Even if you don’t recognize the name, if you are a fan of kung fu films, you have probably seen a number of Yuen Woo-Ping’s influential fight choreography. His resume includes recent hits like The Matrix trilogy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, both Kill Bill films, and a string of other praised martial arts films. Yuen has worked with nearly every major kung fu star, including Jet Li (Fearless and The Forbidden Kingdom), Jackie Chan (Drunken Master), Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey), and a number of others. When Fantastic Fest announced that Yuen would be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in addition to premiering Yuen’s upcoming True Legend (my review here), I jumped at the opportunity to interview the legend. Hit the jump to see my chat with Yuen as we discuss who he wants to work with in the future, his influences in directing, how he creates the fight choreography, and why the Drunken Fist fighting style keeps coming back.
Because Yuen Woo-Ping only spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, the interview was assisted by his translator. This made things a bit difficult, but the interview still went well. Because there isn’t a lot of content, I won’t be providing highlights. Enjoy and look for True Legend in theaters in 2011.
Collider: Congratulations on the distribution deal with Indomina Releasing. How did you put the cast together for this film?
Yuen Woo-Ping: It all depends on how the personalities of the characters in the script are. You look for those actors or actresses that fit the personality to populate the film.
What drew you back to the Drunken Fist story?
Yuen: It’s just a coincidence. The producer came to me with the script and the story is about the Drunken Fist again, but it’s from a different perspective. In the past films about Drunken Fist, they are kind of like a comic film. This one is actually telling the experience of this person, the Master of Drunken Fist. That’s what makes this different than the past films.
How did you go further for the fights in True Legend?
Yuen: When pushing the fight choreography in the film, it has to match the storyline and the specific scene. For instance, the waterfall fight sequences, they have to fight along the river and you have to find a perfect scenario to get to show the fight choreography. Some of the fight choreography combined street dance with traditional martial arts. That’s the new thing in this film.
How have you enjoyed the festival so far?
Yuen: I’m looking forward to the gala screening and seeing that many fans who love my films.
Yuen: I’m very grateful for all the recognition that I have received; very thankful for all the film producers and actors for their recognition of my contribution to fight choreography. I’m not retired, I will continue directing films and doing fight choreography. I won’t stop.
Which actors do you look forward to working with?
Yuen: I have a lot of actors I want to work with; Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, and Uma Thurman.
What do you draw inspiration from for your fights?
Yuen: When preparing for the fight choreography, the first thing I have to think about is what fits in the script. Whatever goes along with the story line and the character’s personality; they have to be matched. The invention progress is tough sometimes. When I first choreographed the Drunken Master in the past with Jackie Chan, I spent months to create the whole sequence. There were no fight sequences before; it’s just a name. I have to choreograph it all by myself. It’s very tough and takes a lot of effort. For True Legend, the Five Venom Fist is a new style that I had to create. But I used computer graphics to generate some visual effects like fog.
Who do you draw inspiration from in terms of directing?
Yuen: For using the computer graphics, I am influenced by the Wachowski Brothers and The Matrix films. They combined the computer graphics with my martial arts choreography. That’s one thing I learned from those films.
What is your favorite film that you made?
Yuen: If talking about the early years, it would be Iron Monkey, but in recent years it would be True Legend.