Having worked with Yuen Wo Ping a number of times, Ngai Sing, who plays Jade Warlord in the recently released Forbidden Kingdom, describes him as one of martial arts directors he most enjoys working with. Whenever Yuen Wo Ping invites him to join a project, he would not turn down him down.
Ngai Sing, who is expected to join Yuen Wo Ping’s upcoming directorial project Iron Mask, elaborates, “Yuen Wo Ping’s techniques change and improve with the advancement of technology and filmmaking, he is vastly different from some of the older generations who are not receptive to changes or new ideas. Yuen Wo Ping is often willing to listen to suggestions of younger filmmakers, he is willing to employ their creative ideas, and combined with his years of experience in martial arts choreography, re-works on his own ideas. His martial arts direction often tells a story, like a graceful, beautiful ballet.
Peter Pau first collaborated with Yuen Woo Ping on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Forbidden Kingdom is the second collaboration between the two award-winning cinematographer and martial arts director.
“Yuen Wo Ping is one who is particular about Chinese culture. He’s very gentle, doesn’t talk much, and is a bookworm. He’s the only martial arts director who talks about seeking the motivation behind martial arts sequences from Chinese literature. Action comes from passion, passion is the fountainhead of action.
“He would ponder over how to use action to express the personality of a character. Monkey King Sun Wu Kong is playful, how to show that? Trampling on the tables, stepping over people’s heads, twirling the cudgel, ought to come up with all these gestures and action. In the climatic battle between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, how to keep each other in check? I observed from the standpoint of an onlooker, watching how he transformed literature into action, to deepen and portray the character’s personality.
“We had great rapport in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was Lee Ang’s first martial arts movie, he insisted on retaining the art of weightless traverse like running up a wall, and flying. I set up the camera to capture the action choreographed by Eighth Master. We have had great rapport.
“This time around, I could empathise with Eighth Master on the pressure he was facing. It’s the first time he worked with both Kings of Kungfu. This time, he designed the action sequences in parts – a small portion at a time, rather than the whole scene. He needed time to ponder, to see the actors’ progress and design the moves for them. So, we couldn’t shoot chronologically, we shoot according to the sequence he arranged. This was rather awkward and difficult from the standpoint of cinematography.”
As such, Yuen Wo Ping was called the biggest big shot in the movie with both Jet Li and Jackie Chan around. “He often made me wait for half a day,” says Jet Li. “Sometimes, according to the call sheet, I would be shooting an action scene in the morning. So, I arrived very early, sitting in the room, waiting for half a day, yet no one came to call me.” It turned out that the demanding Yuen Wo Ping was having a brainstorming session on another scene, in order to create top quality martial arts sequence.
Peter Pau continues, “As to the elements of surprise, firstly we took into consideration that the two actors are well-versed in martial arts, as such, wire-work is not the main focus of the fight, they depend on fist to fist contact, on realistic fighting. As such, the sparring session between Jet Li and Jackie Chan would be one of the most debated topics ever. The film’s ending is very long, with some dazzling special effects, coupled with authentic martial arts. The director gives a very well-rounded conclusion to the drama and relationships.” Sina