WU JING EXPLAINS THE SIMPLICITY BEHIND THE FILM
|When we read the Bible or the Brahmajala Sutra, we know that we shouldn’t treat those who slander us and act badly toward us in the same way that they treat us. We should treat them with double love and kindness. If you only let him slap you on your right cheek without reacting, he may think that you’re afraid of him or you don’t know how to react.|
But when you also turn your left cheek to him, he may wake up and wonder, “Well! Why did this person react this way? It’s not that he couldn’t react, but that he didn’t care about being slapped and has forgiven me.”
…if any one of us or other people do bad and vicious deeds to us or other people, we should pity him, knowing that he hasn’t sown virtuous seeds in his previous lifetimes or his virtuous seeds have become rotten or haven’t grown. Then we should pray to God to help him to open his heart and make him understand. We can’t let him stay that way. To those who are bad to us, we should give them a chance to introspect on themselves. Having no reaction when they slap us in the face isn’t good enough. We should do something that’s better for them.
On November 20, Nicky Li, Wu Jing and Celina Jade were invited for a chat hosted by Sina, sharing the joys and pains on the set of Legendary Assassin.
The subjects brought up include the frustrations of waiting passively for chances in Hong Kong, the reasons for opting for a simple story, their approach to action, preconceived notions on action stars’ acting, one’s respect to the profession, the tricks to crying, the difficulties of working with the giant wrestler, injuries and box office outlook.
Legendary Assassin opens in cinemas on December 10.
Zhao Ning: Welcome everyone.
Wu Jing: Greetings everyone, firstly, let me introduce my partner in Legendary Assassin, director Nicky Li Chung Chi, the action director behind several big brother Jackie Chan movies. Having collaborated a number of times, we have developed great rapport. So, we directed this film together.
Zhao Ning: How did you divide your work?
Wu Jing: Revolution would definitely need work to be distributed. For I had to appear in front of the camera as well.
The beautiful lady here is our female lead, Celina Jade, she’s a newcomer, and also our company’s newly signed artiste. Her father used to be a martial arts star who’s worked with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan before. Remember the priest in Snake in Eagle’s Shadow who says “If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to them the other also.”? That’s the one.
Celina Jade: He’s the one with the beard.
Zhao Ning: Pardon my nosiness, Celina Jade, but are you of mixed parentage?
Celina Jade: My Father is an American, my mother a Hong Konger.
Zhao Ning: You’re very gorgeous.
Celina Jade: Thank you.
Zhao Ning: Wu Jing and Celina Jade are enacting a romantic love story, many people are curious, how did Wu Jing become a director?
Wu Jing: It’s a long story.
Zhao Ning: You’ve long had this dream?
But later, in my works with other directors, they only used 2 months to shoot a 30-part series. It’s all done hastily, with little attention to detail, the martial arts scenes were done hastily, without much consideration. So, at that time, I thought, as an action actor, you must have strict demands, only then could you make quality productions. If I were to direct, I must insist on following the two directors’ spirit of meticulousness and refinement.
And in the recent years, after pursuing my career in Hong Kong, I find that chances are very hard to come by. Firstly, being from Mainland, I’m not familiar with the culture in Hong Kong. I’m very lucky to have met my manager Mr Paco Wong, Ms Syllina Tong; and my partner Nicky Li and Celina Jade. Rather than waiting, why not create our own opportunities?
Not being the everlasting sunny kid
Zhao Ning: Based on some feedback, many find it hard to accept you as a villain in the recent films. We got to know you through Master of Tai Chi, we are used to you being an ingenuous, loyal and adorable lad. I even wondered if you ever had any difficulties expressing mean and menacing qualities.
Wu Jing: No, for everyone has a dark side, I’m just showing my ugliest side. I have acted as many heroic characters in the past in Mainland, but the environment in Hong Kong is different, needing you to develop other aspects, and as an actor, you can’t forever confine yourself to one type of role. Villainous roles are but a kind of tryout.
Zhao Ning: But you might be stereotyped as villain too?
