chops for act­ing

There is more to the charm­ing new­com­mer, Den­nis To Yu-hang, than just his comely physique.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By FIONA HO en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

There is more to the charm­ing new­comer, Den­nis To Yu-hang, than just his comely physique.

DEN­NIS To Yu-hang prob­a­bly has his close re­sem­blance to Don­nie Yen to thank for win­ning the tit­u­lar role in The Leg­end Is Born: Ip Man. Af­ter all, it was Yen’s portrayal of the late Wing Chun mas­ter in Ip Man and its se­quel that turned the char­ac­ter into a cin­e­matic canon.

At first glance, Hong Kong star To comes off as a younger, leaner Yen. But there is more to the 29-year-old than his comely physique. For one, he is the reign­ing World Kung Fu Cham­pion.

He is also an ex­pert in nu­mer­ous kung fu styles, in­clud­ing Wing Chun, which he stud­ied for eight years. More­over, he is the “grand-stu­dent” of Ip Chun, 86, Ip Man’s real-life el­dest son. To was also a flame bearer in the 2008 Olympics.

With all his mar­tial arts cre­den­tials, it cer­tainly looks like To is des­tined for the role of Ip Man, but the ris­ing star ad­mits he felt a lot of pres­sure play­ing the mar­tial arts mas­ter.

“I was wor­ried about my act­ing,” a chatty To re­veals. “Ip Man was my ‘great-grand­mas­ter’. I re­ally wanted to do jus­tice to his char­ac­ter and to all Wing Chun dis­ci­ples too.”

His ef­forts paid off. “Peo­ple call me ‘ To sifu’ now,” he says with a laugh. “More peo­ple have asked me to teach them kung fu since the film’s re­lease (in June) but I don’t have the time. My work­ing hours are crazy. Film­ing ei­ther starts at 5am or I work till 5am. But I’m start­ing to get used to it.”

In fact, the fresh-faced ac­tor is so busy that his re­cent visit here to con­duct a mar­tial arts sem­i­nar “feels like a hol­i­day”.

To was joined by Ip Man pro­ducer Check­ley Sin, who launched his novel The Leg­end Is Born – Ip Man at the Malaysia In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion & Con­ven­tion Cen­tre (MIECC) in The Mines, Se­lan­gor. Sin’s novel chron­i­cles Ip Man’s life from child­hood to his be­com­ing a well-known Wing Chun mas­ter.

Be­sides Ip Man, To is work­ing on The 1911 Revo­lu­tion, play­ing a sol­dier in the war movie along­side Jackie Chan and Chi­nese ac­tress Li Bing­bing.

“I’m also film­ing Har­bour 2012 with Tai­wanese di­rec­tor Chow Sau Fan,” he says in Can­tonese, adding that he plays an in­trigu­ing char­ac­ter in the ac­tion film.

“Un­like Ip Man, my char­ac­ter in Har­bour 2010 isn’t a hero. He is nei­ther a good nor a bad guy,” says To who is also the film’s mar­tial arts di­rec­tor.

“I felt quite daunted when asked to di­rect the ac­tion scenes. I thought of turn­ing it down but even­tu­ally ac­cepted the chal­lenge.”

While he is ex­cited about go­ing be­hind-thescenes for the first time, the soft-spo­ken but con­fi­dent new­comer ad­mits that the ex­pe­ri­ence has been a try­ing one.

“We’ve been shoot­ing for a month now and it was re­ally quite dif­fi­cult at first. I’m work­ing with a Tai­wanese crew but since they do not make ac­tion films, they lack ex­pe­ri­ence in that genre. I also had to co­or­di­nate and work on cer­tain scenes at the very last minute. It’s a lot of hard work and we film up to 17 hours a day.

“There was also a typhoon at the time we were film­ing and then it flooded,” he adds. “We had to wait for the flood­wa­ters to sub­side be­fore we re­sumed work.

“But the good part about the ex­pe­ri­ence is I learned how to over­come chal­lenges,” he says, beam­ing.

With his busy sched­ule, it is no won­der that To doesn’t have a girl­friend. “Work is still my pri­or­ity. I’m so busy film­ing, I just don’t have the time. Maybe in a few years.”

To says he likes girls who are out­go­ing. “I’m a Capri­corn so I’m re­ally quiet. I would like a girl­friend who is a lit­tle more talk­a­tive to bal­ance things out,” he says, adding he is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from his valiant on­screen per­sona.

“I can’t be quiet when it comes to mak­ing movies. When I play a char­ac­ter, I be­come com­pletely im­mersed in the role. I be­come the char­ac­ter.”

To will reprise his role as the le­gendary mas­ter in the next Ip Man movie, which fol­lows the life and times of the Chi­nese hero.

“The film will fo­cus on what hap­pened to Ip Man in Hong Kong and how Wing Chun flour­ished over 20 years. It also ex­plores his re­la­tion­ship with his most fa­mous stu­dent Bruce Lee, who hap­pens to be my idol,” says To.

“I hope to spread Chi­nese kung fu through my films, just like Bruce Lee did. In a way, I do feel like I’m rep­re­sent­ing the Chi­nese, just like he did. Some­one who isn’t Chi­nese can prac­tise kung fu and even be good at it, but they can never be as au­then­tic. Kung fu is one of the most pre­cious things in the Chi­nese cul­ture.”

The fresh-faced ac­tor him­self em­bod­ies a whole new gen­er­a­tion of mar­tial arts masters. “I’m very hon­oured to be recog­nised along­side great masters like Sammo Hung (who also stars in The Leg­end Is Born: Ip Man), but I still feel very in­ex­pe­ri­enced in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try,” he says.

“I’m tak­ing things one step at a time but I hope to move on to big­ger films and also to work be­hind the scenes. I want to be ver­sa­tile, just like Sammo. That’s when I’ll be able to make films of my own choice.”

Den­nis To (left and inset) plays a teenage Ip Man in

TheLe­gendIsBorn:IpMan.

Ev­ery­body wants kung fu fight­ing:

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