How a Self-Taught YouTube Martial Artist Became a Marvel Supervillain

Andy Le stars as Death Dealer in "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"

September 20, 2021 9:36 am
Andy Le as Death Dealer in "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"
Andy Le as Death Dealer in "Shang Chi"
Marvel Studios

For close to a decade, Andy Le has uploaded videos to his Martial Club YouTube channel alongside his brother Brian Le, Daniel Ma and other collaborators. Despite having little to no formal training, the young Orange County residents showed impressive skills when it came to producing and performing technical fight choreography. The channel racked up millions of views and fans, which was enough to grab the attention of legendary stuntman Brad Allan, famous for his work with Jackie Chan.

So in early 2019, when Allan was building his stunt team for Marvel’s martial arts epic Shang-Chi, he reached out to Le with a life-changing offer — not just a spot on the stunt team, but a role in the film as Death Dealer, one of the primary villains. We recently sat down with the young Vietnamese actor during an Instagram Live to discuss his surreal journey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

How did you first begin your journey with the martial arts? 

I was a bigger kid in school, and got bullied a lot. I would go back home and watch martial arts movies where these guys would fight off 20 guys at once, and the idea of being able to defend yourself like that struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to move like the guys that I saw onscreen. I didn’t start by going to any sort of school; every part of my ability came from self-teaching, and watching YouTube tutorials. I remember learning how to do a backflip by watching an old video from Jujimufu. I would study different clips, and then go out to the park near where I lived, falling on my face until I got it right.

I went to a Wushu school for a short while, but I would say 90 percent of my ability comes from self-teaching. Because of the way that I learned, it’s hard to categorize my style in one category. I would say my primary influence is kung fu, but it’s more accurate to say I study all martial arts. I can watch a fight sequence and recreate it almost beat-for-beat. I wanted to film my own sequences, so I started filming with my brother Brian Le and Daniel Ma. Right then we started the YouTube channel, and over the years put up little short films and fights. Over time it gained traction, and I guess people in high places started to pay attention.

How did you first hear that Shang-Chi was happening? And what were your first thoughts?

The first time I heard about Shang-Chi being made, I got a Facebook message from 2nd unit director Brad Allan. For anyone who doesn’t know, Brad is a legendary part of that Jackie Chan stunt team, working on so many iconic martial arts movies, and someone who I personally really looked up to. The second thing about the message that was curious was there was no photo, and nothing about the Facebook profile that made it clear that it was actually him.

I figured that I would take my chances with it, and he asked to meet in Anaheim which is close to where I was at the time. I guess he was taking his family to Disneyland. I showed up, and he was wearing sunglasses, a hat and had facial hair. When he took the glasses off, I knew it was him immediately. That is when he told me he was working on a project for Marvel, and I knew immediately that it was Shang-Chi.

What did you guys cover in that first conversation?

I told him right away that I didn’t want to join up as just a standard stunt double. Not to downplay anything that stunt doubles do, they help make action movies amazing. But since I have had my foot in the stunts door for awhile now, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the movie in a way that was unique to me, where people would actually know that it was Andy Le. I think the first thing I thought I wanted to people to see my face. Funnily enough, in the end, I wore a mask, but regardless I had my own character.

Brad agreed, and he decided that he wanted to start bringing me in by having me train Simu Liu alongside my brother Bryan Le and D.Y. Sao, who is a part of our crew. For a few months we all trained together before they started filming. Simu had a background in martial arts tricking, which is a combination of gymnastics and martial arts movements. He could do backflips and gainers — not tot to mention as you can he is an athletic actor — but he needed some sharpening of his skills. 

Towards the end of our time training together, I was offered a project that I couldn’t refuse. Since at the time I was only slated to be a stunt double, I had to bail out of flying to Australia with Simu and the crew for the actual filming of the movie. I had no idea how much of a blessing that would be in the end, because I was offered the role that I ultimately ended up in much later. 

During your time with Simu, what were the primary skills that you wanted to improve?

The main element that he had to work on going into the role of Shang-Chi was his flexibility, and he admitted as much himself. I think that it is one of the most important factors in someone’s ability, but also tough to get people to really spend time on because they want to start doing combinations immediately. I actually have footage on my phone that shows the three of us pinning Simu down and pushing him into the splits. He was definitely in some pain! 

