Cast and Crew on Seven Swords
Back in the 1970s, when TVB was making a TV adaptation Liang Yusheng’s Jade Bow, Tsui Hark sought hard to direct the TV series, only to be rejected by TVB’s powers that be on the grounds that he had never done wuxia before. It had a major impact on Tsui Hark, who has since then set out to produce exemplary wuxia productions.
Tsui Hark says he intends to make Seven Swords China’s answer to Lord of the Rings trilogy. He says because of the sheer scope of the novel, a total of six movies will be made, “In Liang Yusheng’s original novel, many people die at the very beginning, such as Yang Yun Cong. The development of the story, of The Seven Swords are thus incomplete. So, I thought, firstly, I had to define the skeleton of the characters very clearly, in order to allow ample room for the story.
“We discussed which are The Seven Swords, and then went on to provide the detailed backgrounds on the swordmasters of each of the swords, making changes to many important characters, especially Chu Zhao Nan which was given a new lease of life, as well as Mu Lang (Ling Mo Feng) which was given a complete facelift (when in their younger days).
“Mu Lang was not given a clear background in the novel, about his apprenticeship days in Mt Tian, so I incorporated all these into the adaptation. Subsequently, I found the the content was too big and could not be fit within one single movie, so I intend to do a hexalogy, with each having a specific theme.
“The first is mainly about Wind-Fire wanting to destroy Wu Manor and The Seven Swords coming to its rescue. Basically, the movie hexalogy can be classified into two segments, the first is about how The Seven Swords are formed, while the second on how The Seven Swords continue to propagate.”
Earlier, there had been some arguments from the readers on hearing Tsui Hark was hiring Charlie Yeung who has never done any martial arts movies before, as well as for casting the sunshine Lu Yi as a farm hand.
He explains, “Though Charlie Yeung had left showbiz, I had always wanted to collaborate with her again, and now I have the chance. I am letting her act as a character which was originally a guy in the original, she is an actress who can accept challenges. Lu Yi is an idol actor, it would be great if we could change him from his usual image. As for Sun Hong Lei, I believe he has the capacity to interpret a very complex character.”
Tsui Hark also says that he has always wanted shoot Journey to the West, but up till now, he hasn’t found a good way to dissect it, and hasn’t fully grasp the character Monkey God Sun Wu Kong. And it’s rather hard to find a suitable actor to play Sun Wu Kong. He’d wait until he has inspirations. He says that he has contacted Cheung Chi Leung, who’s directing the TV version Seven Swords of Mt Tian, to make a cartoon feature with a theme revolving around healthy juveniles, and will be approaching it from a very special angle.
Leon Lai caught a fever and flu and his face turned red and swollen due to sensitive skin, after shooting a horse-riding scene which lasted for four hours, galloping the horse against the freezing winds. He was given sick leave and, Lau Kar Leung says he’s recovering and would return by end of the month.
Kim So Yeon plays an ill-fated slavegirl Green Pearl who is violated by Sun Hong Lei and is later rescued by Donnie Yen and they fall for each other, culminating in a passionate scene, in which both are in the buff. Though Kim So Yeon has worked with Tsui Hark for only a short time, she is very impressed with him, “I’ve heard that he is very exigent and stern, but on the set, I discover that he gives plenty of chance for the actors and actresses to develop their potential, he’s of a very big help to me.”
Donnie Yen describes his character as a modern version of a sexy man, who attracts girls like magnet. He’s one who doesn’t mask his feelings – be they love or hate -, one who is self-assured, proud and arrogant, mysterious, complex, passionate.
He says the fights are very complicated, and that his swordplay would break away from the past mould, would be a breakthrough, is very fast, yet gives a special feeling. But his biggest challenge is the passionate scene – he wouldn’t have done it for any other directors. He says it’s aesthetically shot and is required being in tune with the whole film’s romance and wuxia setting, and is nothing crude.
He’s very excited when he first read the script, having seen nothing like The Seven Swords, “Tsui Hark has returned!” The Seven Swords is the best wuxia script he has ever encountered in many years, and he is greatly moved by Tsui Hark’s love for wuxia.
He did not read the novel to prepare himself for the film, for Tsui Hark has told him that his character is very different from the original. He says Tsui Hark has created and defined a certain trend in wuxia and is an authority in the field, and almost all wuxia movies he made were all classics of their times, and he especially respects Tsui Hark. He says that compared to Hero, The Seven Swords has a far more complicated plot (There is more to the plot than merely The Seven Swords saving Wu Manor/Bowei Fortress from being destroyed by Wind-Fire), and Zhang Yimou lacks expertise in wuxia.
