Ronny Yu and Quint discuss FEARLESS, Jet Li's retirement and BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE!!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here once again. The interview train keeps on a-chuggin' with this chat I had with Ronny Yu, director of such films as THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, BRIDE OF CHUCKY and FREDDY VS. JASON. Now he's got a complete change of pace with FEARLESS, Jet Li's historical martial arts epic, reportedly his last. We talk a lot about Jet, his retirement from Wu Shu martial arts work, film of FEARLESS as well as Yu's upcoming live-action adaptation of the great Japanese anime flick, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE.
I had met Yu previous when he showed up with Robert Englund at Camp Hacknslash here in Austin, an event Harry threw together with the help of the Alamo Drafthouse. They premiered FREDDY VS. JASON there and interviewed him then. While I was on my New Zealand vacation over the summer I was offered a phoner with the man. Since I had just seen FEARLESS I was quite excited to talk to him about it. The movie's great, so we arranged a time and off we went. I guess they told him I was in New Zealand because that seemed to be what he wanted to talk about more than anything else. But I'll let you read the rest in the interview! Enjoy!!!
RONNY YU: How're you?
QUINT: I'm good, I'm good. I don't know if you remember, but we met when you brought FREDDY VS. JASON to Austin for Camp Hacknslash.
RONNY YU: Oh really? That's great! What're you doing in New Zealand?
QUINT: I've been out here a lot, but in the past I came out to visit sets, like LORD OF THE RINGS and KING KONG, which was great, but I've never had any time to just come out and relax, enjoy the country. I love this country and thought I could use a little time away.
RONNY YU: Great idea! Great idea! I've never been to New Zealand even though I lived in Sydney. Is it pretty?
QUINT: Very much so. I haven't spent much time in Australia, but I spent a day in Sydney last year. I liked it, but there's nothing that compares to the atmosphere here. Everybody's just so laid back.
RONNY YU: Yeah. So you just hang out there?
QUINT: Yeah, this time it's just a relaxing vacation.
RONNY YU: (laughs) Great! Great! That's important, you know?
QUINT: Luckily for me, I got to see your movie, FEARLESS, the day before I left Austin.
RONNY YU: Great!
QUINT: Harry got a copy and insisted I watch it. I was like, "Dude, I have to pack! I'm leaving the country for 2 months in the morning!"
RONNY YU: (laughs)
QUINT: But I relented and I'm very happy I saw it.
RONNY YU: And Harry saw it?
QUINT: Yeah. He told me I'd regret it if I didn't watch it.
RONNY YU: Wow, that's great compliment, eh?
QUINT: And we were watching it and Harry was doing these big reactions while the action went on, like, "Oh! Ahhh! Eee!" and I was like, "Have you not seen this yet?" He said, "No, this is my 6th time!"
RONNY YU: (laughs hard) Yeah, you know... like you said, taking a break and enjoying nature. That's the reason I put in that middle part where (Jet Li) hangs out at the village.
QUINT: Yeah, where he gains that spiritual centering...
RONNY YU: Yeah. That's how you gain your centering back.
QUINT: That's a great sequence and thinking about it now, I went to the South Island of New Zealand and had many moments like Jet Li has in your film... just standing there, feeling the wind and letting the beauty of my surroundings sink in.
RONNY YU: You don't need to do anything, you don't need to think anything, just absorb. I had that experience one time in Australia. We just drove out to the outback... you know, just standing there. That's how I came up with that sequence and Jet really responded to it. He said, "Yeah, yeah... That's what is missing."
QUINT: Was Jet already attached to the project when you came onboard?
RONNY YU: Yeah, man. He's been working on this for, like, 5 years. He's been trying to get this off (the ground) for 5 years and he just couldn't find the angle that really satisfied him. Two years ago I met with him and he talked to me about this project, but my first impression was, "God! This is going to be boring," because at this time Huo Yuan Jia has been known in China and Asia. Everybody knows this guy and knows his story.
So, I said to Jet, "Why do you want to retell this story?" He said, "No, no, no. I don't want to retell the story," but somehow all the writers, all the directors that he's been talking too couldn't give another perspective. So, I said, "Why do you want to make this movie. Just tell me. Why do you want to do the movie." He said that he's been practicing Chinese martial arts, like Wu Shu, for 30 some years and sort of recently realized what is the importance, what is the true spirit of Wu Shu. He wanted to express this to the world.
