Seven Swords: Tsui Hark Strikes Back After Lying Low for Three Years
Sanxia Online, 7 March 2005
“When creating a wuxia world, it’s of paramount importance to bring out the personality of each of the characters. Like other weapons, sword is a device that shows human philosophies. The Seven Swords actually represent seven states of being: wisdom, unity, sacrifice, animal instinct, assault, protection and camaraderie.” says Tsui Hark. In order to achieve these goals, Tsui Hark studied reference materials on ancient weapons before coming up with a blueprint for The Seven Swords. Then, he consulted Liu Chia Liang on aspects of practicality prior to finalisation.
On March 4, Tsui Hark held a mini-press conference for The Seven Swords, during which he showed the most important tools for the movie – a negative print of The Seven Swords per se. Throughout the interview, Tsui Hark remained philosophical, though his voice was somewhat pensive, yet there is no denying that through his talk, one could feel a feverish passion for wuxia in his heart of hearts.
Could you give an introduction to the distinctive features of The Seven Swords?
Among The Seven Swords, Gallivanting Dragon is the strongest. However, this is also its fatal weakness, for the person who uses this sword tends to get carried away. Green Dehydration, though coarse in nature and less glamorous, is the only sword that could counter it. Never Enquiring is the spiritual leader, it’s the longest, and shows the attitude of Fu Qing Zhu: Never probe the past but seek to live without regrets. Star-Rivalry are short, twin swords, with a ball-bearing at the end of the hilt, both the blade and the ball-bearing may be used for offense. There are no set techniques or forms when wielding Heavenly Cascade, rather one fights according to one’s will. God Relinquishing is serrated, heavy and powerful. Sun and Moon, being mother-child swords, show how the mother and child are connected by their hearts, and also bear the most complex permutations.
Which swords were most difficult to shoot?
Star-Rivalry and Heavenly Cascade. Since Star-Rivalry can attack with both ball-bearing and the blade, the actor often ended up hitting himself. We had to think of safety measures and also the effect. It wasn’t easy to master. While Heavenly Cascade discards all techniques, we cannot simply let its moves go haywire, the choreography was an uphill task. In addition, fight scenes involving Green Dehydration and Gallivanting Dragon were not particularly easy for both are vastly destructive and thus call for scenes of epic proportion.
What are the differences between the movie and TV versions?
Firstly, the movie is called The Seven Swords while the TV series is named exactly as the novel Seven Swords of Mt Tian. We came up with the TV script first. While the storyline in the movie is derived from the TV series, it has its independent characteristics. The design, the pace, the style, the character depictions are all different. The TV series affords bigger room for character development. For instance Chu Zhao Nan, we can show his gradual change in personality, but in the movie, we have to be sharper and more extreme in portrayal of the tragic nature of this character and his mood swing. We made Sun Hong Lei’s Wind-Fire as the ultimate villain in the [first] movie but this character is merely of less weight in the TV series. The owner of Heavenly Cascade, Wu Yuan Ying, is a male character in the TV series [as per the novel], while we changed it into a female character in the movie, for I thought it was rather monotonous when all Seven are swordsmen in the [first] film.
You have done many wuxia films before, are there anything new in The Seven Swords?
Different methods are employed for different works. This time, I am using more realistic approach to The Seven Swords. The culture of Chinese wuxia is diverse and deep, what we show here is but a tiny fragment of ice in an icy mountain. Nowadays, many films are emulating the style of Once Upon A Time in China. So, we should change our mentality. However, those aspects that must be retained will be retained.
What must be retained?
The lifestyle of contemporary people are very much unified, wuxia is a creation of romance, we should exemplify this, to make our lives more romantic.
Earlier, you talked of turning Seven Swords into a cultural product on commercial scale. How do you go about realising it?
We are thinking of expanding our sets in Xinjiang, to turn it into Seven Swords Villa. We have also signed a deal with a Korean game publisher to make an online game, which should be released by end of the year.
How much profits do you think these products will bring?
I am not a businessman. I am only responsible for filming. But I believe this is the right path, it’s reasonable to expect wushu to be packaged commercially.
In your eyes, what makes a movie great?
Action movie should get the adrenaline flowing, romance should moves one’s heart. To produce a great movie, three criteria must be met, perceptiveness, goals, and capability. If you do not understand your work, how are you going to define your goals, and without goals, you won’t have the ability to do it, and even if you did finish it, it would still be wanting in many areas.
Beijing Evening News, 6 March 2005
At the press conference, Tsui Hark remarked, “I have always hoped to introduce changes to my wuxia world, there can be many different ways of doing wuxia moves. For example, Swordsman is more mysterious, and there are sword-energy, palm-force, chi kung… The Seven Swords tends towards reality, it brings about something exhilarating through elements of reality.” So far, Tsui Hark’s proudest achievement is Blade, for its style is uniquely distinctive and very difficult to learn, and thus rarely imitated. And he believes that this style can still be carried forward. So, is Seven Swords succeeding this trend? Tsui Hark merely smiled, but did not answer.
In pursuit of authenticity, all seven swords are made of genuine metals, and are ten times the weight of ordinary props. For example, Gallivanting Dragon is made of bronze and is very heavy. All these led to lots of challenging situations. In an instance pertaining to a duel between Green Dehydration and Gallivanting Dragon, even the sets were damaged. As the swords are very heavy, it is of great strain to use them, even martial arts star Donnie Yen had to exert great strength to carry Gallivanting Dragon Sword. God Relinquishing Sword is even heavier, and gave Lu Yi an even more difficult time.
Tsui Hark said that Lu Yi is very professional and hardworking and he likes him a great deal. Sun Hong Lei is an extremist perfectionist, his performance often stirred up emotions in Tsui Hark. When Sun Hong Lei, who could reportedly come up with ten different interpretations for any scenes, was acting, Tsui Hark would observe like an audience, always eager to see how he carried himself.
The Composer, and Being Rational
StyleLife, Issue 1041, 10 March 2005
Back in 2004, when Tsui Hark sat on the panel at Cannes Fim Festival 2005, he encountered Kenji Kawai’s music for the first time: “As I recall, when all the nine panelists were ten minutes into Ghost in Shell 2: Innocence, we all felt that the anime feature was especially compelling – it turned out that it was Kenji Kawai’s score that greatly enhanced the anime. We all felt that the soundtrack was very unique. At that time, I wondered if we could get him to do wuxia movies, would it bring about something different, something that stood out. I felt that there could be some new elements in wuxia movie.” And hence, Kenji Kawai was hired to compose the soundtrack for The Seven Swords.
…. After a long pause: “… I am in a dilemma, I feel that an artist shouldn’t be governed by logic, all works of art require that certain moment of impulse. Without that impulse, they wouldn’t be able to write books, paint, sing or dance, they would not be doing all these. I have many friends who are driven by instincts, yet I advise then to be more collected. Yet, do I myself even know when I should keep my cool? I have to try to stay level-headed, rational. Yet, instinctively, there is some conflict, I need to readjust myself.”