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Portait & Diaspora: The international success of Cambodian Maurice Chan

For anglophone readers - english version of Parcours & Diaspora : Le succès international du Cambodgien Maurice Chan

Dear readers, Cambodge Mag's series of exceptional Khmers around the world resumes, and today we head to France with stuntman Maurice Chan.

In Broadway as fight director for Back to the future
In Broadway as fight director for Back to the future

Now performing on several stages, including Broadway, London and DISNEY's Avengers Campus, Maurice Chan could be described as the epitome of a Khmer success story. From his escape from the Khmer Rouge regime to his life in France and the phenomenal success of his team on the "TV got talent" shows, discover with us this extraordinary Khmer.

 

Born in a camp in Thailand, you arrived in Normandy at an early age with your parents and older brother. What were your childhood years like?

We arrived in 1976 and settled into a small apartment where my mother looked after us, while my father went back to school and worked in a factory. This reintegration was obviously hard, as the change of life was drastic.

Your parents then embarked on new careers. What were they doing before?

My father was a commander in the Cambodian army and my mother a housewife.

Then you moved to the Ile de France. Do you have any anecdotes?

In the early 80s, we moved to Montreuil, then later to Chelles. My memory: having to change my first name to become a French citizen.

Going from Sokhunty to Maurice and having two friends, each of whom only knew me by one of the two first names. A special transitional moment: having to deny our identity and origins in order to have the right to remain on French soil.

Passionate about cinema and sports in general, you discovered a passion for martial arts. How did this come about?

A fan of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and JCVD, notably through my father, I was originally a handball player. Then, at 19, I discovered kung fu, which I practiced for two years before taking up Việt Võ Đạo. This discipline suited me better, and I practiced for over 10 years... until I switched to acrobatic martial arts.

You then set up an association. Can you tell us a little about it?

With my partners from Việt Võ Đạo, we created C . A. S . C . A. D . E., which stands for Cascade - Acrobatie - Spectacle - Comédie - Action - Danse - Encadrement. In order to obtain a hall from the town hall, we were obliged to give classes.

The team C.A.S.C.A.D.E
The team C.A.S.C.A.D.E

But "victims" of this unforeseen success, we taught for over 8 years, until I decided to call it a day and keep just 15 students. We then began to really practice our passion in the form of shows.

How did your parents accept your new passions?

Their view, similar to that of any traditional Khmer family, was that sport was not a profession.

So what profession did you decide to pursue?

So I pursued a master's degree in film and audiovisual studies... and went back to work at the bank.

Then you discovered kung fu. Was it a revelation?

I discovered it in 1995 and liked it immediately; but it was Việt Võ Đạo and its aerial techniques that really seduced me. I went on to become European champion in techniques and French champion in combat.

In 2006, you set up a stunt team. Can you describe its composition?

The Cascades Démo team was set up after we left the association, with young people chosen from among our former C . A. S . C . A. D . E.

How do you see the place of Asians in the industry at this time?

The reality remains bitter. Roles remain sketchy and categorized from the outset. This motivated me to create our own niche, putting on our own shows, different, airy, even with some humour.

With his family
With his family

In our conversation, you mentioned a contract with Disney land Marvel? Can you tell us about this opportunity?

The adventure began in 2018 following a choreographer's casting, first with a small show, which was transformed the following year into a more substantial show, to end post Covid with the new Land Avengers Campus, where the shows I created are now presented.

Tell us more about this fantastic adventure with the "TV got talent" show, and tell us about your first impressions

The first show was "La France a un incroyable talent" in 2008, where we reached the semi-finals. This led to a call-in by "Britain's got talent" in 2012 with Simon Cowell and his team. This was another success, with us again reaching the semi-finals.

This competition brought us a new audience, with an average of 11 million views for our videos, and definitely became a springboard for the USA and Canada. Then, in 2015, France asked us to take part in the show again. Now with much more experience and a much stronger mentality, this time we reached the grand final. After that, we also took part in "Italia got talent" and "Arabia got talent", where we again reached the semi-finals.

What was the outcome of this adventure?

National and international recognition, as well as the much-appreciated recognition of the stunt community. And, of course, numerous contracts all over the world.

What are your best and worst memories of these adventures?

The first stunt in 2008 was perhaps one of my worst memories. We were subjected to certain scenic guidelines imposed by the show, guidelines which in reality corresponded very little to the rendering we wanted to present to the public.

The other unpleasant experience was our appearance on "Arabia got talent" and their lack of consideration for the candidates in general. My best memories stem directly from the worst:

The first test motivated us to learn how to manage our image well, then during "Britain's got talent" the announcement of our selection for the semi-finals.

And finally our selection for the final of "La France a un incroyable talent", with the result that we only had a week to invent a Matrix-style show, a concept that was totally accepted by the show's management.

What happened next?

Lots of contracts in North America, particularly thanks to the UK stint, as well as an open door into the 7th art.

On the Marvel Avengers Campus
On the Marvel Avengers Campus

What are your current achievements?

The Marvel Shows at Dysneyland Paris as stunt coordinator and fight choreographer, the musical Back to the Future, currently playing in London as fight director. The show is also now on Broadway in New York, where I also train the actors. The two shows are playing simultaneously and are a great success.

On the movie front: Largo Winch 3, due for release in 2024, the upcoming American film Canary Black with Kate Beckinsale, the recently released Acide with Guillaume Canet and Tarek Boudali's Trois jours max.

What projects are close to your heart?

To make my own action-adventure film in Khmer Srok, while incorporating my feelings about being a foreigner in my native land, a project I've been working on for years.

Finally, what advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Work relentlessly. Don't lose hope, but above all work - work - work.

"Anything is possible if you give yourself the means.''

Interview by Chantha R (Françoise framboise)

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