IT’S THE MUTATING HEART THAT IS MOST GRUESOME
Director Benny Chan didn’t thought of doing a science-fiction initially (This was also echoed by Wu Jing on another occasion, who mentioned that it was a crime film when the director first approached him.), but as he doesn’t want to repeat what he has done before, such as the typical cops vs crooks, car chase or gun combats.
“I’m partial to modern films, that’s why even though I still thought of kungfu, I didn’t want to do a pure period kungfu film, so I started pondering over how I could come up with something new that is contemporary, yet employs martial arts. Eventually, I thought of mutants, but this was just an excuse, for it would afford me the opportunity to doing big-scale action scenes, and I believe that’s what the audience would want from me,” says Benny Chan.
“The action in this film will be more supernatural, less real, as the mutants, after possessing superhuman abilities, will fight in a more exaggerated fashion, it’s something I’ve never done before, it’s a very big challenge. And it’s also very costly. On the other hand, I don’t want to rely too much on special effects and blow things out of proportion.”
To reduce similarities to Hollywood films, Benny Chan left out many scenes, “However, I have excised many action scenes that were already filmed. Firstly, I shot 3 hrs worth of footage, and secondly, I found some action scenes to be too pedestrian, so I discarded them. Furthermore, I have removed anything that looks like Hollywood films. And due to length, I have also removed many drama scenes, such as the emotional scenes between Zhang Jing Chu and Wu Jing, that would allow the audience to better appreciate their love for each other, their chemistry.
“Back to action, as I recollect, that night I filmed a scene in which Ngai Sing is surrounded by the police, he lifts up a car in the air with one hand, and then hurls it at them, and he also uproots and throws a tree. It was full of problems when filming this, for we had to use wires and a group of people to hoist the car up in the air. But in the end, I still cut it out, even though this scene was rather costly.
“We had built all the sets, only to have them destroyed, we had filmed many action scenes, but I still cut them out eventually. Why? For they’re too Hollywood-esque. It’s a very expensive lesson. I hope to do something that sets it apart from Hollywood. I only retained elements of kungfu.
“For we would lose our own traits if we put too much emphasis on special effects. But by approaching it with kungfu, and repackaging it under the guise of science fiction, I believe we would have a product that is authentically Chinese in flavour. For example, the battle between Ngai Sing and Wu Jing, this is the kind of look and feel that only we possess, and only two martial arts adepts could truly bring out this unique quality.
“I was wondering, how would a Chinese mutant fight, that a normal person can’t do, and to take it further, I have Wu Jing identifying vulnerabilities in mutants and employing acupoint hitting, and the use of Chi Kung to whittle down the powers and strength of mutants, such as Tai Chi. But I didn’t specifically point these out in the film, for this isn’t exactly a Chinese martial arts film, but an action film.
“The action scenes in City Under Siege come successively, one wave after another, it’s like watching a kungfu film, but from the angle of mutants, so it becomes a new direction, a new approach, such vast destructive powers, as every move they make would leave everything annihilated, but I don’t want to exaggerate too much, so I toned it down to an equilibrium that I’m happy with.
“To accomplish this, we have two action choreographers, Ma Yuk Sing and Nicky Li, working on the film. I have collaborated with Nicky Li numerous times, first met him on Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. I have worked with Ma Yuk Sing many, many years ago on a TV station, so we have good rapport too. The scenes in City Under Siege are very epic, and our schedule was very tight, so we needed two action choreographers, we had two shooting units, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to cope.”
Invariably, Chinese sci-fi films are being compared to Hollywood counterparts, that are far more advanced technically. Benny Chan says, “I have been asked if it would be awkward for me to do such a subject matter that Hollywood has done many times, but what’s there to be embarrassed? Do the foreigners feel awkward learning kungfu from us? No, they don’t, they want to learn martial arts, for they feel that our kungfu is very great. That way, everyone can improve.
“I don’t know if this is the first Chinese film on mutants, but this is undoubtedly my first mutant film, and it’s something rarely touched upon in China or Hong Kong. Since I dared film it, it would bear my signature, there’s no such thing as awkwardness. I have my unique approach, otherwise, whatever I direct, it would be embarrassing.”
To conclude, Benny Chan explains that it’s not the outer appearances of mutants that are scary, “We notice that whatever the story is, it’s the mutation in the human hearts that is horrifying. So, in this film, I arrange for each character to undergo changes, not just physically mutate, but also the heart. To me that is the real ‘mutant’, this is actually a very human prediction, returning to a simple lifestyle in the long run.
“In the film, Aaron Kwok, Shu Qi, Ngai Sing and Wu Jing lose themselves in one way or another, such as Aaron Kwok, he’s falsely promoted by the media as a superhero, he basks in the limelight, without ever thinking of and knowing how to actually use his powers, and lands himself in a precarious state. Ngai Sing is obsessed with money and power, while he gains all these eventually, he is still unrequited in love. Zhang Jing Chu’s the only one who hasn’t ‘mutated’ in the film, often reminding the career-minded Wu Jing who’s lost in his pursuits of wealth and status as he goes after the mutants.” New Youth, Sina