I was fluent in martial arts before any language: What being a professional stuntman in S'pore is like

In action movie-scarce Singapore, stuntmen have to adapt and diversify in order to survive.

Rexanne Yap | May 28, 2020, 04:35 PM

From television shows to theatre performances and live shows at Universal Studios Singapore, actor and fight choreographer Peps Goh has stunted them all.

And though he is only 26, this actor is no greenhorn stuntman.

Goh has more than 21 years of martial arts and parkour experience in his pocket.

While most Asian parents sign their kids up for piano lessons when they're young, when Goh was five, his parents signed him up for Sanda - Chinese kickboxing.

Raised in a family that appreciated martial arts, Goh would train with his father and elder brother in his childhood flat, which had a punching bag and a pull-up bar.

"I was kind of fluent in martial arts before I was fluent in any other language," chuckled Goh.

Photo courtesy of Peps Goh.

When he was in secondary four, he started doing parkour while it was beginning to take off in Singapore. He taught at a parkour academy, A2 movements, and performed stunts in some commercials and self-produced action films.

"In retrospect, that might be the happiest time of my life. It got me started on (stunting) and gave me a bit of a portfolio," said Goh.

A few years later, Goh got acquainted with a stunt director in Mediacorp, and he got the chance to enter professional stunting.

Doubling for actresses

As a rookie, he would do stunts like falling down ladders, getting shot in the back once, or getting knocked out with a single punch.

He laments that due to his shorter stature, he was also asked to put on a wig and bra padding to be a body double for actresses who had to perform falls, like rolling down the staircase.

But Goh took it in his stride, and said, "I'm very good at doubling actresses... I make quite a pretty girl actually."

Besides, he said, shorter people have an advantage when it comes to gymnastics and parkour, as their centre of gravity is lower and they can perform flips better.

Peps Goh in a wig, doubling Julie Tan. Photo courtesy of Peps Goh

Peps Goh doubling for Maia Lee. Photo courtesy of Peps Goh.

Making it in the industry

It took him two years to slowly earn the trust of his stunt director before he could move on to bigger roles and stunts.

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Hiyo! It's been a long time since the last update, and the reason for that is that it's been a rather crazy couple weeks. Meanwhile, here's a bunch of clips from the works that didn't make it into my main reel, mostly falling-into/off-things-related hahah. Full video is up on my youtube. P.s.I realized that there is a giveaway that I haven't completed, I'll get to it end of the month instead, thank you for your patience!

A post shared by PEPS GOH 吴宇冲 (@pepsgoh) on

Longevity is not a trait to be taken lightly in his industry, as many stuntmen quit the industry early on.

According to Goh, it is tough to make a living as a stuntman in Singapore, as they would usually only get called to do around 10 stunt jobs a month, due to the general lack of action scenes in local productions.

As such, he had to brand himself as an actor first, and a stuntman second, if he wanted to survive in the industry.

Acting was hardly a walk in the park either. Goh remembered that when he was shooting for The Story of Wang Lei, a web series by Jack Neo and Ivan Ho, the white of his eyes turned yellow due to liver problems from only sleeping four hours a day.

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A big thank you to Director @jackneock and Director & Script Writer @ivanhoyc for your guidance throughout this journey! And thank you to mama Miranda for taking care of me! 😀 My gratitude to all the cast and crew for the terrific experience! Shoutout to ma man @trevtham 🙏 it was great working with you! Look out for #路边歌王 on @toggle_sg 30th August!

A post shared by PEPS GOH 吴宇冲 (@pepsgoh) on

Peps Goh as Young Wang Lei. Photo from Peps Goh.

But still, he persevered on as these opportunities only come once, he said.

"It is hard to make headway in the industry without acting and being seen on television... You only get jobs if you're in the top 10 per cent" Goh explained.

"Better to be an actor who can fight, than a stuntman who can act."

Establishing his footing

Today, Goh has an array of gigs on his resume.

Besides having done jobs in television, film and commercials, Goh also played Sang Nila Utama in the Bicentennial Experience and a theatre role in Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress.

Kit Chan and Peps Goh in Forbidden City. Photo courtesy of Peps Goh.

Goh also provides fight choreography and coordination services and coaches screen fighting and parkour.

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Saw this funny quote: "Jiu Jitsu - the gentle art of folding clothes while people are still in them." 😂 We're back again with another monday throwdown to beat the blues! This time combining the awesome choreography of Side-A by @emmanuelmanzanares and finishing with a creative takedown we really like from @christophertroyofficial and adding a different spin at the end 😀 #pepschoreographies

A post shared by PEPS GOH 吴宇冲 (@pepsgoh) on

Goh is also looking forward to resuming filming for a mockumentary, Le Prawn Park, soon.

Like most Singaporeans, circuit breaker has put a halt to some of the plans Goh might have had for the year.

But that has allowed him to pursue a nifty little interest.

Taking inspiration from actor and stuntman Robin Calvo, Goh's circuit breaker hobby was to recreate fight scenes from Avatar: The Legend of Korra in his void deck.

A fan of the Avatar series, Goh said that the most time-consuming part of making these videos was finding stunts from the show that were humanly possible to do.

"There are some clips where they do insane drops, like jump down three stories, and there are also those where they do multiple rotations in the air, which is not really possible," said Goh.

He chose Legend of Korra as it had more realistic fight scenes than its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Goh spends about a day to practice the hand forms and footwork, which he mentioned are the more challenging aspects of the action.

Making a 30 second-long video could take up to two hours to shoot, while more complicated videos could take up to two days, said Goh.

And despite the delays some of productions are experiencing, Goh sees a silver lining in the slowdown.

"Last year had been a bit rough on my body, so (circuit breaker) was a good time for me to rest without guilt."

Top photo courtesy of Peps Goh and Instagram