Ming Qiu has trained and doubled actresses such as Maggie Q from MI:III, to Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, to Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet.
Ming Liu/Qiu on training Milla Jovovich for ’Ultraviolet’ and working in Hollywood
Ace stuntwoman Ming Qiu has an impressive lineup of Hollywood films (Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill, Ultraviolet) on her resume and Inside Kung Fu magazine just saluted her as their 2006 Woman of the Year. But in a recent interview, the veteran wushu champion quickly brushed aside any suggestions that celebrity is knocking at her door. “I’m a very low key person,” she insisted.
Nevertheless, Qiu is picking up a lot of fans these days. “Since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Chinese martial arts have been popular in Hollywood. But people don’t know how to do it,” she pointed out. Her wushu classes in Los Angeles have drawn quite a few stunt professionals looking to polish their skills. Qiu’s parents were gymnastics coaches in her native China and she might have been expected to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a national champion. “But my mom and I visited her friends one day, and they were practicing wushu. It was really cool! So I asked my mom if I could join them.” Professional wushu, the standardized form of martial arts used in China for competitions, turned out to be the ideal training for stunt work. “I think it’s a good idea for a stuntperson to start with wushu, because it has jumps and kicks, and the low stances. And you learn so many styles, both hard and soft styles, and so many different kinds of weapons. When you know wushu, it’s easy to learn other martial arts.”
After making her name as a forms competitor in China and the U.S., Qiu found herself in demand as a trainer and stunt double in Hollywood. “In China, films about flying swordsmen have been popular for a long time, but there’s nothing like that in American culture. So the (U.S.) films mostly don’t have pure Chinese martial arts. They’re more like Kill Bill, with a mix of Chinese and Japanese.” And she’s noticed another difference between U.S. and Chinese versions of cinematic action: “Most traditional Chinese martial arts movies show the fights with only a little editing, and the camera is far enough away that you can see everything. But in America, the fights are edited a lot more, just one or two punches in a shot, and they use close-ups for the action.”
It didn’t take long for Qiu’s talents to make a mark in the industry. She doubled for Lucy Liu in the Charlie’s Angels films and in Kill Bill, and helped to prepare Summer Glau for the Serenity fight scenes. Her work can be seen in non-genre films like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as fan favorites like The Scorpion King and Spiderman 2. Her first television job in the U.S. was as a stunt double in the Chuck Norris series, Walker, Texas Ranger. She also appeared as a Chinese vampire slayer on the Buffy series. “I do mostly stunt work now. A lot of movies need people who can fight. But even if you know martial arts, you have to learn more skills, like wire work, high falls, and gymnastics.”
How dangerous is her work? “Every day there’s some danger. Even an easy job can turn dangerous. You have to really concentrate. For a recent project, I had to crash through a window and across a table. It’s not easy because you have to look perfect, but also protect your face. Everything was set up, and I did it perfectly the first time. I didn’t get hurt at all. But then I did another stunt where I got hurt very badly and was in the hospital. It was supposed to be easy! But I hit my head, and I needed 10 stitches.”
Qiu trained Milla Jovovich in combat techniques for her lead role in the upcoming sci-fi actioner Ultraviolet, and is credited as assistant stunt coordinator in the film. “Before they hired Milla, they already asked me to stunt double for the lead. But then they cast her, and she’s about 5’8”, and I’m about 5’3”! So instead I worked with her on choreographing and rehearsing the moves before they hired her doubles. Then we trained the doubles.” She added, “Milla does her own moves” as a freedom-fighting vampire in the futuristic thriller. “She uses beautiful moves to avoid bullets.”
The nature of Qiu’s work ensures that her face is seldom seen on screen. But in Cellular, for which she picked up a stunt driving credit, she also got a chance to play a character. “I was acting,” she recalled. “I played a student driver. People were yelling at me, and I was very nervous!” Her future plans include acting classes. “I’d like to try a small part, but mostly I’m very busy with my stunt work. And I want to open a school. It’s hard to teach when I’m so busy and out of town for so long when I’m working. But I’d really like to open a wushu school. A lot of people want to take my classes.”