Wushu Cinema: Jackie Chan and Jet Li together at last!

Up & Close with Liu Yifei and Collin Chou,
stars of the "FORBIDDEN KINGDOM"

Text and photo: Emilio Alpanseque
Courtesy of: Lionsgate

Mastering Wushu: Liu Yifei, you graduated at the Beijing Movie Institute, right?

Liu Yifei:

MW: Did you ever learn some Wushu there?

No, never. Apart from acting I learned Dance.

MW: But it could be said that Dance has some of the same Wushu basics?

No, not really (Laughs), Dance doesn't have Wushu basics.

MW: Well, they share some of the fundamental skills perhaps?

Oh, yes, they are similar in stretching, leg swinging, kicking, body turning, but is not really Wushu.

MW: Of course, I am glad you clarify that for our readers. The reason I ask this is because your action scenes in the Forbidden Kingdom were very impressive.

Thank you. I did learn some Wushu actions when making some Chinese Wuxia television series in the past like "Return of the Condor Heroes" (2006), for example horse riding, jumping, etc. Also, for the Forbidden Kingdom, Jackie Chan and Jet Li taught me a lot about fighting, how to use certain techniques, little details to let the action be more real on the screen. I think that I learn things very fast and I am very interested in learning them. So I think I did a good job.

MW: How about playing the Chinese Lute or Pipa, were you really playing it yourself?

Yes. I learned to play the Pipa for two months before this movie. I wanted to be able to express the feeling better for the audience to believe me; otherwise it would not look real.

MW: What is your opinion about mixing characters of different Chinese classic novels and movies such as the Monkey King, The Eight Immortals, the White Haired Demoness or even the Golden Sparrow in the same movie?

First I want to clarify that this movie is not a simple combination of those stories you mentioned. It has nothing to do with them. It used some concepts from those stories, for example Monkey King, but that's all. You know that foreigners have good imagination. It is how they picture Chinese Wu Xia. So, this is a foreigner's point of view of those China legends. For example, my role in the movie is really a typical Hollywood's female role. She is strong, cool, has her own characteristics, but is also very romantic. So I think this movie is actually creative, and not just a combination of something old.

MW: Thanks so much Liu Yifei.

Thank you!

MW: Collin, so happy to see that you are still in one piece after those incredible fights scenes of "Flashpoint" (2007)!

Collin Chou:
Oh yes, those were very tough scenes to make, it took us months, you know? It was a big challenge. Actually, when Donnie Yen called me to make this movie, one of the reasons I accepted was to prove myself that I still can do this kind of action, and I still can!

MW: Yes, it was definitely amazing. Now, can you please tell us how you got involved in the martial arts?

I started to practice martial arts since I was very young. I would just be around in parks in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and see others practicing, and then decided to try myself. There was a point in time that I had 5 or 6 different martial arts teachers who taught me various styles including some animal imitation styles like Praying Mantis, White Crane and Tiger / Crane, even the weapon forms were also from these animal styles, I wasn't sure what I was doing, but had a lot of fun. Actually, much later after that, I learned that the styles that I was practicing all belong to the southern faction of Wushu.

MW: I understand you move to Taipei to continue to learn more, but you were only 12 at that time.

Yes, at that age I was still a bread maker mainly, but had many other jobs, and whenever I had time I would be practicing martial arts. I started to learn Taekwondo and also learn that a movie company was hiring actors, so I went and got my first job as an extra on several productions. I was good with reactions and because I was still a kid I could be the stunt double of many female actresses, so that is how I really started my career, as a stuntmen.

MW: Can you explain our readers about the differences of the on-screen martial arts as opposed to regular martial arts?

Well, in terms of real martial artists, I believe there are hundreds of great martial arts champions out there. We may not be as good as they are, but we just know how to perform those movements well in front of the camera. Martial arts are also a kind of art, the movements and tempo need to be done in a very specific way for them to be efficient and aesthetic. I learned from anyone who could teach me, not just with martial artists but also with other stuntmen who came from Beijing Opera school backgrounds, that way I learn basic tumbling, the use of trampolines and the art of falling. And again, is all about performing, you have to pay attention to the camera angles, the rhythm, the expressions and reactions.

MW: And how was your transition to the famous Sammo Hung Stuntmen team?

Sammo Hung was producing a movie in Taiwan, a movie about Taekwondo. I was 18 years old and had my first leading role in this movie, called "Quan Li Fan Tan" (1986), I am sorry, I only know the name in Chinese. (Note: after some research, we found out that the movie is called in English "Promising Young Boy"). So, after that I signed with Sammo a contract, but had to do the mandatory military service first, for two years. Once I was out, and moved to Hong Kong to be a member of the Sammo Hung Stuntmen team.

MW: I remember you were usually credited as Sammo Hung's first student, am I right?

You are correct. I have to say that Sammo was to me more like father than a simple boss. We practiced very hard all the different aspects of filmmaking, both in front and behind the camera. Suddenly, before the premiere of one of his movies, he decided to come with this idea to the press, to introduce me as his first student, maybe to better promote the movie. Sammo taught me a lot during the years I worked for him.

MW: The Sammo Stuntmen Team was famous for the real contact, do you have any special anecdote that you can share with us?

(laughs) this is true, realism was always there. I have performed so many dangerous fights and stunts that I don't remember anymore, have broken many bones and lost a few teeth. Between 1989 and 1999 I made over 35 movies! For example, during the making of "Blade of Fury" (1993) while stunt doubling others, I injured my back so badly that it took me three months to recover!

MW: So, after all these years, do you still get the time to enjoy martial arts outside of the movie world?

Actually I don't, I am not that kind of person, I cannot wake up at 5 in the morning and practice my forms, no, not anymore. I do keep myself in shape though, I know my body can do it, but I rather know beforehand the requirements of a specific character and then make sure I prepare myself for that. For example, for the movie "Fearless" (2006) with Jet Li I wanted to be able to show some of the original style that Huo Yuanjia practiced, therefore I arranged it so that I could arrive a week earlier and received some instruction from an advisor on the set, so I could perform some Huojiaquan in a more convincing way.

MW: Now, for the Forbidden Kingdom, you were not required to perform many fight scenes. Didn't you want to fight more?

Well, it's all related to the character, to play the "Jade Warlord", who is the first guard of the Forbidden Kingdom, I was required a very special approach for acting and also for fighting, the director called it "QI" Magic (laughs). I guess I was more focused in presenting this character in a special way. I think he is a good guy and not really a villian, he is just doing his job the best he can, which is to keep the intruders away from the Forbidden Kingdom. Working along two legends like Jackie and Jet, is better to let them do the fighting I think.

MW: Collin, thank you for joining us, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

The pleasure is mine!