Five years ago he was researching for characters in past Chinese history to see if anybody had an identical idea with him, regarding the Chinese martial arts. So, he finds this guy, Huo Yuan Jia, which is exactly similar philosophy with him, you know? So that's why he want to make this movie, he just wanted to say that Wu Shu was not about killing, it's not about revenge... Because we see all Chinese action or martial arts movies are all about revenge. Somebody killed your brother, somebody killed your wife... then you go to a master and you learn, you learn, you learn. Even KILL BILL! She learns, she learns, she learns, then you kill the guy at the end of the story.
So, I said, "Okay. If that is what you want, then give me some time. I'll think of a new approach of how to do this, to incorporate what your ideas are, what your ambitions are." After 2 weeks, I come back to him and say, "Listen... Why don't we just do a man's story. An ordinary man's life journey. This guy is a martial artist, he finds enlightenment and realizes what he can do humanity with his talent and then his sacrifice for his nation." That way really touched him.
Let's just take the historical background, okay? We just replicate this guy's life story a little bit, so that anybody all over the world, the world's audience will understand, not just Chinese will understand this guy. So, that's how the whole thing sort of evolved. It's an ordinary man, a misguided martial artist, how he made mistakes in life and then learned, find enlightenment in a village and appreciate the life he learned in villages. He's using his talents to help his fellow countrymen and humanity.
QUINT: Speaking from the point of view of someone who didn't know Huo Yuan Jia's story at all, one of my favorite aspects of the film is that when I saw the very first act of the movie... it feels like it's setting up Jet Li as a villain. He comes across as the villain of the film.
RONNY YU: In a way... another interesting thing about the film structure is there's no villain. It's almost like... it's just human. It's human nature. Everybody has their dark side. I'm sure Freddy Krueger also has a good side! (laughs) We don't want to tap on that, but that's what my beliefs are. There's no villains, there's just where you're standing, looking at a guy and what kind of perspective you're looking and which point of view you're looking at a guy.
In the beginning, Jet wasn't sure... He said, "Is it going to be okay?" I said, "Yeah, yeah. It's going to be okay."
QUINT: They're making a big deal about Jet saying this is his last martial arts movie. Do you think it will be?
RONNY YU: Yes. He told me upfront when we talked about this movie. He said... at that time, he was using the words "Could be" at that time, two years ago. He said, "Oh, Ronny. This could be my last film about Wu Shu, (my last) Wu Shu martial arts movie." That's sort of part of the reason why I chose to go on this journey with him for 2 years. I really respect that. I ask him, "Why? Why is this going to be your last?"
He said because of what he learned and what he has practiced about Wu Shu for so many years... he finally (found) a vehicle for him to express all he learned and his philosophy about Chinese Wu Shu on this one movie. He had nothing more, or nothing better to top this, to give to the world. He doesn't look at this like just an ordinary action movie because of the philosophy behind it. So, he said, "This is it. All I have to say is all in the movie."
He's not saying that he's not doing action movies. I mean, he's going to do a cops and robbers... with guns and all that. It's just not a full force martial arts (movie). Plus, he told me he's 43, you know, and almost every bone in his body has to have been fixed up.
The difference between all the movies that are out there, like all the martial arts movies, especially recently... the wire-fu movie, the HEROs or whatever, all the shots were short because the actor himself is not a martial artists. So, the choreographer had to make everything short. All the fight sequences short just to hide the fact that it won't look good. This time around, I said to Jet and, also, to Yuen Wo Ping (fight choreographer) I said, "We have the world's best martial artist actor. Why don't we just give him room to play? Give him room to perform?" So, all the shots had to be long, not just one-two-three, cut! One-two-three, Cut! You know? But that demands lots of physical... demanding on the abilities. That is tiring and difficult.
QUINT: I can understand that. If his heart isn't in these big, you know, martial arts epics anymore, it's probably for the best that he's not making them anymore. I'm sure his disinterest would start to show...
RONNY YU: I think, like anybody else... he came to a certain stage in his life that he finds he needs to do something more. He said, "This is, I've done it. I've got to move on to something." That's also the respect I have for him.
QUINT: It certainly doesn't benefit us as fans if he's not passionate about doing it anymore.
RONNY YU: Exactly.
QUINT: So, what's your favorite sequence you got to work on with Jet?
RONNY YU: I think the most emotional one is really the restaurant fight because that one is really a turning point of Jet Li's character. I love the intensity. My idea, when I spoke to Jet and Yuen Wo Ping, I said, "I want to see 2 animals in a cage." Almost like those A-1 fighters, you know? They fight to the death... For no reason! For stupid reasons! (laughs) That really enhanced the dramatics. I wanted... Let's just destroy the whole set. Let's destroy the whole restaurant.
