Griffin Chan: an enthusiastic stuntman
Interview by Rosie Roberts
At only thirty-six years of age, Griffin Chan has trained and worked as a stunt person in nine countries - Brazil, USA, Canada, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, China, India and New Zealand, returning home to Australia more than 20 times!
Chan’s experience challenges the traditional view of return migration as an uncomplicated transition from arrival to resettlement to closure. Rather than a singular homecoming, Chan is part of a growing international workforce based in Australia, where you can expect a multiplicity of returns over a lifetime.
Chan was born in Seoul, South Korea,adopted by an Australian family and grew up in Mount Gambier, before moving to Adelaide at the age of eleven. He feels extremely fortunate to have been adopted by parents who have given him “every opportunity they could”. He graduated from a degree in Architecture but didn’t “feel like it was [his] calling”. Following university, he worked in cafés, taught Capoeira and trained in numerous martial arts while he was figuring out what to do next. A friend of his was doing stunt work at the time and recommended Chan for a commercial. He won the job and subsequently undertook all the stunt grading requirements to become a nationally accredited stunt person.
Chan described that his “journey into the stunt world was not an easy road”. He was the only stunt-graded person living in South Australia, but without local film contacts, he had to self-fund numerous trips interstate to meet co-ordinators and stunt people to audition and train with. From the early stages of his career, international travel has been central to developing his skills through intensive training visits as well as developing his industry contacts. Chan has trained with some of the world’s well known stunt teams and masters, including Guro Dan Inosanto in LA and masters in Canada and Japan before returning to Australia.
Chan’s first overseas work opportunity came when he was offered a job by a stunt group working on the Netflix series Marco Polo in Malaysia. “Some days we would be out in 50 degree heat, 100 percent humidity, in full leather armour, with woollen underlay, helmets, sword and shield and getting hit by horses over and over again.” Following this role he was asked to do a job in India on a Bollywood film called Brothers.
After Mumbai, Chan returned to Australia where he became a full-time team member for Pirates of the Caribbean, moving to the Gold Coast for six months and “having many a fake beard pasted on and wig fitted”. Towards the end of this job he was asked to work on the second season of Marco Polo and so relocated to Budapest and Malaysia to complete the filming. Following season two of Marco Polo, Chan did ‘fight’ choreography for a film in India before being offered a role working on Alien: Covenant in Sydney and Milford Sound in New Zealand. He then worked on several films in the Gold Coast for the next year (Thor: Ragnarok and Aquaman). In 2017 he was asked to ‘fight coordinate’ the film Shazam in Canada, leading to another relocation to Toronto s.
Chan recently bought a house in Adelaide with his partner where he has strong connections with family and friends. But for the foreseeable future, he knows that living and training overseas is an essential part of his career. Chan spoke with Advance about his incredible global experience.
How has your job evolved over the past few years?
I initially started out mainly as a performer, specialising in Martial arts. As time has gone by, I have learnt new skills and am now also part of the creative process of developing cool fight scenes and action. Eventually, I would like to work more in creating meaningful content, primarily working from Adelaide, Australia.
Do you work for a company or are you hired as a freelancer?
I am hired as a freelancer, but I have a been taken under the wing of a great Australian stunt coordinator, Kyle Gardiner (KG). Over the years, Kyle has helped me develop professionally and personally. Most of the work I do, I have him to thank for. The KG stunt team is family to me. What do you love most about your work?
I love being a part of the creative process of film making and seeing the movie once it’s made. It is really cool to see how things turn out on the big screen after spending so much time on it. I remember so many little things that we would spend days and weeks on and when you see it on the screen it is a pretty cool feeling. I love being a part of a stunt family. We all look out for each other and work together as a team and family.
What is the most challenging part of your job and the life associated with it?
Living with any kind of normalcy. It is hard to be able to do the things you have grown up believing you would do. Like buying a house, having kids, owning pets, keeping a relationship. They are the constant challenges. I love my partner, I love having a home to go to. I want to have kids and a dog. The jobs I get generally take me away from those things. If I could do the things I am doing in Adelaide, I would do it without hesitation. Unfortunately, the work I do has no demand in Adelaide, so I am forced to travel.
The hardest thing about working away is being away from my partner. Building a life together with the one you love is much harder when you are away from them more than you are with them. But hopefully in the future things will change.
Where do you see yourself in five/ten years from now?
Creating my own content. I want to help create content that will enrich people’s lives.
Does working overseas but returning frequently to Adelaide, Australia, present both opportunities and challenges?
Working overseas gives me a greater understanding of the industry on a global scale. By having international experience, it gives me greater credibility back here in Australia.
Could you do this kind of work in Australia only?
I believe I could do a vast majority of my work here, but it will always depend on how supportive the government is to the film industry and the cost of the Australian dollar. When I first came into stunts, the dollar was high, and the government were not very supportive so there was no work. Today, our government is helping more with the tax incentives and the dollar is at a good rate to attract international films [to film in Australia]. Hopefully in the future, we can combine that with our union ensuring we have equal pay, rights and privileges that other countries have, like Canada and USA. This will give us a really strong industry which will create world class performers and content.
Given you’ve had lots of experiences living and working all over the world, what has been a specific highlight for you?
The people you meet make the places you see. Life is better shared. All of the journeys I’ve taken have given me insight into the person I want to become. But I would never really become that person without sharing those insights with the people I love. Guro Inosanto would always say it’s never really yours until you can give it away. I feel like the real highlight of travelling is actualised when I come home and can give those experiences away.
How do you think growing up and studying in Australia has shaped you and contributed to your success overseas?
I think Australian culture is easy going and hard working. I think these two things combined gives us a huge advantage when working overseas. I have an amazing and supportive family and partner, beautiful and interesting friends from various backgrounds, and access to high quality education. I am a part of world-class stunt teams and love what I do. Australia has provided me with all of these things and for that, I am forever grateful.