Donnie Yen Gives Highest Accolades to Tsui Hark and The Seven Swords at Sina Fans Gathering
Sina.com, one of China’s largest online news portals, held a Seven Swords Online Fan Gathering for Donnie Yen on March 19, 2005. It was also the first time the first official poster of Seven Swords 《七剑》 was made public.
Host: Do you serve the web regularly?
Donnie Yen: Yes, mainly to check my emails and to monitor entertainment news around the globe. I also visit my fansites, for they have been supporting me for so many years, and have done so much for me, I can’t let them down. Once, the webmaster of a fansite and I met for the first time when I was in Beijing to promote a film [Twins Effect 2]. I told him I’m grateful for their support, and wanted to thank them in person. Perhaps, a few months later, when there are some activities in Beijing, I could arrange to meet them and thank them.
Host: I can see that many of your fans are already online, waiting to greet you.
Fan: I’d like to know if you would be focusing your work in Japan, Hong Kong or US?
Donnie Yen: In these two years, my main focus is in China and US. Theses are the two lands that give me lots of drive. The chance for a Chinese actor to work in the West doesn’t come by easily. So, I won’t give up introducing our brand of action films there. However, because of this I have also missed many works produced here. So, I hope to be involved with more productions here as well, whether in front of or behind the camera. It may be tiring to juggle between two places, but I relish the process. If I can make a great film, I believe it’s worth every effort. Recently, I have had a talk with Quentin Tarantino and we may work together in the future.
Host: What is your expectation for The Seven Swords?
Donnie Yen: I have very high hopes for it. Having done many years of filming, I have the greatest anticipation for The Seven Swords. I hope it will break Hero’s box office record, and also firmly believe that it can. From the day I received the script from Tsui Hark, to during production, I have always believed that this is an epoch-making film has very good potential, it will become a classic, a new milestone for wuxia films. It will be released in a few months, I believe the audience will definitely not be disappointed.
Host: Hero has created an unprecedented record [of making 250 million yuan in China cinemas], you mentioned about your confidence in The Seven Swords, can you elaborate further?
Donnie Yen: Mainly because Seven Swords is not purely a wuxia movie, it’s also a romance, one full of tender moments, of humanity, it is a superlative movie. While Sha Po Lang (SPL) that I did prior to Seven Swords is a showcase of genuine kungfu, Seven Swords depicts real-life affection, love and relationships, an ancient pugilistic world.
When filming Seven Swords, we did not merely think of how to do the action scenes, rather, we’ve gone great miles to choreograph different martial arts forms that match the personalities of each character, I have seen some finished work at the cutting room, every move carries the affection, the wuxia passion that sweeps me greatly off my feet, that makes me feel utterly shocked, it’s quite parochial to measure it against previous wuxia productions, much like viewing a panoramic landscape through a narrow slit, because, in the past, we have confined wuxia films to certain norms and conventions. I can’t express it using any terms used to describe previous wuxia movies. Neither does it feel like what Tsui Hark did before. It’s a brand new feeling, it’s very realistic, with no flying, it’s very particular about wuxia culture. Even when there were no lines, just the expression on the face of the character and the visual cues were enough to transport me into that realm. It brings out what Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have never shown before, its take on wuxia is also very instinctual, uncontained. Hero is visually intense, while Seven Swords is of the finest class, and takes time to savour.
The credits all go to Tsui Hark, he has great foresight and ambition, he has channelled all his years of insights on wuxia into Seven Swords, Seven Swords explores new directions of doing wuxia film. In terms of the script, coupled with the entire production ensemble, I feel that it can definitely outdo Hero. More than a decade ago, it was Tsui Hark who set the trend, and not having done wuxia films for many years, that kind of feeling he had, all the energy that he had been bottling up, was unleashed upon Seven Swords.
Host: Have you communicated with Tsui Hark on this?
Donnie Yen: We have always discussed about Seven Swords script and its direction, even the direction future wuxia movies should be heading. I did a couple of works with Tsui Hark over ten years ago, at that time, I merely talked to him from the standpoint of an actor. But when filming Seven Swords, I talked to Tsui Hark from the perspective of an apprentice, a junior learning about the art of filmmaking, discussing things that a director would not talk to an actor about.