QUINT: That's a really massive sequence. I also really like the big platform fight.
RONNY YU: Oh, yes! The platform fight! Oh, my! That platform fight was more difficult than the restaurant because of the height and because I had to deal with all the bond companies. They don't want Jet to be up 40 feet, so I have to really design every shot to be sure... you know... to get some bluescreen, to get some greenscreen, get some platform so I can cheat everything. I wanted some real Jet Li shots on top of this 40 foot tower, so I had to really plan that whole sequence out in detail.
QUINT: It looks great onscreen. Just looking at it made me queasy.
RONNY YU: Yeah! The worst is me and Jet. We both have high anxieties. We both can not deal with heights. Most of the time, I said, "Hey, Jet. Why don't you go up there? I'm not going to go up. I'll be down there with the monitors." (laughs) He said, "No, no, no. If I go up, you have to come up!" (laughs)
So, we havet his elevator, you know? Like this crane thing to move us up to the top. It was fun, but had a lot of difficult problems he had to solve and all that. But I found that even though this is the first time we worked together, I really appreciate his enthusiasm, his passion. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
QUINT: The actions had its own difficulties, but was there any worry on your part about balancing the drama, balancing the moral of the movie with the action?
RONNY YU: Yeah, that was the first of the difficulties I had to solve. That was number one. How can I balance the drama and the fighting? I don't want to water down anything. This has to be kick-ass because it's Jet Li, because of Yuen Wo Ping and because of (their) fans, you know? But then I don't want to fall into the trap, just for the sake of... okay, there's a fantastic sequence that has nothing to do with a story. The audience sees through that, especially nowadays. So, finding that balance is my first sort of mission. My philosophy about that is really... as long as you get the audience to identify with this character and go on this life journey with him... all the fights, there is a reason, there is a motivation behind them. Either it's a dark motivation or the good motivation. It doesn't matter as long as the audience can identify with that motivation. Then you have the audience identifying with it and following it.
Also, the design of the fights has to be different. There should be some significant difference, you know, on the design of the fight, the environment, the way he fights, how he fights, what kind of weapon he's using. This time I said now we have a podium for Jet to demonstrate how good he is with all different, not just hands and feet, but with all different weapons. So, I think we achieved that.
QUINT: I also really like that the tone of FEARLESS is much different than what Americans, at least, know you for. Do you think you'll ever bring this kind of serious tone to another genre you do, like a horror movie, since the horror films you've done so far have all been pretty much horror comedies?
RONNY YU: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think that can be applied to any genre. Working in Hollywood there is a lot of restrictions because of the studios, because of the kind of movie they want to make. So, I have to find a way to kind of sneak in without upsetting everybody. I think it's a great challenge. I can see it coming in my future projects. I'm gonna sneak in my sort of Ronny Yu feel to it.
One thing that is too bad with this one is... because I want a vast audience, especially a young audience, to come watch this movie... that's why I had to go for a PG-13 cut. So, wait for the DVD. There's a lot more blood there! (laughs)
QUINT: When we last talked you said you were trying to develop BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. Do you still have that on the books?
RONNY YU: Yes, we're actually doing it. Probably we'll start in October/November. Right now I'm working with a visual effects supervisor designing all the monsters.
QUINT: That's such a crazy-ass piece of work. Can't wait to see it in live action.
RONNY YU: That's another departure from FEARLESS. It's a totally different thing.
QUINT: Are you going for a campy tone for the movie, like BRIDE OF CHUCKY, or will you be going for the horror?
RONNY YU: I think I want to try reinvent this genre... You know, every time you talk about vampire or whatever, you have this blue/gray tone and stuff like that. I'm going to take a multimedia approach to it, with color and all that.
And also, I changed the setting of the story. In the animation, it was set in the 1960s. Now I move it to 1948 in Tokyo, just after the bombing, just after the war. I think it will look visually stunning because of the ruin of the city and all the death all around the city. Then the story happens right in the middle. There's a US Army camp because Japan at the time is occupied by the US. So, you have this apple pie, good old wholesome American army camp and surrounding it is death and ruin.
QUINT: That's really interesting. For a second there, I thought you were going to say that you moved the story from the '60s to modern day...
RONNY YU: No, no, no. I won't do that. I won't do that. I just wanted visually more powerful... more impact.
QUINT: Do you have anything else in the works right now or are you just concentrating on BLOOD?
RONNY YU: I think at the moment BLOOD and then there's other things in the pipeline, but it's still sort of talking about it or thinking about it... we're still working on it, so I don't want to talk about (them). I think BLOOD should be a lot of fun.
