TRUE LEGEND is Yuen Woo-Ping's very entertaining return to the director's chair after a fourteen-year layoff. It is the epic story of Su Qi-Er aka Beggar So, a legendary figure in the martial arts world who's been depicted in everything from the original DRUNKEN MASTER (also directed by Yuen) to Stephen Chow's KING OF BEGGARS. In TRUE LEGEND, Yuen and screenwriter To Chi-Long have envisioned the legend of Beggar So as a sprawling tale of family torn asunder, reunited, and tragically torn asunder again. And while the inventively-staged combat is up to the very high standards Yuen and his stunt team have set throughout their forty-year-long career, it's the heartfelt quality of the narrative that really sets this movie apart. For all the bone-snapping and blood-spurting, TRUE LEGEND is actually a very sweet movie.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to submit questions via email to Mr. Yuen for a brief Q&A on the site. Being of sound mind, I quickly whipped up some inquiries and passed them along. One day, I'd like to sit down with the master and conduct a proper AICN Legends interview - or, better yet, watch him stage a big brawl like the wild brother-versus-brother showdown in the middle of TRUE LEGEND. In the meantime, here's a cool little back-and-forth with the greatest fight choreographer working today.
Q: Why did you want to revisit the legend of Su Qi-Er aka Beggar So?
A: The story of Beggar Su has been translated to big screen for many times. But the character is often portrayed as a supporting role. For example, in Drunken Master, my dad played Su as Jackie Chan’s master. True Legend gives me a chance to depict this legendry character as a leading role and in a more detailed way. I like the story and would like to pay the homage to my father.
Q: We see Five Venom Fist and Drunken Fist in TRUE LEGEND. Was it fun to depict these disciplines again, and did you approach the staging/filming of them differently than you have in the past?
A: Five Venom Fist as a less-known style are rarely used in martial art films. It is brutal and ruthless. This is the first time that I use it in my movie. For Drunken Fist, it is a very powerful but free-style fighting. I want to emphasis the contrast between these two. Compared to the past, I tried to add some street dance elements into some fighting scenes in True Legend.
Q: Which fight scene was the most enjoyable to execute? Which was the most difficult?
A: The most enjoyable one is the final fight between Vincent and Andy On at the secret chamber. I prefer choreographing one-on-one fighting sequences because it allows me lots of freedom to design different styles and movements. And in the story it is a crucial fight between two very powerful characters.
The fight between Vincent and Andy at the Hukou Waterfall is the most difficult. The safety issue for that scene was the biggest challenge of the whole movie. The landscape looks magnificent but very dangerous; there is no chance for us to make any mistakes. We meticulously planned out the whole choreography and tested and rehearsed it for many times before rolling the camera. We also ‘double wired’ our talents just to make sure they are completely safe. This fighting sequence took us 15 working days to complete.
Q: You've been choreographing amazing fight scenes since the early 1970s. How do you keep the work fresh?
A: Every film has its own story, and different characters have different background. All these stimulate me come up with new ideas to match that scenario. On the other hand, many designs of the fights are based on actual research.
Q: You've done some incredible work in Hollywood movies. How different is it working on a studio film? Are there more restrictions? How much freedom did you have in the staging of these sequences?
A: As the martial art choreographer when working in Hollywood studio movies, I don’t really feel a lots of restriction during my work. I see myself as a cooperator to the director. I always have well-rounded discussions with the director to make sure we are on the same page. During actual filming, I am given lots of freedom in choreographing the movements.
In Hong Kong film industry, as a director from my past experience, as long as you are stay on budget, you will be given lots of creative freedom.
Q: It's been said that Quentin Tarantino basically learned how to shoot a major action set piece while doing the House of Blue Leaves battle for KILL BILL VOL. 1. It's an amazing sequence. How was that experience for you? Fun? Stressful?
A: It was a very fun and memorable experience. We discussed and communicated thoroughly. Quentin trusted me and gave me lots of freedom.
Q: What is the status of Wong Kar-Wai's THE GRANDMASTERS? How has that experience been thus far?
A: The movie is still in progress. It is a very unique experience for me and I have lots of expectation to this movie.
Yuen Woo-Ping's TRUE LEGENDS is in theaters now.