It is about calculated risks. I’m not saying I wouldn’t jump off a bridge or out of an airplane, just for the thrill of it, but that wouldn’t be parkour.”
original blueprint after he served in Africa and adapted the tribal dance movements he saw into his “method naturelle”.
It is getting more Hollywood treatment this month courtesy of independent filmmaker Daniel Benmayor. Tracers, featuring Twilight star Taylor Lautner, revolves around a New York City bike messenger who links up with a gang that uses parkour to pull off heists so he can pay off his debts to the Chinese mafia. It hit US theaters on March 20.
“Honestly, before I even learned how to, I was actually doing some parkour,” Lautner told Entertainment Weekly, adding that two of his co-stars broke their ankles during filming.
“I am that weirdo that chooses the difficult route down the side of the street. I could easily just walk on the sidewalk but no, I see some obstacle and I’m like, ‘ Oh, I wonder what it would be like to get over that?’ So, yes, I am definitely that person.”
To give an idea of its broad appeal, CBS ran a series of photos last October of Palestinian boys sharpening their skills amid ruined houses in Gaza City after a seven-week Israeli offensive. Videos of young Iranian women, and old age pensioners in the US, training in parkour can easily be found on video-sharing sites like YouTube.
Shanghai, given its love affair with all things Gallic, could hardly be a better place to foment interest in the sport on the mainland.
French restaurants abound; French-run Bar Rouge on the Bund riverfront is the city’s most famous bar; expats drink the nights away in the former French Concession; half the foreigners in the city wear chic neck scarves — even when it is warm.
Over in Toronto, Shapiro got hooked as a teenager. He also studied kungfu at the Shaolin Monastery in China’s Dengfeng county, Henan province between 2007 and 2009 before relocating to the country in 2010.
But in-between getting his business off the ground in 2011 and being beaten up by China’s most famous action star last fall, the self-styled “action coordinator” must have wondered if life back in Canada would have been half as fun.
“I originally came here to film in action movies as a stuntman,” said Shapiro, who spent several weeks last spring on the set of Chan’s latest blockbuster, Dragon Blade.
The historical epic, one of the most expensive movies ever made on the mainland, was released in China in February. It had a production budget of $65 million.
Shapiro got to rub noses with Chan, John Cusack and Adrian Brody while performing stunts dressed as a Roman soldier in Hengdian, a town in East China’s Zhejiang province.
“My role kept switching between good and bad guys,” he said. “I had a few back and forths with Jackie. One stair scene involved an exchange with a spear. He knocks me down and rolls over my back and kicks another soldier. It was pretty fun.”
“I remember he was handing out t-shirts one day over dinner. When he got to me, he said, ‘Sorry, I’ve only got XL. I didn’t expect foreigners to be so small.’” Shapiro is 173cm. Chan is 174cm.
Dubbed “Chinawood,” the town is home to Hengdian World Studios, Asia’s largest film studio. It was sparse farmland until business mogul Xu Wenrong showed up with a fistful of dollars, so to speak, and a vision in the mid-1990s.
Chen, who met Shapiro in 2008, said he was drawn to parkour by Belle’s seminal film.
“I just watched this movie called District 13 and thought, ‘I can do that,’” said Chen, who was born in Shanghai.
“Then I went to Melbourne to study and linked up with the Australian Parkour Association,” he added. “When I came back in 2012 I kept getting calls from people wanting professional performances.”
The Dam du Lac (Lady of the Lake) in Lisses is the Mecca of parkour. Most practitioners hope to make a pilgrimage there at some point in their lives. Chen did it last year with some other team members. They now speak in glowing terms of this manmade “Great Wall” nestled amid a picturesque French lake.
Amid an ever- evolving movement, Belle confirmed his status as a parkour purist during an interview with English freerunner Timothy Shieff last year.
He said the “sport” has two sides: The acrobatic tricks and clowning around part, which he compared to fixed routines, or kata, in martial arts; and the physical conditioning and navigating obstacles with maximum efficiency part — the sparring or fighting, which he prefers.
“Will I do competitions? No,” he said. “But I never wanted the status of a boss who says, ‘You must do this, you must do that.”
“I just took a step back to see how parkour was evolving,” he added, explaining his long sabbatical. “And now I’m back, because I’ve noticed some things that could be improved.”
Given his enthusiasm for all things parkour, Shapiro said he enjoys the corporate gigs in Shanghai just as much as performing stunts for Chinawood.
His team promoted BMW’s Mini Cooper at the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing in 2012 and helped launch Mercedes-Benz new S-class in Shanghai in 2013. Recently, they shot a TV commercial for Sony’s Alpha digital cameras.
For the Mercedes gig, wire partner David Wei from Shandong province had to rig up hundreds of meters of wire.
“He’s a technical genius. His wushu and stunts background is invaluable,” said Shapiro. “I learned everything through my experiences doing stunts in Canada and my time here in China.”
Students will find his programs rigorous but not cheap — outdoor classes are about $15 each or $130 for 10. Indoor classes cost roughly twice this.
“One of our main challenges now is regulating the market,” said Chen. “The most important thing for us is to maintain a good image for parkour and its ability to deliver professional content and physical education.”
co-founder of Somartics Movement Group
like Shanghai-based entrepreneur Kyle Shapiro, parkour has become an essential part of their toolkit.
Ninja Warrior program.
parkour athlete Martino Chen trains for the city's only