To call Derek Ting anything but an enthusiastic multi-hyphenate is to be glaringly obtuse. Ting, who’s foremost an actor-director, co-founded a production company Random Art Workshop with his wife Joyce Yung and led the charge in creating four feature films in the last decade released by Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Hulu and Showtime. His most recent features, as well as the current instalment he’s working on, consist of a three-part sci-fi action franchise entitled the Agent saga. Oh, he’s also a tech writer to boot.
“I only started incorporating serious action in these last two features when I started working with my stunt team, Action Factory, who are known for big Hollywood productions like Netflix’s Daredevil and Punisher,” says Ting, crediting the team and his stunt double, Anthony Oh, as inspirations behind him taking on more and more of the action. “In my last film, we shot a one-minute continuous shot fight scene that’s all me.”
How did you discover a talent for action?
I grew up on Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies and then got into mixed martial arts during university and beyond, but I want to be known as an actor first and foremost. I only started incorporating serious action in my last 2 features when I started working with my stunt team Action Factory who are known for big Hollywood film and TV like Netflix’s Daredevil and Punisher. I leave the heavy lifting to my team and my amazing stunt double Anthony Oh, but as we’ve worked together, I’ve taken on more of the action. In my last film, we shot a one-minute continuous shot fight scene that’s all me.
Was this something you’ve always been interested in pursuing or was it something you fell into?
I love action movies but I love acting (and directing) more, so I started out making character-driven thrillers before taking on the added element and complexity of action. I have a new perspective on how to make action films which is more realistic fighting, like thai boxing and military tactics – and I’m committed to developing my skills to demonstrate that.
What’s the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done?
My stunt team suggested I should be rigged up – you wear a harness and then you are yanked by a rope into the air – for one of the shots. Because I also direct, if I get injured, the production would get shut down so I said no several times before my stunt double Anthony Oh asked me. Being on a rig, the risk level isn’t as high as jumping off a cliff, but given the fact that it was last minute, and I had no formal training on the rig, it felt very dangerous. He told me it was a calculated risk that was worth it, and we had worked on two films together, so I trusted him and he was right, it was worth it. After that, I was like, I can do it better, let’s go again!
What’s one stunt you’d never try?
Action Factory has done most of the major fire stunts where they have a special gel to protect you and that’s something I will never try … for now.
Your most memorable stunt?
I was fighting opposite one of my team and he was swinging long sharp acrylic blades at me. After doing a few takes and watching playback, I felt I need to get closer to make it look more dangerous and believable, so on the next take I tried to get closer, and BAM, I got hit in the head with luckily the blunt end. I blacked out for a second, and they told me to rest, but I told them to keep going. Taking hits (as long as they are manageable) is part of the honour in gaining respect with your team. But the reason this was so memorable is because actually doing it, watching it and sensing what I needed to do to make it more believable, reinforced to me what I can add to the genre of action: combining the spontaneity of classic Hong Kong action films with Hollywood structure.
What’s the coolest stunt you’ve ever seen performed by someone else?
Anthony Oh, my stunt double, proposed he get dragged by a car for a stunt where my character gets kicked. This was the day before we were filming the shot and it perfectly illustrates what I’ve previously mentioned. Spontaneity combined with Hollywood standards of safety. We wouldn’t have been able to do that on a traditional Hollywood film shoot and the danger would have been much higher on a Hong Kong one.
Is there someone that inspires you in your line of work?
I respect Tom Cruise for how hard he pushes himself. In every movie where he tops himself, like in Mission Impossible or Top Gun: Maverick, the movie ends up amazing. In every movie where he’s not, it ends up being mediocre. I keep pushing my limits on each film and I believe it’s what keeps my career thriving, attracting top talent and landing distribution deals.
Stunt work is understandably very taxing on the body. How do you keep your body and mind well?
Sleep is paramount. I workout often and walk a lot. I’ve focused recently on increasing range of motion to reduce injuries. After playing chess with my dad over the summer to engage his mind, I’ve started to play daily too. Staying fit physically and mentally requires so much time and commitment in addition to all the roles I play writing and directing, and it’s a constant struggle to maintain and improve. The biggest challenge of all is not eating too much of the great food in Hong Kong.
Best advice you’ve received?
About 12 years ago when I was developing my first film, I was visited by a minister in the hospital after I tore my ACL. I had been working nights and weekends to write the script and get it produced. I was feeling so down not being able to walk, I was ready to give up. Rhetorically, I asked him how a nobody like me could dream of making the first financial thriller to link Hong Kong and New York. He replied, “Nothing is certain.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in the industry?
Breaking stereotypes. The majority of roles on productions that have international reach are more often than not inherently the same: we’re either rich, gangsters, martial artists, geeks or a combination of them all. This doesn’t pose a big problem for someone of Asian descent travelling through Asia, but travel anywhere else and this constant perception is a source of ignorance and hate. To solve this problem, I don’t want handouts and don’t want entitlement. I’m grateful for having a career in doing something cool, and I just happen to be Asian. I’m willing to take the risk and will leap at it.
Meet Hong Kong’s New Action Vanguard’s other stunt performers and action actors here