As the martial arts director for Wong Kar Wai’s The Great Master, what do you think of Ip Man trend?
Yuen Wo Ping: It might bring back the kungfu film wave, when there are so many Ip Man related films. Actually, the first was Wong Kar Wai, he talked about it for years, but only started shooting now. They have already finished filming Ip Man 2, yet he hadn’t even started. I have to hand it to him, such patience, taking such a long time to do the preparation. I don’t dawdle, dawdling grinds people to death.
Is it bad for so many to jump on the bandwagon shooting the same theme?
Yuen Wo Ping: There are advantages as well as disadvantages, depending on how they are arranged. The audience might grow apathetic, like in the past, more than 100 Wong Fei Hung films were produced, but it was released at the interval of a few months, with no more than three being released each year. But if they released everything at one go, you’d be in for a big headache.
Each era is bound to have certain paragons, in the past, it was Wong Fei Hung, now it is Ip Man. If you only shoot a similar subject after some time, the audience would feel fresh, when what you shoot has certain standards, it’s fine, but I fear they might not be able to keep up.
Do you think there’d be a kungfu film wave in the near future?
Yuen Wo Ping: Probably. It depends on the subsequent films are. If they are good, the kungfu wave might be created, it has been years since the industry is bustling with so many kungfu films.
I have never stopped working all these years. But I feel that it’s better for there to be variety rather than being limited to one single theme. It’s best to explore many different types of themes.
What kind of action films do you think would be leading the trend?
Yuen Wo Ping: Predominantly realistic kungfu film, not those with flying.
With such technological advancement, do you think supernatural kungfu films will become mainstream?
Yuen Wo Ping: Supernatural, lots of special effects, it can become a trend, but not the next kungfu wave, mainly because of Mainland red tapes, it’s very difficult, it’s already not bad to have one or two, best to adapt famous works, that way, easier to get approval.
Do you think CGIs would affect kungfu films, positively or adversely?
Yuen Wo Ping: Not much influence, you can tell if something is real or special effects, special effects can only prop something up in a minor way, but for more complex moves, the audience can tell what a person can do and cannot do, and the physical limits of human strengths, so, you still have to do the stunts personally and realistically. If you want to see special effects, might as well watch an animated feature.
There appears to be a lack of successors?
Yuen Wo Ping: Sigh, everyone is saying this, I feel the same too. For no one is learning these things these days, but you still have to groom new talent, have to look in Mainland. Nowadays, no one in Hong Kong is willing to learn kungfu, too taxing. How could you find any, there is no one you could pass on the torch to.
But there are many wushu practitioners in Mainland, so I often go to Mainland to look for those with skills and looks, this was how Wu Jing was discovered. Maybe, I would look for two, three more, male or female, and groom them.
Might as well set up a wushu school?
Yuen Wo Ping: I have thought of it, but I don’t have the time to teach, even if you recruit people to help you, you still have to supervise, to go there yourself, where do I find the time? It’s easier to get the hang of it through hands-on experience. So, I often scout for people within the stunt profession too, bringing them to the set to train. But, the most important thing is having the flair, if you’re gifted, it’s very quick for you to pick up something, otherwise, it’s very difficult.
For there’re no hard and fast rules for you to learn, the action in each film is different, it’s not like having a formula, you add, subtract, divide, multiply, and you’ll get this, no, every film is different, it depends on your level of comprehension.
On talents, how’s Zhang Ziyi or Jay Chow?
Yuen Wo Ping: She had a good action sense, was easy to teach, and she was a dancer, so she’s flexible, can do high kicks. Jay Chow was talented too, I would cast him again if I’ve got the chance.
How’s your relations with Donnie Yen?
Yuen Wo Ping: He grew up in US, so he’s more forthright like them, if something is like this, it is like this, he dares speak his mind, and dares do it. It might cause some unnecessary troubles, but once you’re famous, it’s like that.
Has he changed?
Yuen Wo Ping: No matter what, he has reached this stage, so it’s not surprising to see some changes, he might act a bit like a big shot, but he dares not behave like one in front of me. Our relationships aren’t that bad as reported, we still keep in touch, through phones, sometimes, we would have tea together, talk of everyday stuff, and a smidgen on movies. He has become more confident, without confidence, he wouldn’t have reached this stage.
How’s working with Lee Ang?
Yuen Wo Ping: He is very responsible and goal-oriented, and also has good imagination, I like communicating with the director, once everything is thrashed out, you know what is expected, and your direction. The feeling is very important, without grasping the feeling, it’s hard to get down to the choreography. For instance, the bamboo scene, he wanted that romantic quality, both of them bobbing atop the bamboos, leaping hither and yon. Oh, once I got his drift, I could start choreographing. But there are some directors who would just say, I’ll leave this to you, these directors are not good, very irresponsible.
What about Stephen Chow who requested for your help while shooting Kungfu Hustle halfway?
Yuen Wo Ping: He is not bad, made lots of requests. When I finished a scene, he would suggest, “Eighth Master, this scene, I want to change the angle it is shot.” Fine, let’s do as you say. I believe that in a film, the director is the one in command, we have to obey him, you can give him suggestions, if he doesn’t like it, make another suggestion. If he insists on doing things in a certain way, I’d just abide by him.
And how’s Tsui Hark getting on these years?
Yuen Wo Ping: Depends on Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Actually, he is a very excellent director, and is very diligent, and besides, he has infinite out of the world inspirations spilling forth from his mind, and his works are very great. I find him weaker in modern works, he is at his best with period films, they are much more fertile in imaginations. Southern Metropolis Daily