The kung fu feminist
A kung fu take on the tale of a female revolutionary is director herman yau’s way of attracting the audience.
HONG Kong director Herman Yau is nothing if not commercially oriented. He knew his new movie, historical biopic The Woman Knight Of Mirror Lake, needed something extra to bring in the audience.
The film is about a historical figure whom many people probably have not heard of.
Qiu Jin, who is played by Chinese actress Huang Yi, was one of the most prominent female revolutionists in the fight to bring down the corrupt Qing empire, which fell in 1912.
The movie’s appeal is also limited by the fact that the only big names in the cast – Hong Kong actors Anthony Wong and Kevin Cheng – have small supporting roles.
Yau’s brainwave: turn it into something closer to his 2010 movie, The Legend Is Born - Ip Man, a prequel to the popular movies about the grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of martial arts.
“I needed to repackage the film in some way, and I thought that kung fu would be a good way to do that.
“Hopefully, people who watch the film will enjoy the kung fu scenes but, at the same time, be interested enough about Qiu that they will then go and look up books or information about her after the movie,” he says in a telephone interview.
He also tweaked certain historical details in the story to better fit his overall vision for the movie. For example, he made the character of Qiu’s loyal servant Fu Sheng mute, despite no historical records stating this.
He says: “I did that because I wanted to inject some symbolism into the story. Qiu was a remarkable champion of women’s rights at a time when most women were silent about being treated as inferior to men.
“Fu Sheng thus symbolises the type of silence suffered by all the women around Qiu.”
Some of Qiu’s descendants have not taken well to Yau’s revisions. One almost slammed the door in the filmmaker’s face.
Yau says: “I tried to contact as many of Qiu’s family members as possible because I really wanted them to watch the film and tell me what they thought.
“But one of them, a descendant of Qiu’s brother, refused to watch my film even though I took a copy of it to his house in China. He didn’t think any non-related people had the right to tell Qiu’s story, I think.”
The response from the members of Qiu’s family who did watch the movie has been generally positive, according to Yau.
He says: “Some of them were crying non- stop when they watched the movie. They appreciated the fact that I was getting Qiu’s story out.”
Qiu, who was also a poet, was executed after a failed uprising. She is considered a heroine in China today.
Yau says: “I am a big fan of Qiu. So to me, as long as I represent her fairly and get her message across to people, I think it’s fine.” n Thewomanknightofmirrorlake opens in Malaysian cinemas today.