I think that me getting the role for Death Dealer was a great full-circle moment, because at the time we had no idea that I, who had helped train Simu during his prep would ultimately play Shang Chi’s instructor in the movie. I think those two months that we spent training together really helped bring that chemistry to life during the actual filming as well. That relationship was already established.

So how did you end up in the role of Death Dealer?

I got a call from Brad Allan a little bit later, and he told me that they were writing in a new mysterious character, who had a primarily karate or shinobi style. Brad thought that my movement and way of performing would fit really well with what they were imagining, so he had me send in video. This felt like a culmination of the decade of work that I had put into footage. Not long after I got a call from casting and they said that no further audition was needed, I was going to be Death Dealer.

What did you think of the costume when you first saw it? And how was it to fight in?

I remember when they sent me the concept art, and I was so stoked on it. He looked so cool and ninja. I went to the studio with Marvel after I got the role where they did a full scan of my body. Once they had al of my stats, they designed the costume to be completely tailored to me. The department was also very open to input, which was great.

The first mask they gave me was solid, but was very tough to maneuver with. I felt it messing up my equilibrium during some of the high kicks. So eventually they found a material that was more fitting and lighter; that made it easier for me to do everything with the suit on. The most difficult element of the mask though was how much it would limit my breathing, and you are using so much of your lung capacity when you are doing an intense action sequence. 

My very first day of filming we were shooting the training montage, and I was completely gassing out. So the next change that they made was to open up the mouth area by using mesh that you couldn’t see, or at least was easy to lay VFX over.

Once you were costumed and on set, how did you work to bring your own personal style to the movie?

My goal going into this was getting one of my trademark moves into the film, so that when people saw it, they know that they are seeing Andy Le. One of the best parts about working with Brad Allan was that he always fought for us to push the envelope. He wanted there to be something ground-breaking about everything that we did. Since this movie had a huge budget, we had a lot of time to perfect everything, and make the fights the best that they could be.

My main fights were rehearsed for months, which is unheard of in my world of YouTube videos. In the end, I was able to get one of my signature moves in there, which also happened to be a move that had never been done on film. I wanted to make sure that in this ground-breaking film, that I was doing something that would make history. 

That is what happened when I was able to get my full twist sidekick into my fight with Simu. I petitioned for it to be in the movie, and it took somewhere over 15 takes to get it right. I was able to hit it no problem on the training mats, but when you have the whole costume on, with other fighters, and on camera, it’s a different animal. I had a feeling that the move that I got in there would make it into the trailer, and if it did, it would be during a music drop. I was completely right.

Our original target was the chest, and I hit the stunt guy there a few times. One of them was perfect, but the way the guy’s jacket moved it covered up the impact. So we kept trying, and at the end we got one where I connected with his face, and that was the one that make it into the final cut. I had a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when we nailed it. 

Death Dealer’s main weapon is a knife. Was that always the case? What other weapons did you get to use?

The knife was the weapon that we used the majority of the time. There was a few scenes during the early training montage where we got to use some bo staffs too, but unfortunately a lot of the video from that training montage was cut down. In some of the early drafts of the Death Dealer fights, he had a whole bunch of knifes instead of just the one, and he was throwing them everywhere like Naruto. I was lucky because some of the stunt doubles that I was working with are actual knife guys, so they helped school me up a lot. 

That must have been a unique experience for you, to have a stunt double.

I never have a stunt double for my own videos, and he did a great job taking some of the impacts, stepping in for me when necessary. And when I wasn’t needed, I worked as a regular stunt double too, and would jump in when we needed another body in the fights. Doing huge sequences like the ones in this movie is a real collaborative effort. 

What was it like working with legends like Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh, whom you had done a project with before?

I was making a conscious effort not to come off as a huge fanboy, even though I am. But it is hard to disguise. Either way I think they appreciate it, because they could tell I was genuinely excited to work with them.

This is an epic movie, with incredible people involved. How does it feel to be a part of it?

First and foremost, I have to thank the late Brad Allan, because without him I would not be here. I want to make sure that I do right by his legacy. I think that Shang-Chi is going to change the current landscape of martial arts in movies. For me, this is just the beginning. I am glad I was able to get a signature move in the film, but it is only a fraction of what I can do. I believe I am the first Vietnamese actor in the MCU, and I want to do that statement justice. I’m from Little Saigon in Orange County and I think it’s important that we are represented. I am working on a few projects now that I am excited for the world to see.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now in theaters.

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