Charlie Yeung Choi Nei plays a small fry setting out to do something big, a very scintillating character, one who lives in rural areas, is kindhearted, very naive and simple, and rather thoughtless, and is eventually groomed by her mentor. She says her sword is the coolest – one that can extend and retract, can be used at both ways. Once, the area below her lips was lacerated when she did not move fast enough, and she was bleeding.
To Charlie Yeung, who suffers injuries nearly everyday, it was nothing to her, though it alarmed everyone on the set. But she finds doing wuxia movie very difficult, not only does she has to complete each and every move but also take care of her facial expressions. Yet, whenever she manages to pull off some very difficult stunts that she couldn’t imagine herself doing, she is overwhelmed with a sense of achievement and would jump up unknowingly and rejoice.
Zhang Jing Chu plays Liu You Fang, a female teacher at the village of Bowei Fortress, for whom Wu Manor’s stable boy Han Zhi Bang (Lu Yi) carries a torch. Zhang Jing Chu describes Tsui Hark as a director who is an especially versatile actor, “He would demonstrate how he wants a scene to be done personally, even to the extras. For example, when he told an extra how he should kick the bucket, Tsui Hark, not minding his clothes would be dirtied, would tumble on the ground, complete with seizures.
“In the movie, I am one who admires Donnie Yen greatly, he would tell me that woman is most endearing when she goes soft and wobbly, and he would throw himself gently into Donnie Yen’s arms. What drives me nuts is what a well-rounder actor he is, after showing me sensuality, he immediately went on to show another how to act with aggression and meanness, his facial expression changed faster than any actor. He does things at an incredible pace, after shouting cut, he has already left his seat and moved on to the next set…”
Sun Hong Lei plays Wind-Fire, the head of a band of mercenaries, who goes after the highly skilled pugilists belonging to the orthodox sects. Killing Leon Lai would earn him 10 thousand taels of silver, while Lu Yi fetches a reward of 300.
“However, Wind-Fire was compelled by circumstances to set himself against The Seven Swords. It’s a reprisal for his persecution by the various sects in the previous dynasty, and he eventually becomes a tool of the Manchu Court. He is very lonely, very withdrawn, and suffers from inferiority complex. He is ponderous in love, not daring to express himself.” Sun Hong Lei says he has waited tens of years for the role of such an unpardonable villain.
In his mind, “Tsui Hark is like a kid, who is very curious about many things, and gutsy enough to explore. These, together with his pursuits, are what that attracted me deeply. So, when he approached me to play Wind-Fire, I decided to take up this role after listening to his one-hour discourse. I have rarely accepted any roles so readily.”
Liu Chia Liang initially refused to work with Tsui Hark because “he was too fanciful in action, but I am on the authentic side, thus, we do not click.” But eventually, touched by Tsui Hark’s sincerity, and being intrigued by the script, of the premise “Sword and (Wo)Man as One”, of how the person’s personality is shown through their swordplay, of the challenges ahead, and coupled with persuasion from Ti Lung, he relented and agreed, “I have been making films more than fifty years, and should have retired already. However, Tsui Hark insisted that he must collaborate with me once. And, honestly speaking, I myself also wish to try out this type of fighting.”
But it’s very big headache to choreograph all the moves for the seven swordmasters, for they all use different styles. “Fortunately, suppose I, Donnie Yen and Xiong Xin Xin come up with two forms each, and with one more form from Tsui Hark, that would make seven.” He says Tsui Hark’s films are very beautiful, romantic while his are ‘hard’.
He says this movie is definitely well worth anticipating. Liu Chia Liang, who is already 68 years old, says that he’ll be retiring after The Seven Swords wraps up. He says he’s never seen Zhang Yimou’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers and won’t bother watching them either, “They’re all the same.” He has only watched some Tsui Hark’s movies like Once Upon A time In China which he remarks as being not bad.
Liu Chia Liang has grown to appreciate Tsui Hark after working with him, saying that Tsui Hark handles the drama scenes in The Seven Swords with intricate meticulousness, and they are filmed very, very beautifully. While Tsui Hark has forsaken special effects, his romantic and far-fetched ideas still abound in The Seven Swords.
Liu Chia Liang says that among all the swords, he takes the most pride in Charlie Yeung’s Heavenly Cascade Sword. The hilt is sandwiched between two blades, and can slide about to different positions according to needs, but because the centre of gravity of the sword is not stable, it takes great perseverance to wield the sword, and the wielder must not obstinately stick to one point. Beijing Star Daily, Tianjin Daily, City Express, Beijing Morning Post, Information Times, Chengdu Daily