Labour of love
Datuk Michelle Yeoh gushes about her South Korean co-star Jung Woo-sung.
AFTER her impressive turn as Yu Shu Lien in 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it would take another 10 years for Datuk Michelle Yeoh to wield a sword on the silver screen again.
Far from the noble swords woman she played in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning wuxia (martial arts) picture, this time the former ballerina plays an assassin who trades her bloodstained past for a peaceful, quiet life.
Her character Xi Yu finds love in messenger boy, Ah Sheng, played by Jung Woo-sung, the hunky South Korean actor seen in Andrew Lau’s Daisy and semi-historical epic The Warrior.
“My character is starting a new life. She is beginning to see the world in a completely different way.
“She used to be a cold-blooded murderer, but then she falls in love for the first time. To portray that was challenging for me ( laughs)! But it was a lot of fun,” said Yeoh at last week’s press conference at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, crediting her co-star with helping her in her performance.
“He is the most gorgeous, tallest and best actor I’ve ever worked with for a long time. Here I was staring at a 1.8m superstar. How difficult was that?” she said with a laugh.
Their onscreen romance sees Xi Yu proposing to Ah Sheng after she senses his crush on her. However, do not expect her to do the same in real life.
“I prefer the guy to come over and approach me. I would never propose!” she said.
Yeoh is famously dating Jean Todt, the former chief executive officer of Ferrari, and currently, the president of Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Talks of the pair heading down the aisle have never ceased since Yeoh confirmed their engagement on CBS The Late Late Show two years ago.
Speaking of her latest role, the Malaysian actress said she had John Woo, the producer of the film, to thank.
“Woo was the person who took me to Hollywood in the first place. He’s been taking great care of me. I still remember when we were in the US, he would always cook for me.
“He helped me screen through directors, writers and roles. Thanks to him, I got such an incredible role and had a wonderful time working with such a young, dashing and talented director,” she said, referring to Su Chao-pin.
In return, she delivered what Woo described as her best performance and did 95% of her stunts on the set.
Despite not showcasing her action chops for years, Yeoh remains an action legend on the set.
“Every time I stepped onto the set, (action choreographer) Stephen Tung would tell the twentysomething stuntmen: ‘You all know Michelle? She can do this and that.’ Then everybody would be waiting to see whether I could do it ( laughs),” she recalled.
Despite being 48, the actress, who looked fabulous in her little black dress, showed no sign of slowing down as an action star.
“It’s very magical to do the things that I normally don’t have the ability to do. When I see everything being put together, I go ‘Wow!’ and can’t help but be impressed.
“I just enjoy the moment. Right now I am having a great time. When the time comes (for me to quit), it comes,” she said.
Meanwhile, Su, nicknamed Da Mu (Big Eyes) among the cast and crew, was considerably quieter compared to his bubbly companions.
It marks the first big-scale venture for the Taiwanese filmmaker.
“We have cast members from different countries: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. In fact, Michelle is from Malaysia. So the challenge was to make them seem like they are living in the same world.
“These are very professional actors. All I needed to do was to tell them what I wanted and every one of them delivered. So it’s not really that big a challenge,” said Su.
Asked why he waited six years to come up with another feature film after his directorial debut Silk, the bespectacled director said: “I can only do films that I’m passionate about. I got some offers after that, but I only go for projects that excite me, such as this one.
“It is every young filmmaker’s dream to work with these two legends of the action film genre. Working with Michelle makes me learn new things about professionalism and discipline. That’s her success factor in this cutthroat business,” he said.
The idea of Reign Of Assassins struck Su when he read about the legend of Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk whose remains mysteriously disappeared from the tomb three years after his death.
“It got me thinking: What if we can recover the remains? Maybe if we did, we can find out the secrets behind it,” he said.
From there, he weaved an intriguing tale which sees characters from different backgrounds vying for the remains of Bodhi, in an attempt to learn the secret of kung fu.
Despite it being laden with wuxia staple elements, Reign Of Assassins is not your typical martial arts film, said Su.
“The wuxia genre has survived the test of time. I think the values depicted in the films should evolve with time, too.
“The conventional wuxia films usually end with the protagonist killing the enemy and seeking revenge for his loved ones.
“Wouldn’t that trigger off a series of attempts at revenge? It’d just go on and on and become a vicious cycle.
“I think that’s about to change. I want to talk about forgiveness in this film,” he concluded. –
Yeoh, with South Korean heartthrob Jung Woo-sung, in a scene from ReignOfAssassins.