ADVOCATING THE SPIRIT OF MARTIAL ARTS
Why did you opted for the era of warlords?
Benny Chan: The story concerning thirteen cudgel monks rescuing Tang prince has been adapted too many times. So, I checked with the abbot, the notable legends of Shaolin Temple in the past 1500 years, there was this legend, concerning a warlord ransacking Shaolin Temple to look for another warlord, before setting it ablaze. Being partial to this legend, I settled for the warlords era. That period was very turbulent, China was already facing foreign invasion, yet the Chinese were still fighting among themselves.
I had thought of shooting a period film set in more mundane era, there won’t be so much conflicts, the good guys are good, the bad are bad, and let them clash against each other. But, why picked such a traumatic point, that highlights the controversies? For only when you tell a movie in this way, would it be dramatic. But, we won’t focus too much on this, for the main focus is still on Shaolin.
After the slightly over the first 10 minutes, Andy Lau would turn from a warlord to a monk, this is the life I wish to tell, there isn’t much connection with the period, so, I don’t wish to be distinct about the background. Besides, the audience watch this film for entertainment, they won’t pay much attention to politics.
You mentioned Andy Lau’s life, what exactly is the theme?
Benny Chan: Shaolin often says they advocates spirit of martial arts, first you have to reflect on yourself, before you could elevate your wushu level, and finally, you would reach new heights in terms of kungfu and humanity. This kind of advocacy of martial spirit, was done before in other Shaolin Temple related films, so in Shaolin, I wish to talk about how the protagonist Andy Lau turn from a warlord to a monk, and infuse the elements of martial arts spirit there, extending from inner realisation, from within the heart, to external application on martial arts physically.
This is not an easy subject, for Shaolin’s main theme is Zen. Amidst the turbulences, humans are especially vulnerable, there are many things that could be reflected through Andy Lau’s character, allowing you to realise many things about life. His character initially wields great power, but he loses everything overnight, and heads for Shaolin, eventually finds what he wants. And Nicholas Tse is trapped in Andy Lau’s former life, Andy Lau notices Nicholas Tse walking on his previous path, and wishes to liberate him.
Why did work with Corey Yuen and Yuen Tak instead of your longtime collaborator Nicky Li?
Benny Chan: Nicky Li’s action design is modern big action scenes, like car stunts, explosions. For period films, I would prefer Corey Yuen, Yuen Tak, they are more experienced in forms and routines. They have been doing kungfu films for many years, so I believe they’ll have their unique views and ideas.
There were many martial arts exponents like Jet Li in Shaolin Temple, what can we expect from the cast members’ performances in this film?
Benny Chan: Our cast are somewhat different from Jet Li, we are employing more realistic ways to shoot, no flying, Andy Lau has been training for months for this film, he is now able to execute somewhat authentic Shaolin fist. But I won’t compare him to Jet Li, for the story is different, the director’s approach is different, an actor’s way of acting and interpreting a role is different, etc. They have their own strengths, but having a different final look and feel, it’s not easy to compare.
I heard that Andy Lau’s fighting styles are different depending on his personalities, is this a way of extolling martial spirit through the choreography?
Benny Chan: His fighting styles are different when he is evil, and when he is benevolent, demonstrating the duality, the conflicts within his heart. When he is a warlord, he only thinks of trouncing, killing his opponents, after turning over the new leaf, when he fights, he only aims at subduing the other parties.
止 (Cessation) and 戈 (dagger-axe, a type of polearm used in ancient Chinese wars) form the word wu 武, it’s a yardstick for true self-control and willpower. For example, in the final fight, Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, and Wu Jing as well, each of them is approaching his fight with a different mentality. So, when we shoot Shaolin martial arts in this film, our goal is to bring out the essence and spirit of martial arts.
We’ll be showing various styles of martial arts authentically, such as Seven-star Fist, Eagle Claw, cudgels, I don’t want it to be too flowery, I don’t like flying, so the fights are on the realistic side, there are very little special effects, except for the scene with Shaolin Temple being burned.
What do you think of Nicholas Tse’s acting?
Benny Chan: Nicholas Tse’s acting has improved a lot, for when you act, you need to have real world experiences too, now that he has grown up, when he was 19, he worked with me before, 11 years have passed, and now, he is already a father, he has improved greatly, having so many years of experiences in life, he still works extremely hard, he still has room for improvement.
Since this is set in the Republican period, would that entail firearms being used, apart from traditional martial arts?
Benny Chan: Indeed, but to a martial arts practitioner, the appearance of firearms is a painful issue. For example, I’m well-versed in Shaolin kungfu, but if my opponent draws a gun and point at me, I still have to freeze.
How would it affect your portrayal of the exquisiteness of traditional kungfu?Benny Chan: You could stop the act, but not the benign heart. In the film, the war refugees are hiding in Shaolin Temple, I don’t think anyone has done something like this, treating Shaolin as peacekeeping vigilante force. Faced with terrorists, what do I do? You have a gun, a gun has six bullets, but Shaolin Temple has a hundred monks. Even if you were to kill us, for the sake of justice, we would still stand up against you.
This is where the paradox lies, but after solving this paradox, the eventual means of resolving the problem is still through martial arts. The film’s main theme is Shaolin martial arts, the good and the bad, they are all skilled masters of martial arts, so it’s very natural for them to drop the guns, for guns won’t solve problems between people, who is better, you have to use your own abilities to determine.
Any major hurdles in filming?
Benny Chan: Countless problems, yesterday, it was sunny, but today, it is raining nonstop, because of rain, many days were wasted. Everyday, we watch the rain pouring down, and are very impatient and anxious, for everything is money. Hong Kong Film, Chengdu Business Daily