The 30m yuan Champions is said to be an actual true blue kungfu film, with backdrop set against 1936 Berlin Olympics where Chinese wushu was showcased out of competition. The poster states that the film features 15 wushu champions, with 15 martial arts styles being exhibited.
Costarring alongside Dicky Cheung is Xie Miao, who having grown up, has been doing kungfu productions like Legend of Shaolin Kungfu. Two other noted martial arts stars are Xu Xiang Dong and Yu Rong Guang, who had previously starred in Tsui Siu Ming’s Holy Robe of Shaolin Temple as a Shaolin disciple and a Manchu official sent to take control of Shaolin respectively.
According to Tsui Sui Ming, it’s due to impulse that he’s directing Champions. He started working on the script back in 1985, and had intended to shoot it in 1987, but due to workload and schedule, didn’t manage to get it done then. And it was put aside for years until 2008. As the film stresses on the themes of wushu, sports(wo)manship and Olympics, he thought with China hosting Olympics this year, it would be the best time to make this film, or he’d regret it forever.
Tsui Siu Ming was inspired by an article on Berlin Olympics in the 1930s in 1985. At that time, many people had hoped to take part in international competitions and do China proud, but owing to pecuniary problems pertaining to purchasing pricey plane tickets, led to countless heartbreaking stories, especially the wushu team.
Tsui Siu Ming says that Champions is creative by bucking the trend and going back to the long forgotten true Chinese wushu, rather than over-reliance on special effects – true Chinese wushu that is very particular about attack and defense, handwork, joint-locking, showing the distinct characteristics of different schools of martial arts. At the same time, he’s taking advantage of today’s filming technology, which allows the minutest details to be captured, to be intricately shown.
Despite advocating real wushu in Champions, Tsui Siu Ming made a bizarre casting choice for the lead – Dicky Cheung, who’s not a martial artist. But fear not, the film still has 15 wushu champions, looks highly polished in the martial arts scenes in the theatrical trailer, and Dicky Cheung trained for apparently half a year before shooting began.
On the other hand, that didn’t spare Dicky Cheung of the pains and hardships during the shoot. There’s a wooden dummy training scene. But it has square rather than round arms, which hurt Dicky Cheung’s arms quite a bit, as it was made of real wood.
And Xu Xiang Dong, who gets to showcase not only his forte Eagle Claw but other styles like Praying Mantis Boxing, did not give Dicky Cheung an easy time in their fight. After fighting Xu Xiang Dong for half a day, Dicky Cheung paused and asked, “Master Xu, how old are you?”
When Xu Xiang Dong revealed his age, Dicky Cheung wondered, “How could your muscles still be so hard at your age? My arms are very painful.” It turned out that Xu Xiang Dong had been wearing metal guards and, not being mindful that Dicky Cheung was wearing short sleeves shirt, he had forgotten to remove them.
In one scene, Dicky Cheung, together with his friends Xie Miao, Debbie Goh, Priscilla Wong, organises a fund raising activity for the travelling expenses of Chinese athletes going to Berlin Olympics. Dicky Cheung and Xie Miao do martial arts demonstration as well as acrobatics like jumping through flaming hoops.
Dicky Cheung, who sports a shaven head, was not conscious of the “three thousand threads of trouble” on his head. After jumping through, he felt heat on his head, his wig had caught fire. But no one noticed, and it was only after a while before director Tsui Siu Min shouted, “Cut!”. He rushed to a wall, brushing his head vigorously against it. Everyone on the set was alarmed, Xie Miao dashed to him and discovered his hair was aflame. After the incident, Dicky Cheung kept reiterating the advantage of being bald.
Champions opens in China on October 31. Sina, Sohu, QQ