How Jackie Chan And 'John Wick' Inspired The Action Sequences In 'Birds Of Prey'

One of the prevailing issues with recent superhero movies are the clear division between the drama and the action sequences. The comic book movie industry has become a well-oiled machine, and as a result, you get CGI-packed action sequences designed by a VFX team while the indie auteur who was plucked out of obscurity to helm a major blockbuster gets to focus on the narrative and character scenes. But Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan didn't want that to happen with her comic book film.

"It was never like, here's the movie and then here are the action sequences," Yan said in an interview with /Film at the Birds of Prey junket in London. Yan's production teamed up with 87Eleven, the action design company founded by John Wick director Chad Stahelski, who came on board to help beef up the action sequences as a second unit director during reshoots. Indeed, there are already comparisons being made between Birds of Prey's thrilling fight scenes and the bone-crunching action of John Wick — a similarity that Yan said was intentional.

"We've been working with at 87Eleven from the beginning. And the reason that I chose them was because I wanted that style," Yan said.

But Yan didn't just look to the John Wick franchise, which itself is highly influenced by Hong Kong action cinema, for inspiration for her Birds of Prey fight scenes. She and Birds of Prey stunt coordinator, 87Eleven's Jonathan Eusebio, bonded over their love of Jackie Chan movies and discussed how they could incorporate that style into Birds of Prey. Yan said:

"Jonathan Eusebio, who's our stunt coordinator, we really got along and we talked a lot about Jackie Chan movies and how practical it was and how you weren't cutting really quickly. You're kind of staying on it and staying on the action. And I felt like those guys at 87Eleven, which Chad [Stahelski] obviously founded, those guys were doing the best that that you know, at this practical, interesting camera work and action. And so it was all in by design, you know, is all part of like the greater vision of what the movie would be, how we would shoot it. And so it was just part of the conversation."

Jackie Chan's fighting style, as well as the unique way he films his action sequences, is rarely imitated in Hollywood films today, which often rely on fast cuts and camera movements to conceal the difference between untrained actors and their trained stunt doubles. But Yan made sure her cast were trained enough to pull off this arduous long-take filming style.

"Cathy likes to shoot things in one-ders, which meant not very many edits, which meant not very many opportunities for stunt doubles to come in," Mary Elizabeth Winstead said of the process of shooting the film's central funhouse action sequence:

"Which meant we were fighting all day every take. Every take was us take after take undertake which was. I mean, it was incredibly rewarding to do but it was the hardest. I've never had that much pressure put on me as an actor physically so it was a real challenge to rise to but it was amazing to have these guys to be there to like inspired me to keep kicking it up a notch and keep going for it."

Much credit is being given to Stahelski for Birds of Prey's impressive fight scenes, but Yan and producer Bryan Unkeless emphasized that he came on board during reshoots to make the action sequences "pop" more. Unkeless said:

"We were really thankful that when DC saw the cut of the movie, they kind of wanted to continue to support it, and double down and to continue to pop those action sequences which really paid off. And, you know, it is fun to have somebody like Chad who is such experienced. That helped me, when he saw the movie that he was really excited and that he wanted to be there, his team was there and you want to get part of it and kind of contribute in his way."

Birds of Prey hits theaters on February 7, 2020.