Some of the biggest draws to the Bourne film frnachise are the intricate fight sequences that sell the story of trained US assasin, Jason Bourne. After the success of the first three films, Matt Damon stepped away from the role until he reunited with director Paul Greengrass for Jason Bourne six years afte the previous film. Now spaning 10 years, the film had a lot to live up to, especially those epic fight sequences.
I had the fortune to speak with Robert Youan, who has garnered recognition as gained much acclaim as a martial arts fight trainer, action coordinator, actor, writer and producer. He has amassed a wide repertoire of expertise in various martial arts styles and unique physical training regimens and has trained the likes of Jennifer Lawrence for X Men: First Class and Daniel Craig for Skyfall. Now, he had his work cut out for him as he was tasked with bringing forth a new fighting structure for a well known character, Jason Bourne.
When Matt Damon initialy began his journey as Jason Bourne, he was advised to take up boxing to be able to better portray the walk and fighting style of a fighter. Roger states that Matt’s boxing experience was a great jumping off point. The first scene in which we see our hero is in the desert about to engage in a boxing match. He’s been underground, hiding from the government, excorsising his own demons.For the scene “I went back to the Philippine style of dirty boxing. Matt insterted boxing movements and footwork along with weaving lunches. Going high. Doing a reverse elbow. While Jason has been underground he’s tried to stay outside of military surveillance ops but he’s been doing bare knuckle blocking [to stay in shape].” This was designed to give the fight more of a raw feel.
I asked Roger how he went about mapping out and creating choreography that looked believable but also let Matt stay true to his character as Jason Bourne. “I looked back at old Jason Bourne fight sequences [from the first films] looking for something to improve on or go away from so as not to revisit the same things. In personal training I used a lot of what’s going on with Tai Chi and traditional martial arts like Kung Fu or Karate. Then melding those elements into the bare knuckle boxing sequences to give it a different flavor.”
It’s intersting to note that the underground fight sequences were modeled after the Miami underground fight clubs which is why I was curios to learn how Roger got ideas from these venues. “I saw some footage of Ireland fighters to get ideas to see what they did and it was more of a street brawl mixed with boxing. Still following some rules in regards to kicking, eye gauging, biting or grabbing and wrapped hands.” Visually it wasn’t as exciting as what Bourne needs to be but it helped set the stage for a gritty boxing match.
Another of the multiple visually catching fight sequences takes place inside a photography studio and it makes for a classing “Bornue style” of confrontation. Showcasing his quick thinking and planning out, always being aware of his surroundings atd staying one step ahead of his oponent. I asked Roger how he went about coordinating the fight and deciding what peices from the room he would incoorporate into the fight.
“The other character was a leaner version of Jason so it was a mattr of checking what would be in the apartment. [Paul Greengrass and I] played with the idea of what could be used. Chords, towels and magazines had been used in previous films so we had to come up with something new. When we saw the weightlifting materials in the room we thought ‘Let’s use the actual weight bar. Use whatever is close to him to strike.’”
It’s intersting to learn that a fight that seems to take 5-10 mnutes takes days of planing and even re-working or cmpletely changing from where it began. “The fight sequence can take from a day to 3 or 5 days because we’re constantly changing or improving on ideas. Matt and Paul can come in and give ideas or different perspectives. Somethinmes things change to service the need to telli the right story. This can include changing the environment or choreography.”
The final and most heart punding fight scene takes place in the sewers of Las Vegas with Vincent Cassel. This underground ruble is a no holds barred mixed of trained fighting to all out street brawl. Something that viewers don’t know (and I did not know myself) was that the initial setting of this fight was as homeless base which would have included many more extras on set. But upon seeing the set up, director Paul Greengrass and Roger Yuan decided to change things up.
“Two days before shooting Paul looked at the set and changed the set from a homeless camp to an empty underground fight. Considering we take elements of things in our surroundings to use in the actual fight we had to changed and shot in the last two days. This was a big challenge for everyone. A kettle and a knife were only items used during the fight until the introduction of the cable at the end.” In previous fights we had seen Jason use a towel, a boook anda cable to neutralize his opponent but in this fight we “flipped it so the asset uses the cable first. Now it’s Jason who has to get out of the choke hold.”
The fight had to change within the last day and a half of the film shoot and it proved challenging for both actors. Since the time alloted was so short Roger had to time the sequences into beats of 4, like in music. “In terms of fightight, to teach it it had to be done and internalized quickly. It was done in beats of 3 or 4. Once [the actors] have beats and movements then it’s easier to make it more visually drmanatic or aggressive. You are able to forget the dance and use the center of your body to generate the power. You use your shoulders and hips, knees and elbows. It makes the [fight] less mechanical and much more visceral.”
If you’ve seen Jason Bourne you’ll see that the fight sequences are eye catching and entralling. A key aspect of Jason himself being as he uses his government training to not only defend himself but stay one step ahead of those hunting him down. They are edge of your seat sequences that seem effortless but take days and lots of planning to create.
Roger Yuan has recently finished training with Dylan O’ Brien for American Assassin, his first film back from his debilitating injury on the set of The Maze Runner sequel so it was a challenge but the actor was ready to take on the work and training for his role.
Be sure to pick up your copy of Jason Bourne on DVD and Blu-ray and see more behind the scenes footage and bonus features!