From competitive fighter to Hollywood star, JuJu Chan Szeto’s martial arts journey continues despite the uncertainty caused by Covid. She shares how she took this time out to stay in shape, improve her fighting game and prepare for more diverse roles.
Juju Chen Szeto, Hong Kong martial artist turned Hollywood action darling, is eyeing new opportunities ahead as she returns to Hollywood earlier this year.
With days that consist of full mornings of training, sparring and practicing with his weapons often extending well into the late afternoons, being cramped during Covid was not ideal. “I have to move, I can’t stay still and I always have to plan my next move. Otherwise I start to feel depressed.”
Chan Szeto got his big break in the Netflix original movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, alongside action superstars Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen and master choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. Before that, she had devoted much of her life to martial arts.
“My dad loves action movies, and growing up I always watched Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan movies at home,” she recalls.
Like any active and energetic 10-year-old, she punched, kicked and nunchucked alongside action stars she watched on TV, ruining furniture and dinner, in the process of road. “I loved Bruce Lee, and I imitated his moves using Chinese sausages as nunchakus,” she laughed.
As much as his father loved on-screen kung fu, he couldn’t tell one discipline from another. Instead of letting her wreak even more havoc on their home, he sent his daughter to the nearest judo dojo in San Francisco, where the family immigrated from Hong Kong when she was three.
She didn’t care much about the discipline in which she trained; she was just happy to kick and punch.
Chan Szeto fell in love with the sport, later taking up several other disciplines including karate, wushu, wing chun and Muay Thai. She continued to train professionally and in 2013 competed for Hong Kong at the World Taekwondo Championship in Bulgaria.
Along the way, however, she dabbled in different areas of the entertainment industry, entering beauty contests and recording an R&B album. “I always loved acting, so I always knew it was going to be my career one way or another.”
Years of training and competition paid off in 2015 when producers of crouching tiger launched a casting call, effectively naming the next generation of actors at the auction “I was chosen because I can do all my own fight scenes, plus I can speak English; there weren’t many of us who matched the invoice.”
Since Crouching Tiger, the actress says she has proven to Western directors that women can fight as hard and as well as men. “In Hollywood, they treat you like a flower, and they always come up with stunt doubles. But I always insist on doing my own fight scenes, and I always give feedback to the team on how I think that I can do something better.”
This dedication led her to land the role of Zan Hui in Wu Assassinsan all-Asian-led Netflix original series with a recently released feature-length sequel titled fist of revenge.
While her martial arts training helped her land and thrive in these roles, she had to relearn how she fought and trained to perform on screen.
“When I train for fights and competition, it’s all about power and impact. But when you’re filming alongside other actors, some of them may not have experience in martial arts or in combat. It’s all about control, so we didn’t hurt anyone.”
She adds: “The way we fight in competitions just doesn’t look good on camera. The punches can be too hard so we always have to choreograph and adjust our styles to make things look good. good.”
To make sure she can do all of her own stunts, she incorporates cardio and agility training like yoga into her routine. “Cardio is especially important because we might have to do a scene multiple times, and if you lose stamina, the director might just say, ‘Bring out the stunt man.’ I insist on doing all my stunts, so having the energy to do multiple takes is very important.”
While not filming, Chan Szeto is constantly preparing for potential roles that may come her way and picking up new styles and weapons. “I learned Brazilian ju-jitsu and I learned new weapons because I need to have that range when new roles come in, I’m ready and I have more to offer.” She starred as Carmen alongside Nicolas Cage and Tony Jaa in the 2020 film Jiu-Jitsu, and immersed herself in discipline throughout filming. The action star is self-taught in most of the weapons she practices, just like she did with nunchucks when she was a little girl.
Training with various masters and the Hong Kong Taekwondo Association allowed him to expand his range. However, his favorite sparring partner is a bit closer to home. “I mainly train with my husband now. He’s a great martial artist, and we know each other so well that he knows how to push my limits.”
She and Australian director Anthony Szeto married in the heart of Covid in 2020; the two hope to resume filming on Szeto’s pending project, which has been stalled due to the pandemic.
While Chan Szeto had to give up three movie roles during the pandemic, she embarked on a new project that reconnected her with her very first love, nunchucks. “It’s my favorite weapon,” she said. “And I wanted to make videos for teaching nunchucks for YouTube, and this year I finally started my own channel.”
She wants to share her love with the world and maybe inspire a few kids to have a little fun and get creative with whatever pantry goods they decide to turn into the weapon made famous by Bruce Lee.
Also see: Michelin-starred chef Jayson Tang reveals the formula behind his 65-pound weight loss