Fan: Who’s the martial arts director for The Seven Swords? I feel that your fight against Jackie Chan in Twins Effect 2, while elaborate, leaves much to be desired.
Donnie Yen: Twins Effect 2 is actually a commercial film, Jackie Chan and I joined the movie merely to lend some support some new actors, such as Jaycee Chan, Twins, they need someone more experienced to provide a balance. I did not think of doing anything groundbreaking, we just did what was required on our parts, so some of you who went to see it in the hope of seeing some archetypal martial arts sequences might have been disappointed. We can’t expect every work to turn out to be a classic. My responsibility was only to maintain the standard. But with some films, such as Seven Swords, the conditions allow you to exceed the current standards, and I would not hold back in such cases.
Fan: How was it working with Lu Yi?
Donnie Yen: I do not have much scenes with Lu Yi. Mainly acted opposite Sun Hong Lei, Kim So Yeon and Leon Lai. Lu Yi is rather easygoing.
Host: And the rest?
Donnie Yen: Sun Hong Lei is very dedicated, he has his own views, is very intelligent. Kim So Yeon is gorgeous, she is also very committed, though we could barely communicate with each other due to language barrier. We communicate using simple English, gesticulations, and with help from the interpreter.
Host: Another interesting aspect of Seven Swords is the weapons. Tell us about them.
Donnie Yen: My weapon is Gallivanting Dragon Sword, it’s the most powerful among the Seven Swords, is the sharpest sword in the world. The major challenge was its weight, it’s not the heaviest, but is still very heavy. It’s quite difficult to brandish it to impart the impression that a dragon is really roaming about. Took me a while to get used to it. But, in this movie, if I couldn’t handle this sword, there was no other who could. Lu Yi’s sword is the heaviest, however, his swordplay is very simple, direct, and ponderous, so, it’s not as difficult.
Host: I can’t tell the swords apart.
Donnie Yen: Gallivanting Dragon Sword is golden yellow, the others are all dark grey in colour. It has the shape of a dragon, there is a pearl inside, every time I swing the sword, it will emit a sound.
Host: In wuxia novels and movies, there are always description of the oneness of the swordmaster and their sword, but often, the actual portrayal is far from such a textual description. Do you get such a feeling in your works?
Donnie Yen: I always try to be one with my sword or gun, this is the highest state of achievement for any pugilists.
Fan: I believe you must have seen Ong Bak, I don’t think we Chinese can produce such a beautiful action film.
Donnie Yen: I think the film is a success due to several reasons, mainly because it has been way too long since movies of such ilk have been made. Let’s not talk about the movie content, rather we’ll talk about the fights. It’s merely rehashing what we’ve done before. And if we look at the style of martial arts, Ong Bak is strictly limited, only trading of fists and kicks. Some things we have done before can be found there, said it was Muay Thai, all that we see are but those few moves. Actually, I think well of that actor, he has remarkable skills. Yet, on the whole, it doesn’t present anything new. We have many wushu talents here, I don’t think Ong Bak is that exotic, it’s just a matter of timing, especially when we haven’t done anything like that in the recent years. The standards of our action films have great deteriorated, there is a lack of talents – I mean talented people who are not groomed in filming. This is the current situation in our market. I hope there’ll be more success stories like Kung Fu Hustle – even if it had little realistic martial arts – Seven Swords, and hope to see more of such action films in the future, and expand the market demands, so, newcomers will be given more chances.
Fan: Among the cast in Seven Swords, unlike you, most of them lack martial arts skills. They switched from other genres.
Donnie Yen: We shouldn’t be criticising them because of this. I feel that in Seven Swords, they are all supporters of wushu. In the eyes of the audience, we are telling a story, we are portraying the passion of wushu, the characters in the movie possesses martial arts ability, yet the actors need not be martial artists themselves, otherwise, we might as well shoot a documentary on wushu, not The Seven Swords.