One of my very favourite movies is Tai Chi Master, directed by Yuen Wu Ping and starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and Chin Siu Ho. Chin is a fabulous performer and on my DVD copy of this film he gives an interview. I have transcribed excerpts from this interview that I found interesting and you can read them in the following blog:
Transcription of excerpts from “Nemesis – An Exclusive Interview with Star Chin Siu Ho” from Dragon Dynasty’s DVD Release of Tai Chi Master:
On Chang Cheh:
Although he always made martial arts movies, I felt he was a scholar, because he embraced Chinese culture and a kind of romance in martial arts movies, and expressed them. So they were not just martial arts movies. There would be a lot of brotherly bonds. They were movies about relationships.
On Tai Chi Master:
At that time this was my first time working with Yuen Wu Ping. Yuen Wu Ping contacted me. He might have seen me from previous work, action movies, Mr. Vampire, and other movies by Chang Cheh. He told me to come and meet him. He said “would you mind playing a bad guy this time?” I thought that was a good idea, as I’d never played a bad guy especially since this was a general, and he wasn’t a superficial bad guy. There were a lot of scenes together with Jet Li. We went through a lot together but became enemies. It was interesting. So I accepted his offer.
Since the first day he told me to go to the casting, when he told me the story in his office, I knew how to play it. As for the part where we had to prepare for the fighting, we had a few days to communicate before shooting began. I expressed the way I wanted to do the action. If I were the general, I wouldn’t fight with anyone easily. I wouldn’t fight with anyone I met, unless I was faced with a superb fighter. So, it’s either I wouldn’t move, or I would engage in serious fights.
Every time I make a movie, if it were a kung fu comedy, I pretend that I’m a comedian. But if it were a factual character, someone that required serious acting I would change the way I think. If I were that kind of person how would I think, act, or fight? As an actor, there was no fixed ways to act in each type of movie. I’d see how the director describes the character. Is he a bad guy or someone seeking revenge? Or is he a veteran in the martial arts world? You have to think how you’d fight. There is a thorough process behind any way you fight. Even if you can do the action, if your emotions don’t fit, if you lacked the composure, you would not look like a master. Because for movies you need to combine action with acting. So for each movie, I’d talk to the director and see what he wants. What is the best way to do it if I were a bad guy, director, would this be a better way? Maybe I shouldn’t be too reasonable. Just walk over and stab him. This way the movie might be better. There wouldn’t be so many fighting scenes. Everybody has their own way. This is my opinion. I wouldn’t think of a way to act beforehand
I quite liked the action in this movie. I liked it in a way. Especially in the military camp. I liked the ending scene where I fought with Jet Li.
In Tai Chi Master the action wasn’t too difficult but the process of filming was, because during the process I had to wear very heavy armour. I had to wear a very heavy hat to be the general. I had to jump around a lot during the fights. When I fought with Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh we had to fight on top of special places like the bamboo tower I would be on a wire in the middle of the air, for 6 or 7 hours then come down for lunch and back again. There might be fans blowing smoke or dust, things like that. I’d be covered in dirt, but I’d have to remember how to fight. The actions weren’t too hard. It was being on the wire. Even a short fighting scene would take 7, 8 or 10 days. The ending took us a month and a half to shoot. The filming was harsh, but not the action, I think.
I prefer applied martial arts. Before I did movies, when I learned martial arts, I practiced for the contests in Hong Kong. So I rarely did standard maneuvers. I prefer applying martial arts, as I like Bruce Lee. I am also really inspired by my master, Sin Lam Yuk. He was a champion who applied his fighting in the arena. So I like practical kung fu more.
It was the same for Chang Cheh. He was practical. His action movies looked more like fighting matches. But later, action comedies became popular. For example, like Jackie Chan. His Drunken Master where there were special moves And other funny elements but that was the trend in Hong Kong then. Many movies were made like that. So we had to fight with comic effects, bringing hilarious moves to the audience. I had not yet learned to do that at the time. So I tried my best to learn while filming. But sometimes, there was no way to learn. Sometimes the fight director would come up with an idea like two people sitting at a dinner table holding a piece of pork with their chopsticks and that could be 7 days of fighting. We’d fight on the table, under it, on the table again, then roll to on the ground, that would be a scene. Personally I prefer practical fighting.
When we made Tai Chi Master, the process was quite harsh. But, behind the scenes, our whole cast had a lot of fun. I remember there was a scene, with Jet Li, Fennie Yuen and me. We were running away from troops. So the 3 of us were running, there was a wide shot, and we would disappear into the crowd. But halfway through I couldn’t run any more, because my pants fell off it was a period costume drama. They didn’t have a belt and they dropped to my knees So I yelled, “my pants fell off” in the background Jet Li and Fennie were laughing and running. It was hilarious. We had a lot of fun. So we might look very cool and impressive in the movies, but it doesn’t matter if you’re a hero in a movie, if you’re pants dropped then they dropped. You’d be running and they’d drop. You’d laugh. It was a lot of fun.
We shot it on Luguo Bridge, Beijing. It was summertime. It was 40 degrees, 30-something. We would have some fun despite our busy schedule. Before we began shooting, we booked over 1000 soldiers from a military camp. The assistant directors would arrange for them to stand, and that would take 2 or 3 hours. So I liked to hang around Lugou Bridge. I’d put on some sunscreen, get a tan and eat watermelon in the camp while waiting for shooting to start. I had a great time there.
I think Mr Yuen Wu Ping… he employs the traditional Beijing-style methods. His father, Yuen Siu Tien, is one of the earliest action directors of Cantonese old dramas. There would be the Beijing style elements of dramas. He’d incorporate them with wires and some elements of Jin Yong novels. I don’t know if you understand. Jin Yong is a very well known Chinese action novel writer. He’d add a lot of flying in the air, and the ground exploding upon the hit of a sword. In terms of scenes in an action movie I think it’s very rich and he’s come up with lots of ideas. In comparison to other directors, I quite like Sammo Hung. I like Sammo Hung. As I said before I would hope that action, like that in Lau Kar Leung’s movies, I’d hope that action was very practical. There should be a style of action that could defeat an opponent. We don’t need elaborate action like flying in the air. However, I’d admire Lau Kar Leung or Sammo Hung. Many audiences have seen the movies of them or Jackie Chan. From the beginning they’ve gotten used to the Bruce Lee style action where you’d get a kick in the head and drop dead. No fuss. A kick is a kick, no fuss. When we watched them In the 80s actors used their actors used their moves as a benchmark
We would watch the movies of Sammo Hung or Jackie Chan, when they kicked someone it wouldn’t be for dramatic effect or show purposes. They’d go up and kick the person and he’d land very far away All the doubles and stuntmen had a hard time fighting. They’d take blows on their heads and their legs all the time. They’d all drop to the ground. It was powerful just like Bruce Lee’s films.
I prefer those movies myself. But on the other hand it’s much harder work making Sammo Hung or Lau Kar Leung’s movies. It’s much harder work because the physical requirement, the reactions and the basic reflexes that you get from making action movies often you had to be very familiar with them. If not you’d get hurt very easily. You’d see many stunt men get hurt working with Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung. But in terms of the kind of the end result we prefer that kind of action.