Wu Jing: No, in the past, everyone’s seeing me as a sunny kid. But now, everyone’s saying instead that I’ve become a professional villain. At least, this means my acting has been acknowledged. And one day, I might even be toppling anything I have done before.
Being piquant rather than philosophical
Wu Jing: This film’s story is very simple. In this market, we are all exploring, as directors of martial arts films, as action stars, we are all pondering over how to introduce action to the world of sentimentality, how to create a new cornerstone in action films. Everyone is experimenting.
We were discussing with director Li, why not write a simple love story, it’s enough when we could move the audience. We also have an underlying motif, which is advising people towards kindness. If the audience couldn’t feel it, it doesn’t matter. We just want to let the audience watch a simple kungfu film, to enjoy, to relax, and not something that makes you ruminate what the message behind it is. If it’s too didactic or philosophical, I feel that the two of us haven’t approached masterhood, so we just wish to let the audience watch a recreational show.
Apprehensive About Drama Scenes
Zhao Ning: Let’s hear about some fun moments behind-the-scenes.
Wu Jing: To put it simply, Legendary Assassin is about a lonely person who arrives on an island, bumps off a baddie, gets acquainted with a female cop, and the two develop feelings for each other. It’s that straightforward.
Zhao Ning: But what of the ending?
Wu Jing: Ending? Why didn’t I finish my sentence? That’s what I want to achieve, to let you be curious about what’d happen in the end. Go buy the ticket.
Zhao Ning: This is what makes a director. Director Li has been laughing.
Wu Jing: He often laughs.
Zhao Ning: I believe martial arts directors must be very exceptional.
Nicky Li: Not really, when filming, we were actually more nervous about drama scenes.
Zhao Ning: You never divided between drama and action scenes? Doing everything together?
Nicky Li: Yes.
Zhao Ning: Then, why were you worried?
Wu Jing: Actually, in terms of action, both Paco Wong and Ng See Yuen have said they’re not worried about action scenes, for Nicky Li is an award-winning martial arts director, and all along, I myself have been doing fighting roles, we just have to show what we’re capable of, but when it comes to drama, it’s a different story. Look at director Li, his hair has turned white.
Zhao Ning: Indeed, more often than not, the most anticipated portion of action films are action, but, after watching the film, the critics love to grumble about how dull the drama scenes are, or the story is confusing. This has become a blemish in action films.
Wu Jing: Indeed, many, many blemishes. They are prejudiced against Chinese kungfu movies, and to them, it’s given that Chinese should perform martial arts beautifully, it’s nothing out of ordinary, it’s a prerequisite. And they also have this mentality that those who practises martial arts can only fight, and that it’s enough for them to just be able to fight. All these discriminations land us in a very difficult plight.
To which I’d rebut, from an early work of Jackie Chan, Dragon Heart, it’s drama, and subsequently, he was crowned Best Actor at Golden Horse Awards.
Nicky Li: Crime Story.
Wu Jing: Yes, Crime Story. I’ve been working diligently, so I believe that all of us, the wushu practitioners possess a kind of sentimentality. But perhaps, because of our action scenes are more shocking, more captivating, the audience tends to overlook what was laid out in our drama scenes. Without paving the drama groundwork, the fist that is delivered would not carry much weight at all.
The art of Crying Freeman
Zhao Ning: Speaking of histrionics, Celina Jade has been full of praises for you, saying that it takes you merely three seconds to shed tears.
Wu Jing: Not that fast, at least 20 seconds. Actually, I picked this up while shooting TV series.
Zhao Ning: Trained?
Wu Jing: You have to cultivate it. Everyone feels that you’re a wushu practitioner, you can’t act, you can’t cry. But prior to that, I hadn’t had the slightest inkling of crying. When I broke my arm, I fixed it myself. Having recovered, there was no more reason to cry. At most, tears would well up in my eyes in those few nights I couldn’t get to sleep.
If you were to asked me to act as one about to lose a beloved one in a love story, I still won’t know how to weep. Later, I picked it up from a master. I learned how to lift the eyeballs, to pull the muscles behind, causing tears to course down, and make use of this technique while nurturing your emotions.
