Boy Kills World’s Dawid Szatarski on making the action movie’s insane fight scenes

A man looks to his side in Boy Kills World.

Revenge is a dish best served … with a cheese grater? Well, at least that’s how the saying goes in Boy Kills World, the new martial arts action-comedy from director Moritz Mohr. Bill Skarsgård stars a Boy, a deaf and mute orphan who vows to kill Hilda van der Koy (Famke Janssen), the leader of an authoritarian regime who murdered his family. Under the tutelage of the mysterious shaman (Yayan Ruhian), Boy becomes a trained killer who will stop at nothing until he has his vengeance.

Boy Kills World is an ultraviolent ride with elaborate fight sequences and vicious kills, including a kitchen duel with that pesky cheese grater. Boy Kills World channels the spirit of John Wick, the martial arts of Korean action movies, the violence of a Street Fighter video game, and the aesthetic of Japanese anime for an action-packed revenge thriller.

Dawid Szatarski, the action director and fight coordinator on Boy Kills World, is the architect behind the controlled chaos. As a veteran fight choreographer and stunt performer, Szatarski used his martial arts expertise and wild imagination to craft the stunning combat scenes in Boy Kills World. In an interview with Digital Trends, Szatarski discussed Boy Kills World’s long development process, the secret to on-camera fight scenes, and how to incorporate humor into a violent movie.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: For someone who loves and appreciates martial arts, fight scenes, and action choreography, I’ll pose this question to you: If you could have worked on the fights of any film in history, what would you pick and why?

Dawid Szatarski: It sounds funny, but I still would take Boy Kills World because the movie is so messed up. This movie has a great opportunity to have surprises around each corner. It wouldn’t be that shocking if a huge unicorn comes behind the corner and fights Boy. [laughs] I really like that there’s some creative levity to this movie that I think fewer films nowadays have.

This film has been in development for a few years. I know one of the ways you attracted producers was through a proof-of-concept film. You starred in it. How did that process come about?

Yeah, it was eight years back. We [Moritz and Dawid] came together. We wanted to do something like an R-rated karate movie. A messed-up one. Then, it evolved into this super crazy “Looney Tunes on acid.” That’s what the trailer said, right? [laughs]

Yeah, it was a tough journey. I’ll be very honest. It was a lot of proof of concepts. I didn’t have any hope at all that this project was going to happen, but it happened in the best possible way I think we could have imagined. Yeah, I’m very thankful and blessed for this opportunity.

For the fight scenes, the martial arts have to be performed well on camera. What’s the secret to making a move look good on camera?

I always say I go with the flow. Sometimes, it just starts with the actor. What suits the actor the best? Let’s figure out some shapes. [throwing air punches] Do this, do this. No, put your shoulder down. For June27*, for example, I was very tired of — no disrespect, I worked on Black Widow myself — all these fancy moves [pretending to flip hair] where the tiny woman kicks someone, and this huge guy flies through the wall and right through the door.

I said no. Let’s have June fight in the peekaboo style, like Mike Tyson, using her helmet for headbutts and having these tomahawks. I think the tomahawks were Moritz’s idea, by the way. But that was the approach, figuring out the shape first and then going into my “martial arts soup.” Also with the camera style, deciding what is great, what is not great, and then using that at the end of the day.

*June27 is a character played by Jessica Rothe.

A female warrior wears a helmet that says, "Die."
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Whose idea was it to put the helmet on her [June27]? That was a badass move. I liked all the phrases coming across her helmet.

Yeah, that’s Moritz. I don’t know what was the inspiration behind it, but it’s very unique. I love it. I have a helmet myself at home, which Moritz is a bit jealous of. [laughs]

That’s a good collectible from the movie I would like to have. Boy is in the center of this film. He’s deaf and mute. He can’t say anything during these action sequences. As the architect behind these fight scenes, how did you incorporate emotions — humor, fear, and love — in the choreography for Bill [Skarsgård]?

With Bill, for example, he’s a great character actor. He knows how to express himself through his eyes. He knows how to express himself through the movements. There’s something very special about Boy. It’s not that he’s just a skilled martial artist, but there’s some goofiness to him. Something that makes him very lovely. You sympathize very quickly with him.

I think the humor level inside of fighting is if you don’t have limitations to the violence, you can do whatever you want. That’s why I took the cheese grater, for example. I remember having this Zoom call with Moritz. “Hey, Dawid, we are going to have a fight scene inside the kitchen.” I went to the kitchen with my mom, and I was like, “What is funny?” I was like [upon seeing the cheese grater], “Oh. Dude!” I put it [cheese grater] as a shield. I remember Moritz taking a screenshot. He loved it and it ended up in the storyboard. The rest is history.

That’s the humor level inside the action. You don’t need to make something funny. You can take something that’s very grotesque and violent. There’s some very specific humor inside the violence, which I really love. It’s something I love to do.

A woman points and shoots a gun.
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Once you said Bill’s eyes, I always think of when he was Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He comes on screen and acts through his facial expressions the whole time. It’s perfect.

Yeah, that’s very much true. That’s why when they said it’s going to be Bill Skarsgård [for Boy Kills World], I was like, wow, perfect. These long arms, long legs, this expressive face. It was the perfect choice.

I read that Moritz gave you freedom as a stunt designer and coordinator to come up with fight sequences you’ve always wanted to do. Off the top of your head, what’s one or two scenes that you never thought could happen in your wildest dreams but you put in the film? 

I think the blend of anime and brutal, organic fight sequences is something I really wanted to achieve on this one, and I think we did, especially in the last fight sequence, because it was very tough to balance. Having these crazy camera anime shots in a realistic way is quite difficult, but I think we balanced it all quite well.

Boy Kills World is now in theaters.

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