Just mention the name ‘Jet Li’ to any movie buff or martial arts fans and he will probably rattle off movies (while doing some air kung fu) like ‘Fearless’, ‘Hero’, ‘Once Upon a Time in China III’ and ‘Last Hero in China’ where the martial arts action hero plays a wu xia master that saves the day.
But not in Tsui Hark’s 2011 feature ‘Flying Swords of Dragon Gate’. Here, Li plays Zhao Huai An, a rebel swordsman who is trying to eliminate the corrupt officials that run the Eastern and Western Bureaus of the Ming government – a departure from his typical wu xia master role in his previous outings. He also shares considerable screen time with co-stars Mavis Fan (‘About Love’) and Zhou Xun (‘The Great Magician’, ‘Painted Skin’).
“My character (Zhao) is quite self-centered and doesn’t care about normal moral standards – he serves his own interests,” Li explains.
He adds, “Also, a wu xia master has a sense of social responsibility and follows strict moral standards and that is definitely not as fun to play.”
‘Flying Swords of Dragon Gate’, Hong Kong auteur Tsui Hark's successor to his 1992 wu xia classic ‘New Dragon Gate Inn’, goes back to the roots of the genre to become one of the very best (and the most extravagant) martial arts flicks when it was released late last year (Read ‘Flying Swords of Dragon Gate' movie review). It is also the first wu xia movie to be entirely shot in 3D.
The epic martial arts pic also is the fourth-highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time, behind ‘Avatar’, ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ and ‘Titanic 3D’.
Since its December release in China, ‘Flying Swords’ has grossed around US$86.5 million at the box office, with about US$10.6 million coming from 61 digital Imax screens across China.
inSing.com caught up with Jet Li who tells us more about filming in 3D and working with Tsui Hark again.
Why did you decide to take on this role?
I was originally cast for the 1992 ‘New Dragon Gate Inn’ film, but had to back out due to other projects. This time I did not hesitate to accept Tsui's offer. He was the one that brought me to Hong Kong, providing me with a new platform and a new phase in my life and career. After so many years shooting other movies, it felt like I have never left the world of wu xia shooting ‘Flying Swords’.
This is your first 3D wuxia movie, how do you feel about that?
Despite acting for over 30 years, I have never tried to work on a 3D movie. This is my first 3D film experience and it is the first wu xia film to be completely shot in 3D. I am eager to see what 3D technology will bring to wu xia films and fans.
What are the differences between 2D and 3D wuxia movies?
There are three major criteria pertaining to wu xia choreography: the exquisiteness and difficulty of the moves, the set up as a whole, and how film is used to show the characteristics and principles behind wu xia.
3D brings a whole new visual experience, and ultimately results in actions originally designed for 2D filming losing impact, so we can’t simply import these three points based on traditional filming. Instead, we came up with actions that best showcase the unique capabilities of 3D.
What are challenges of starring at 3D Wuxia movie?
I am a newcomer to 3D movies so it was exciting to film in 3D for the first time. I remember a scene where both Chen Kun and I were sword fighting – Tsui Hark told me that my left hand would also hold a long chain weapon, while Chen’s sword would change into two arrows. When we shot, there were no real weapons; we had to imagine them there.
Since our production team was shooting in 3D for the first time as well, the process was quite slow. Each day we only completed six scenes. When things became smoother, we filmed 20-30 scenes per day.
'Flying Swords of Dragon Gate' trailer
In this movie, you play a swordsman. Would you have been more interested in the role of wu xia master?
My character is quite self-centered and doesn’t care about normal moral standards – he serves his own interests. However, a wu xia master has a sense of social responsibility and follows strict moral standards and that is definitely not as fun to play.
What was it like working with Tsui Hark?
While I have worked with him for over 20 years, I don’t know him that well. Everyone knows that he is a strange man; his nickname is “Weird Tsui”. He doesn’t talk much, but he does everything for the sake of his movies. He’s always ahead of the wave, and is a leader in the evolution of the wu xia film.
What did you think about the other actors? Did you hang out with them during the production period?
Due to the age difference, I rarely joined their activities. They had many birthday parties and dance parties. Even if I was the same age as them, I still wouldn’t have gone to all their parties.
My nature is to relax and spend time on my own. On set, the rest of the cast would sometimes spontaneously break into dance. I felt happy too, but stood on the sidelines to watch them dance.
'Flying Swords of Dragon Gate' will be having its exclusive premiere on 15 July on Celestial Movies (Starhub ch 868 and mio TV ch 52) at 9pm.