Director Li would be able to empathise. Director Li is the tough, reserved, stoic kind, he would just swallow the bitter pill quietly. He’d be very diffident in front of the camera. But as actors, we have to express our feelings. This technique, you have to grasp, otherwise, you won’t win any awards.
Celina Jade: This method is incredible.
Wu Jing: Actually, this is just an artifice, but the most important factor is to get into the right mood, and also the atmosphere plays a big part too. And at this point, both director Nicky Li and I were very protective of the cast: this time, let Celina cry, c’mon, cry, take your time, slowly building the mood, and we’d begin as soon as she’s ready.
In this scene, to save her, I’m ended up being on the brink of death, and it’s a drizzling scene. Director Li had one camera, and the cinematographer had another. I told her, I have finished fighting, contributed my part, whether this story can be stirring, be compelling or not depends on her weeping. We let her be fully immersed in her own world, let her shine on her own.
Then everyone, including director Nicky Li, was looking at me. I began chatting with her, and at that time, one of her kin was ill, and many gloomy things happened, so her eyes turned red. I gave a signal, director Li gave another signal, they started creating the rain with sprinklers. And I began to shed tears, looking at her, talking to her in a suffocating tone.
Wu Jing: And bending down my head, I let her handle the rest. As actors, we have to observe each other’s reactions, and I believe that Celina Jade is a very gifted actress. Why? Because she wears her heart on her sleeve, whether she’s happy or not, it’s all written on her face. As long as you can move her, she’ll show it. You have to monitor her mood, this is what we call duet. If all I did was breaking down by myself without affecting her, this is not called acting.
Zhao Ning: I heard that to many Mainland actors, when they’re shooting in Hong Kong, they must do sufficient preparation, you have to playact alone, in front of the camera. It’s different from Mainland.
Wu Jing: It’s the same in Mainland. You have to depend on your acting skills. But in filmmaking, I feel that if you respect your profession, there must be mutual communication, we must move each other; if it’s just you convincing the camera alone, it’s lifeless.
Celina Jade: Because at that time, even if the camera was only directed at me, he would still remain opposite me, communicating with me; he won’t desert me, even if he won’t be filmed. And director Li would roll the camera.
Nicky Li: Nah, it’s because he’s the director, he couldn’t go off.
Zhao Ning: Yes, it’s his own work, his directorial debut, that’s why he must do this.
Wu Jing: I believe this has to do with an actor’s work ethics. Once, director Cheung told me they were shooting a scene with Maggie Cheung and another actor sobbing. Though she was not facing the camera, Maggie Cheung would still stay there to induce the other. That way, there was mutual communication between the two, otherwise, it’d be too empty, too aloof, too cold.
The adorable little giant
Zhao Ning: Let’s talk about the martial arts sequences, it’s something we are all very concerned about, such as challenging this 2.08m tall guy.
Wu Jing: The giant wrestler, Jiang Bao Cheng, was someone director Nicky Li recruited from Sichuan team. He’s very big, and also very cute. It’s a really gruelling shoot, the weather was very hot.
On the fourth day, he came to me sulking, brother Wu Jing, when do we finish filming? I asked him, can he finish me off in one single strike? That’s how filming is. Patting him on the head, I cajoled, c’mon, be sporting. Can you imagine such a small guy as I, having to coax a giant like you?
But, he’s really able to take hardships, especially for a big guy like him, his heart is under more pressure than us, and later, his knee was injured. It was indeed very exhausting. And eventually, we finished that scene in eight days.
A major difficulty when fighting him was his overwhelming height. I had to look up at him, and strike upwards at an angle. The feeling was very different.
Zhao Ning: Director Li, why did you specially hire Jiang Bao Cheng for such a scene?
Nicky Li: It’s to provide a different kind of visual stimulus for the audience, seeing how a little guy overcome someone of much bigger size. But it’s quite taxing for him, as he’s never done any action films before. This is his first film. So, Wu Jing had to accommodate him. It’s really strenuous on Wu Jing’s part.
