French revenge flick “MAYHEM!” used Thai martial arts for its action scenes and it came out epic

Last Updated: January 15, 2024By Tags: , , , ,

If you like your martial arts movies fast, violent and brutal, then “Mayhem!” is for you. The new film from French filmmaker Xavier Gens (“Gangs of London”) stars Nassim Lyes (“Cardo,” “Overdose”) as Sam, a recently-paroled inmate trying to walk the straight line outside prison walls. However, an encounter with his former underworld friends turns violent, forcing Sam and his family to leave France for a peaceful life in Thailand (featured image is of Nassim Lyes in “Mayhem!”)

Or so they hope. Before long, the bad guys descend upon the family’s little paradise, and Sam must use his Muay Thai fighting skills—breaking many bones along the way—to set things right and exact some revenge.

Gens previously worked with British-born fight choreographer and stunt coordinator Jude Poyer on “Gangs of London.” On a group call from Paris, Gens shared that he hired Poyer to up the action ante for “Mayhem!”

“I knew I would not have a very big budget to make it…and [then allowed] my partner in crime to make his magic in that time frame,” Gens said of working with Poyer. “If you want that quality of action, we need that amount of time in prep and in shooting. I trust Jude because he knows that so much better than anyone else.”

One of the film’s most extraordinary action set pieces takes place in a moving elevator. Sam is surrounded by bad guys (and girls) with both furious fists as well as some serious firepower going bang. Poyer says capturing the hyperkinetic scene took several days, and that he, Gens and first assistant director Christel Bordon “broke down that sequence within an inch of its life before we shot it.”

“It’s a very bloody, gory sequence that if one of our stunt actors had to go away and have a prosthetic makeup applied for 20 minutes, we didn’t wait while that was going on,” said Poyer. “The camera was looking in a different direction [or] Xavier was directing Nassim in a closeup.”

Modern technology allowed the filmmakers to incorporate digital film shot only moments before into the “edit” of the elevator scene as they went along, which helped move the complicated action sequence toward completion.

“It was a very challenging scene, but at the end of the week, you could see the entire scene already edited,” said the film’s star, Lyes, who was covered in fake blood and guts for much of the elevator fight. “There’s hundreds of shots and we wanted it to be very precise.”

However, no amount of planning can head off all possible accidents. Lyes recalls how, for one particular shot, he was supposed to fall on his mark into a mattress hidden just off-camera. However, the mattress wasn’t “squishy” enough to cushion his impact, causing Lyes to strike his head on the ground and be temporarily knocked out.

“And then I jumped [back up]. I wasn’t acting at all,” Lyes said of coming to and somehow continuing on in the scene.

Lyes himself has a background in Muay Thai, which makes his fist-and-foot work in “Mayhem!” that much more believable onscreen. He started studying martial arts as a teenager, and eventually became French national welterweight kickboxing champion.

“Jude added some karate and also a mix of wrestling movements sometimes, so it was not just Thai boxing,” Lyes said.

“I would say it’s definitely cinematic choreography,” added Poyer. “We wanted to lean into [Lyes’s] background of course [so] we were trying those Muay Thai [techniques]: knees, elbows, the cliching, the need to push off the opponent. We wanted it to be exciting and cinematic.”

Poyer took a rather catholic approach to the martial arts moves that Sam, the story’s main character, used against the bad guys. Indeed, Poyer said that he and Lyes even programmed a kick for Sam that “wouldn’t look out of place in the WWE.”

“I hope that people that are familiar with Muay Thai will recognize those things, but I don’t think that people necessarily need to be familiar with all the martial arts to appreciate it,” Poyer said.

The filmmakers praised the film’s extensive Thai crew, many of whom were veterans of working fast and cheap—which helped on a project of such limited funds as “Mayhem!”

“I’ve worked on movies with bigger crews and bigger budgets where things went wrong more often, [but] the prosthetics and makeup effects on this film are some of the best that I’ve ever seen on set,” added Poyer. “Normally if you’re going to cut someone’s throat or stab them in the arm, you think it’s going to take about three takes. The technicians doing the makeup in Thailand were so good at their job that the first take would be so [effective] we [said] let’s just do one more because we have the time to do that.”

The filmmakers also had to deal with testing during the heights of the pandemic while working in a foreign country entailing a crew speaking multiple languages.

“There was this strange mix of Thai, French, the odd British person and the odd Belgian person thrown in,” said Poyer. “Even though it’s a very violent, intense film, it’s actually one of the happiest projects I worked on. The Thai crew are some of the most professional, hardworking, ego-free, focused [professionals] I’ve worked with in my career, and also friendly at the same time. It was a very happy shooting experience even though we were still making it in a covid world.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” added Lyes.

“Mayhem!” is now out in theaters.

Xavier Gens (photo by Marechal Aurore/ABACA/Shutterstock)


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