Labour of love

Datuk Michelle Yeoh gushes about her South Korean co-star Jung Woo-sung.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By Chew Wan Ying

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.

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