Zhao Ning: A true martial arts star, apart from the gracefulness of their movements, also knows how to control their strength, to hold back.
Wu Jing: Fortunately, he still knows how to rein in somewhat, or it’d become an actual combat. But to me, it’s close to being a practical combat. For those of us who have been shooting films, if I’m going to throw out a fist, I’d give some cues with the eyes, but he won’t, you had no idea when he’d launch his attack, and how fast it was.
Sometimes, this fist was slower, you’re about to block it, but it had yet to reach. It won’t work, you’d reacted too early. Or before you could react, his fist already arrived, and you had to parry it off without any delay. It’s not really about accommodating…
Zhao Ning: If four days weren’t enough, then you’d take eight days to be familiar with his rhythm.
Wu Jing: You have to know thy enemy, adapt to him. You can’t declare that you’re a good fighter, and it’s fine as long as you fight well yourself. No, it won’t do. You must be able to help your opponent unfurl their potential, this is considered a worthy adversary.
Scars are men’s medals of honour
Zhao Ning: I believe that Wu Jing is not just an excellent kungfu star, but also a good teacher.
Wu Jing: Nothing of that sort.
Zhao Ning: You taught Elva Hsiao earlier on, didn’t you?
Wu Jing: Yes, with director Li.
Zhao Ning: She told me before, when she was here.
Wu Jing: She didn’t say anything bad about me, did she?
Zhao Ning: No, she felt that you’re very striking and charming. She said that you exalted her for her guts.
Wu Jing: She’s someone who’s really able to take hardships.
Zhao Ning: And Celina Jade too?
Wu Jing: Celina Jade is also one with great endurance. We didn’t teach her routines which we didn’t think would come in use. We taught her practical combat, and also, those of us who can fight would attempt to accommodate her, let her delivers the real blows, so that outcome would be more cogent.
When training, I once threw her on the ground without warning. For, she’s bound to have to get hit when filming. It’d be more thrilling for the protagonists getting beaten up before retaliating. I didn’t know how exactly it would be, but let her have a taste of it first. And she was wearing the furrowed face of one afflicted by all miseries and misfortunes of China since 1814 Opium War.
I also couldn’t bear to do it. But, to an actor, you have to have demands, have aims. I asked her, if she would want perform better. If she wants to achieve her goals, I hope she’d experience it. When you first attend acting class, you’d be taught, true sight and sound, true emotions. So, let you have a real feel of it.
Celina Jade: This way of acting would be more real. Through this, I realised how it felt.
Celina Jade: On my face. It was my fault, I lunged forward instead of dodging backwards. So, I got punched.
Zhao Ning: Actually, injuries are unavoidable when doing action films.
Wu Jing: Bruises and scars are man’s medals of honour.
Zhao Ning: Really? Your arm? Where? Did you suffer multiple injuries?
Wu Jing: No, no major injuries this time around.
Wu Jing: For the scene in the finale, I got two, three kicks each time, and doing 10 takes, it’s 20 to 30 kicks in all.
Nicky Li: For there were many stuntmen, each giving him one kick. He received countless kicks everyday.
Wu Jing: I thought it’s worth it. Frankly speaking, Hong Kong is the world’s number when it comes to kungfu films. The whole world is looking for Hong Kong martial arts directors when doing kungfu films. And that generation from Hong Kong has left behind many great assets. I’ve learned many things as a result, such as a more efficient way of creating artificial rain, and evenly distributing the raindrops. We shot the precipitation action scene for half a month and it would have been a great wastage of water if we merely use fire hoses from fire engines.
And with the change of time, with lesser investments in kungfu films, we have to work within limited budget and resources while producing the results. We also have lesser chance of doing risky and costly actions like sliding down a pole adorned with light bulbs, so whatever risky action you do is a kind of wealth to us.
Simplicity and straightforwardness in the action of Legendary Assassin
Zhao Ning: I feel that those who do kungfu film are especially dauntless, taking challenges that ordinary people would never imagine doing.
Wu Jing: Actually, I’m quite timid.
Zhao Ning: Impossible.
Wu Jing: It’s true. I’m quite timid, you’ve to learn how to protect yourself.
