Director makes martial arts debut
A well-known name in Western film circles, Chinese director Chen Kaige has now shot a martial arts movie for the first time in his 30-year filmmaking career.
Chen shot to fame with the 1985 drama Yellow Earth. As one of the country’s most influential directors, Chen earned an international reputation in the early 1990s, when his movie Farewell My Concubine won the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993. It won a Golden Globe for best foreign film a year later.
The veteran director has now turned his attention to wuxia, a genre of martial arts films. Wuxia films were some of the earliest Chinese films to attract the attention of Western moviegoers but in recent years the genre has been in decline.
Only five of the 618 films released last year were martial arts tales, according to the 2014 China Film Industry Report.
Chen’s upcoming wuxia comedy drama, Monk Comes Down the Mountain, will hit mainland theaters on July 3, with more than 200 cinemas releasing the title in the IMAX 3-D version.
Set in the turbulent period in the Republic of China (1912-49), the story, based on the namesake best-selling wuxia novel, features an adventure journey of a young Taoist monk, who is forced to leave his secluded temple to avoid a famine.
Chen believes a movie should be an “interesting” product and not only focus on money. Chen says his latest film, which took 213 days to shoot with more than 1,000 crew members, is the most “arduous” work he has ever made.
“Every day (on sets) was like a practice for me. It has been tough, but very exciting,” the 63-year-old director says.
Rumors reported by Chinese media suggested that the multiple-award winning filmmaker was admitted to hospital last year after working too hard.
In the trailers of the film, the major rules of Taoist discipline, such as vegetarianism and abstinence, appear to be broken by the protagonist, played by Chinese actor Wang Baoqiang.
Wang is familiar to Chinese viewers for his trademark “silly” smile in a series of comedy blockbusters, but he is in fact a real kung fu practitioner. Wang started learning martial arts skills at 6 years old and became a disciple at Shaolin Temple at age 8. He shot to fame in the entertainment industry for playing the role of an immigrant worker in Feng Xiaogang’s A World Without Thieves in 2004.
Chen was criticized for coarse special effects in his 2005 fantasy epic The Promise. That film is now regarded as a turning point for Chen to transform from an art-house director to a commercial comedy filmmaker.
Chen Hong, producer and the director’s wife, says they have hired Animal Logic, an Australian animation and visual effects studio ( The Great Gatsby, The Matrix), to design the picturesque scenarios.
The big-budget film also delights fans with an all-star cast, including Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok, Taiwan veteran actor Chang Cheng, Taiwan supermodelturned actress Lin Chi-ling and the Asian Film Awards’ best actor winner Wang Xueqi.
The story already has a solid fan base. The book behind the movie was first published in 2007 and has a score of 7.5 out of 10 from more than 2,300 readers on Douban.com, one of China’s largest online review platforms.
Most reviews sing praises of the first half for the “innovative narrative” but criticize the second half as “a failure” for the unravelling storyline.