Derek Yee’s film based on a 1970s Chi­nese novel, will hit main­land the­aters on Fri­day— 17 years after the direc­tor planned it. Xu Fan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Mar­tial arts movies, a piv­otal genre that brought Hong Kong cin­ema to global at­ten­tion, has kept vet­eran film­maker Derek Yee busy for decades.

Over the past 17 years, he has been work­ing on Sword Mas­ter, a film based on a novel by the late au­thor Gu Long. The film is fi­nally ready and will be re­leased in the main­land on Fri­day.

Yee, 59, has been con­nected to the book’s story for long — and not just through one film.

In 1977, when he was still a new­comer in the in­dus­try, he won quick fame by play­ing the lead role in Death Duel, a film adapted from the same novel, and made by Hong Kong’s then most in­flu­en­tial stu­dio, ShawBrothers.

After that, for a decade, Yee starred in 16 mar­tial arts movies but felt ex­hausted repris­ing “hand­some, pow­er­ful but un­real” char­ac­ters.

Even­tu­ally he quit act­ing and even an­nounced that he would never act in a mar­tial arts movie again. But that didn’t stop Yee from mak­ing a mar­tial arts movie.

Over the years, the direc­tor has im­pressed au­di­ences with his be­hind-the-cam­era skills.

And, for this movie, Yee didn’t buy a cliche of old Chi­nese films that de­picts swords­men as he­roes whose lives are far too in­ter­est­ing to be real. The direc­tor de­cided to show his he­roes as of­ten con­fused and des­per­ate, closer to Gu’s book pub­lished in the 1970s.

In the novel, the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, San Shaoye, seeks a spir­i­tual an­swer. Born in a fam­ily boast­ing gen­er­a­tions of­mar­tial arts masters, he has to guard the fam­ily im­age via end­less, lethal du­els. Lost in such a life, he aban­dons his fame and wealth and leads the life of a slum-dweller. But his for­mer ri­vals track him down.

“I met Gu in 1977. He told me about his novel … Now thanks to Hark Tsui (direc­tor), I can bring to life that world through 3-D ef­fects,” Yee said at a re­cent Bei­jing event.

Tsui, who is a Hong Kong­based pi­o­neer­ing film­maker, uses cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to shoot big-scale ac­tion se­quences. He is an executive pro­ducer of SwordMaster.

“Yee has dreamed of adapt­ing the book to the big screen for many years … He has wo­ven his own life and emo­tions into the movie,” says Tsui.

But Gu’s de­pic­tion of stunts in the book is too con­cep­tual to be vi­su­al­ized, mak­ing it a chal­lenge for film­mak­ers, he says.

In re­cently seen footage of SwordMaster, the shoot­ing, Yee and Tsui are seen wav­ing swords to guide cast mem­bers on the per­for­mance.

But the film seemed to have more prob­lems than those just re­lated to ac­tion chore­og­ra­phy. Orig­i­nally it was meant to be shot in 1999. Yee had once hoped that Hong Kong­based singer-ac­tor Les­lie Che­ung and Ja­panese ac­tor Take­nouchi Yu­taka would play the lead roles, but that never hap­pened due to money is­sues.

Yee and Tsui then re­cruited new main­land stars Lin Gengxin, Jiang Yiyan and Jiang Mengjie, and Tai­wan­based ac­tor Peter Ho for lead roles for the movie.

De­spite the con­fi­dence Yee and Tsui seemed to have in the young actors, fans who got to know of the lineup, ques­tioned how a lesser­known cast would do jus­tice to one of Gu’s best-known works.

Yee coun­tered his crit­ics in an ear­lier interview with the lo­cal me­dia, say­ing that he and Tsui were the high­lights of the movie, and that the film would not dis­ap­point view­ers.

Lin, the ac­tor, says Yee’s direc­tion makes the mar­tial arts story res­onate with modern au­di­ences.

While some peo­ple are work­ing hard to pur­sue fame and money, some would rather quit the race, he says. “It’s an ev­er­green theme.”

From fel­low ac­tor Ho’s point of view, SwordMaster is a po­etic prod­uct and a trib­ute to the golden era of mar­tial arts films from Hong Kong.

The film has been mostly shot in Heng­dian, a town in East China’s Zhe­jiang province, where many stu­dios are lo­cated.

Mem­bers of the crew built around 15 sets, in­clud­ing a 10,000-square-me­ter replica of a slum, to re-cre­ate the an­cient world in Gu’s novel.


Film­mak­ers Hark Tsui (left) and Derek Yee work on Long’s mar­tial arts novel. a film based on late au­thor Gu

SwordMaster fea­tures some of the coun­try’s new stars like Lin Gengxin (above).

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