Thursday, November 27, 2008

Heroic story inspires Yuen's directorial return

Acclaimed action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping is back in the director's chair again after focusing on stunt and fight scenes for 12 years.

Yuen's True Legend has a star-studded cast, led by mainland kungfu star Zhao Wenzhuo (Chiu Man Cheuk), Michelle Yeoh, Taiwan pop icon Jay Chou and award-winning actress Zhou Xun. It follows the legendary life of Su Can, a grassroots martial artist from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and is the first film Yuen has directed since Iron Monkey 2 in 1996.

Yuen, 63, the man behind the action sequences in the Oscar-winning movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix, says he chose the story because it was very touching.

Beggar Su was a legend in his time and experienced dramatic ups and downs, from being a martial arts genius in a rich family to a beggar, and then rising again to be a respected hero.

Su's story has a rich cinematic history. Yuen's father Yuen Siu Tien played Su in a 1979 film; Yuen himself directed a biopic on Su in 1993 starring Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen, while the most impressive depiction to most film fans was a comedy starring Stephen Chow in 1992.

The latest film, however, with Zhao in the lead role, is anything but a comedy and is a down-to-earth kungfu film without computer-generated special effects.

Once considered the next Jet Li, Zhao learned martial arts when he was very young and graduated from the wushu department at Beijing Sports University. Like Li, he won many national martial arts competitions but he never achieved Li's stardom due to the decline in Hong Kong's wuxia film genre.

Jay Chou plays Su's mentor, a top martial arts master.

Yuen admits that he chose Chou partly because of his appeal to young filmgoers and the box office success of his previous three films - but he stresses the main reason was Chou's ability to interpret the character well.

"Chou speaks little and looks cool, which matches people's imagination of a mysterious kungfu master," he says.

Chou, however, saw the role more as a challenge to perform well. "Nobody would refuse such as role as a top kungfu master, let alone in a film directed by Yuen," he says.

Biopics about kungfu masters have long been a favored subject on screen, with Jet Li's critically acclaimed Fearless on Huo Yuanjia in 2006 among the most notable recent films.

Bruce Lee's tutor Yip Man is currently the subject of movies by two Hong Kong directors: shooting for Wilson Yip's is already wrapped up, while Wong Kar-wai's is in pre-production.


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