2010, but is already booked out for most of the year.

She has one scene in Shou Zhu Ren that involves falling down the stairs. It takes five takes as the director insists on capturing her head banging in two specific spots during the fall. In the final cut, her pain-staking scene will last seconds and most viewers will be unaware a stunt double was used.

"There are only a few women who know kungfu and men cannot do the stunts as gentle and elegant as women," she explained to a reporter.

"Small men can play some simple stunts for an actress but complicated ones still need women stunt performers," added Wang who also worked as an action double in the latest film directed by Zhang Yimou-The Flowers Of War.

Wang is one of many who hope to find fame and fortune in the movie industry, but are acutely aware the job has no long-term benefits.

"A stunt performer must find other ways to make a living as being beaten and knocked down is a job for the young," added Zhao.

With an annual output of over 500 films, China boasts the world's third largest film industry after India and the US.

China produced over 520 films in 2010, up from less than 100 annually prior to 2003. Movies screened in China in 2010 raked in 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) at the box office, or 10 times more than box office sales in 2002.

The largest film base in Asia is known as "Chinawood" and is based in Hengdian, a former small rural village in East China's Zhejiang province.

China's daredevils to stars 

Crew members help Li Tao put on protective clothing for his stunt. [Photo/CFP] 

China's daredevils to stars 

Li injures his finger while shooting, but he says he’s used to it. [Photo/CFP]