Zhao Ning: When we’re free, we’d want to invite Wu Jing to Sina, and teach us self-defence.
Wu Jing: I await your invitation.
Zhao Ning: No problem. In Ip Man, I talked to Donnie Yen earlier on, he especially went to learn Wing Chun. I’d like to know about the kind of martial arts used in Legendary Assassin. For I’m aware that you trained Celina Jade in full-contact sparring. What kind of style do you use here?
Wu Jing: What do think is my style?
Zhao Ning: When watching Master of Tai Chi, I feel that you’re a genuine martial arts exponent. Jackie Chan admires people like Jet Li and you who have traditional wushu background, very orthodox.
Wu Jing: First, you have to ask about the look and feel of Legendary Assassin, of which is…
Zhao Ning: No style? Don’t tell me that, please.
Wu Jing: Simple and straightforward. A simple story, with simple movements. For instance, my fight against the giant Jiang Bao Cheng, we don’t get into certain postures, we just pound on each other right away. We did every stunt ourselves, those hits I received were real. Simple and effective. That’s the effect we are after.
Nicky Li: As director Wu says, our moves are direct and simple, they rush forward, I hammer them, you don’t have time for poses. Just take on your foes forthwith.
Wu Jing: As you said, Ip Man is about a kind of martial arts, but if you were to ask me which school of martial arts did I employ in Legendary Assassin? There is none.
Zhao Ning: For there’s some kind of classification, like freestyle, Muay Thai, etc.
Wu Jing: It’s a combination, there is joint-locks, sanda, freestyle, grappling, chokes, knee strikes – Chinese knee strikes, not Thai techniques, it’s a combination of techniques, rather than focusing on a specific form of martial arts. Whatever that is efficacious at that instant, we’ll call for it. I’m not shooting Tai Chi, Master of Tai Chi, or Eight Trigram Palm Dong Hai Chuan. I’m just narrating a simple story.
However, if you were asking me about defining the trend with a certain form of martial arts, we are already working on the preparation and the script is already complete. My next work is on Tai Chi. As you just said, I’m Tai Chi whatever.
But for Legendary Assassin, it’s about being simple and effectual. Whatever moves they are, as long as the audience can feel the impact, we’d use. And director Li even designed a set of self-defence techniques for girls. Let’s demonstrate it. (Demonstrates with Celina Jade.)
Not worried about box-office, only seeking improvements
Zhao Ning: Any pressure on box office?
Wu Jing: Pressure? Any pressure, Uncle Chi?
Nicky Li: A little.
Wu Jing: I don’t have any pressure.
Zhao Ning: I don’t believe. You’d have to wait for people to invest in your subsequent works, you have to answer to the investors regarding the box office.
Nicky Li: Actually, for this film, we’ve already completed our mission. Our job is done.
Wu Jing: I’m not under any pressure, I’m not lying to you. I’m thick-skinned. Our producer, our boss, our manager Paco Wong told us, our job is like a chef, we just have to whip up delicious dishes; and as to other things like how to sell the dishes, he’s the manager, let him determine the price, and how to promote them. I thought, doesn’t matter if it’s true, since you’ve already said it, I’d just take your word for it.
Besides, in Hong Kong, chances are hard to come by. Rather than waiting, we create opportunities. I’ve already taken the first step, upon which is the basis for my future direction. It’s already fixed. If Legendary Assassin is a sellout, I could take this step further. If the box office is not out of ordinary, I’d take a smaller step. No matter what, having taken the first step, we’re already in a no-lose situation.
Zhao Ning: I feel that Wu Jing is very practical.
Nicky Li: Precisely.
Wu Jing: Practically a little foolish.
Zhao Ning: Director Li doesn’t seem to talk much.
Nicky Li: I don’t speak Mandarin very well.
Zhao Ning: Actually, you and Celina speak Mandarin quite well. We’re very grateful to Wu Jing, Celina Jade and Nicky Li for gracing us with their presence today. Thank you everyone.
Wu Jing, Nicky Li, Celina Jade: Thank you.