QUINT: Are you shooting BLOOD in Tokyo?
RONNY YU: Um... all over. We're going to be shooting some Tokyo and some in Melbourne... there's an abandoned army camp there with all the supplies there, like jeeps and planes and all that.
QUINT: Is a studio financing it or are you shooting independently?
RONNY YU: Again I'm doing it with Bill Kong, my producing partner. We financed it independently ourselves.
And there you have it. I really dig the idea of setting BLOOD immediately after WW2. Sounds great. Can't wait to see the flick!
There's another interview down and a half-dozen more to go. Keep an eye out, squirts. Tons of goodies for ya'... if my fingers don't fall off from all the transcribing... Between the Peter Jackson interview and Max Brooks interview I've already typed up 25,000 words. C'mon fingers... hold together!
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 14, 2006, 10:34 a.m. CST
Fearless is a outstanding movie.
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:15 a.m. CST
by biscuit turner
Great interview, Quint. I cannot wait for this flick. I remember the first time I saw Jet Li - it was a film society screening of Swordsman II, and I remember thinking that he had the charisma and skill to become a huge star. It's a shame Hollywood never figured out how to use that. On the other hand, their failures give us what looks like a great team-up with Ronny Yu! I'm especially excited that Jet considers this the summation of his life in wu shu. I'd love to see a bunch of cool background on a special edition DVD someday.
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:22 a.m. CST
Now this is how you do remakes (I am talking about Blood, of course): Take a 'property' (yuck, the word...) that was brilliant, but slightly flawed (for one, it was too short), take it and make it perfect. I have great confidence in Yu to bring Blood alive.
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:38 a.m. CST
This interview makes Ronnie Yu come off a lot smarter than his movies would have you belive. The change in setting for BLOOD sounds awsome- more godzilla-esque pontificating on the psychological impact of the Japanese defeat by the U.S.
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:38 a.m. CST
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:45 a.m. CST
The OVA 'Blood: The Last Vampire,' which was just a technical demonstration I think for Production IG but still pretty damn awesome! Or the series that's still running, 'Blood+'? Still need to check out that last series, I hear good things!
Sept. 14, 2006, 1:36 p.m. CST
I really would like to know if he is pissed off, that it became such a phenomenon and even get these r-rating-reshoots, after he left the project!
Sept. 14, 2006, 2:51 p.m. CST
Didnt I read somewhere that Blood was in production for an animated series?Did they scrap that or is it still gonna happen?
Sept. 14, 2006, 3:56 p.m. CST
The Blood+ series is in it's final episodes now, and is seriously fun stuff. As for the movie, I am curious as to them keeping Saya as the lead and if so who they have slated to play her.
Sept. 14, 2006, 6:57 p.m. CST
I enjoyed fearless a lot more than Hero or House of Flying Daggers. The character story is more engaging and the fight sequences introduce Jet Li's foot to a whole lot of arses. It still has the balletic wire-fu, but it also has bone-crunching impact. Yu plays with film speed to minimise the inherent "fakeness" of the way wire-fu defies the laws of physics. They're marketing this as Jet Li's final martial arts film - if so, that's a pity because he is grea in Fearless... and Blood: The Last Vampire is still the best blending of CGI and Cel animation I've seen (only exception being Steamboy).
Sept. 14, 2006, 8:10 p.m. CST
"Didnt I read somewhere that Blood was in production for an animated series?Did they scrap that or is it still gonna happen?" The TV series started last year it's been tone down compared to the OVA but it's still good. Here's the openings to the TV series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_11YGewxDo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZsJR2_ip5c http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G91-rB_oWDQ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE_e2xypEjs
Sept. 14, 2006, 8:40 p.m. CST
I just watched those YouTube links and .... what the fuck have they done to Blood??!!?!?!?!?! That was fucking horrible!!!! No wonder Ronny Yu is ignoring the tv series and focusing on the original short feature. God, I want the tv series erased from my mind ... *violent shudder*
Sept. 14, 2006, 11:50 p.m. CST
i always pictured Samaire Armstrong as Saya after reading an article about her. Samaire was born in japan and her father Hunter B. Armstrong Sensei is one of a small number of non-Japanese to have legitimately studied the koryu, or ancient Japanese martial arts. she has been training since she was two years old. i think it be interesting to see an actress who actually has a real physical and cultural understanding of martial arts in a role like that. also she looks like an anime girl.
Sept. 15, 2006, 12:55 a.m. CST
just post the audio motherfucker. Why is that so hard? We'd both win.
