TV shows

‘Iron Fist’ TV show has lots of martial arts and then some

Brett Chan, the show’s stunt co-ordinator, says that the Netflix show is nothing like ‘Daredevil’, ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Jessica Jones’.

The newest defender of humankind joins the ranks this week. Following the successful Netflix-Marvel productions of Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Luke Cage, Iron Fist has made its debut on the streaming platform on March 17, introducing us to the final and fourth defender and readying the streets for an eventual bigger fight in The Defenders, also set for release in 2017.

Scott Buck’s Iron Fist tells the story of billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who returns to New York City 15 years after surviving a plane crash. Danny has spent the years training in martial arts in the mystical city of K’un L’un. Having plunged his hand into the molten heart of a dragon, he has gained the powers to invoke the iron fist when needed. On his return, Danny tries to reconnect with his legacy and his friends, but is forced to use his kung fu skills and superpowers to fight a new enemy.

Previous Marvel-Netflix adaptations of the Defenders series have been consistently breaking out of the superhero action genre, and similar things can be expected from Iron Fist.

But not all the noise surrounding Iron Fist has been positive. The show was first called out for cultural appropriation, and for missing an obvious opportunity for diversity and representation. Jones and Henwick have defended the series, hoping that viewers will look at the context before judging it. And it is being judged – early reviews do not promise the binge-worthiness of Jessica Jones or Daredevil.

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Iron Fist.

But there is a lot to look forward to here – a good cast, an interesting origin story and elements of the mystical. The series is based on martial arts, but it isn’t all action, stunt coordinator Brett Chan told Scroll.in. “The grounding of the episodes, and what the producers wanted was definitely different with regard to how we tell the story,” he said. “They were trying to diverge into Danny’s character, to give the character more substance. They really play a lot on the characters around him who help build his character, to exemplify or to amplify the good and bad around people. It is also different in the aspect of how it looks. Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are very dark, whereas this is very different.”

Finn Jones played Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones, where he didn’t get too many opportunities to wield a sword. But as Iron Fist, Jones had big shoes to fill. “This was a little bit different for him because what he had to do was really train for some things,” Chan said. “He had a very hectic schedule, so it was hard for him to even to be able to get to do a lot of training. Martial arts isn’t something you can just pick up, or train for every once in a while. It’s something you need to be really involved in, it’s a lifestyle.”

Finn Jones (left) on the sets of Iron Fist.
Finn Jones (left) on the sets of Iron Fist.

Iron Fist isn’t Chan’s first project with Netflix. He has been stunt coordinator for the company’s original series Marco Polo, which relies heavily on martial arts. But the preparation for the two shows couldn’t be more different.

“The Chinese martial arts evolved,” Brett explained. “When we were doing Marco Polo, it’s the 13th century, so only certain martial arts were developed by then. It was easier for us to navigate that, to see which kind of martial arts we can teach, and alter what is being practised for a war combat situation, when needed. With Iron Fist we put aspects of the older styles, Wing Chun, animal styles, and the Wushu style.”

Since the series producers wanted to minimise wire work, Finn and his stunt double had to work hard to make the stunts convincing. “With wire work you can do fantastical things that are very superhuman, which they [the producers] wanted to keep away off, to keep Danny Rand/Iron Fist very real,” Chan said. “But we were able to play with his martial arts more and make it more modern and still use the elements of older forms to give it some authenticity of K’un L’un.”

The real star on the sets was Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, the katana-carrying Japanese martial arts expert in the show. “She trained six hours a day with us,” Chan revealed. “Whether she was training or not, she would make it to class.”

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Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing in Iron Fist.

Chan has several action movies and TV shows to his credit, having worked in The Last Samurai (2003), X-Men 2 (2003) and Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans (2009). What would he like to do next? The Bourne Series, or a production of an epic scale like Mulan or The Raid: Redemption.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.