Sept. 15, 2006, 4:49 a.m. CST
by The hoff
I really don't get the love for this film. Theres a couple of good fights at the beginning of the film and the two at the end are great but aside from those the acting is poor for the most part, the main character is unlikeable and 2 diminensional. The film does get considerably better when he arrives in the village as it adds depth to the character and the acting seems to get considerably better from then as well. Also i really liked the samurai character, the fact that he is shown to be deeply honourable and perhaps the equal of jet lis character (if not in skill in nobility). It isn't a bad film and is worth it just for the katana - three bar nunchuku fight, but it really doesn't deserve the cock sucking this site is giving it. Blood sounds good though.
Sept. 15, 2006, 7:22 a.m. CST
by teh ran
I thought fearless was probably Jet Li's best serious perfomance to date. I still like the humour of Fong Sai Yuk but fearless nailed it for me as Jet's most well rounded film. It was interesting that one of the talk-backers referred to his character as 2 dimensional given that we see his relationship with his family deteriorate, arogance, remorse, spiritulaity, pride amongst others. This film stands as testament to Jet's ability as a martial artist and an actor who can deliver. That said Empire magazine, here in the UK gave it two stars out of five so maybe I was watching a different film to everyone else!
Sept. 15, 2006, 7:53 a.m. CST
Feer-ress wirr be one exprosive martiar arts epic!
Sept. 15, 2006, 8:50 a.m. CST
by teh ran
that last post made me think of Kim Jung Il (?) from Team America...I'm so ronery...etc
Sept. 15, 2006, 10:25 a.m. CST
I did NOT like the platform fight. Holding himself horizontal off the edge by his fingers? Gimme a break. I think if they wanted to tell a good serious story like that, lay off the crap wire-fu! It was a decent movie, to be sure, but not the ass-kickery everyone's expecting.
Sept. 15, 2006, 5:55 p.m. CST
Give the TV series a shot. It is well worth it. And dont let the opening animation distract you, it is not always indicitive of the actually series. Here is a good example of what it looks like... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3CFCV1Y0yQ
Sept. 16, 2006, 1:09 p.m. CST
by Nicholas Rage
and while it's a great martial arts pic, I wasn't really blown away by it like I was Hero. There are some gaping holes in the story due to editing, which I hope will be put back in for the dvd. And the girl in the village never develops as a character. Again I hope that will be fixed in the dvd.
Sept. 17, 2006, 9:07 p.m. CST
by reise reise
Sept. 18, 2006, 2:35 a.m. CST
I caught the original cut of this movie last February and then caught the US version. They really toned it down to get the 13+ to see it which was a horrible idea. If the story itself was more appealing to that younger audience and not as philo/drama as it was, it would work. Yuen Wo Ping really crafted some hard fierce sections into some of the fights that had blood and bones breaking. None of that is scene in this watered down US version. I still think his best film is Hero, but do yourselves a favor and find the foreign version of FEARLESS instead or wait for the DVD.
Sept. 18, 2006, 4:19 a.m. CST
teh ran, who cares about empire http://img209.imageshack.us/img209/6240/empiresd1.jpg
Sept. 18, 2006, 4:25 a.m. CST
teh ran, who cares about empire http://img209.imageshack.us/img209/6240/empiresd1.jpg
Sept. 18, 2006, 4:27 a.m. CST
Sept. 18, 2006, 4:29 a.m. CST
take away the space between m and g in the link
Sept. 18, 2006, 11:06 a.m. CST
ALONG WITH THE MOVIE (YESSSSSS)If anyone wants to know...you can buy Blood:the anime tv series...Im up to the first 45 episodes..thats vol. dvd 1-5....its awsome and the only bad thing..its english subtitles only..not dubbed..but oh man the art is beautiful..and worth it....I bought them off ebay..for around 45 bucks plus shipping...this is just an FYI...for ya folks..but check it out..AWSOME!!!! So I cant wait for the movie...Peace...hope you can find them too..like I said dealers on ebay...
Sept. 18, 2006, 11:38 a.m. CST
or, alternatively, you could just use bittorrent and download the eps. 1-49. It'd be cheaper, too.
Sept. 19, 2006, 4:53 a.m. CST
Quote from Devin concerning the setting of Blood the Movie:"I spoke to ROnny Yu today. That's incorrect. But thanks for submitting it as news anyway." http://tinyurl.co.uk/6ioh Explain!
Sept. 20, 2006, 10:02 a.m. CST
by Read and Shut Up
...if he sticks to 1948 it could be good. Otherwise, it's "The Crow" in Japan.
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