Yuen Woo Ping talks about his latest

Fight choreography is at the heart of “True Legend,” the latest film from Chinese director Yuen Woo Ping, whose earlier credits include the “Matrix” trilogy, “Kill Bill” Volumes I and II,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero.”

“Legend,” featuring David Carradine in one of his last roles, stars Vincent Zhao, Zhou Xun, Andy On, Guo Xiaodong, Jay Chou, Michelle Yeoh, Gordon Liu and Cung Le. It opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 13. A national release will follow.

Described as a “a heart-pounding epic about the timeless battle between good and evil,” the film centers on Su Can (Zhao), whose respectable life is obliterated when his vengeful brother, Yuan (On), returns from war armed with deadly Five Venom Fists.

Weakened but not destroyed, Su Can learns a never-before-seen form of martial arts: the Drunken Fist. Armed with this new power, he returns home to honor his family through retribution by taking on his brother in a battle to become the ultimate warrior.

Variety interviewed Yuen Woo Ping:

Peter Caranicas: Was the film shot entirely in China?

Yuen Woo Ping: Yes, in China, where the story happens. The filming took five months.

PC: Where did you shoot the interiors?

YWP: At the sound stages of China Film Group in Beijing because of its quality equipment and infrastructure.

PC: What about the exteriors? How did you pick the locations?

YWP: We spend about four months scouting possible locations across the country. These included Yellow Mountain, Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River and especially the traditional Anhui hui-style residences. I prefer to shoot their original structure rather than building it in sound stages, which may look fake.

PC: Did you use visual effects to enhance it the spectacular nature shots?

YWP: For almost all locations, we captured their magnificent natural look. Once, when I wanted the cloud-flowing look for one mountainous scene, we waited, just like in the old days. And for one Michelle’s exterior scenes, we went for some vfx assistance to achieve the season-changing effect.

PC: What was the most challenging aspect of this shoot?

YWP: The fight between Vincent and Andy at the Hukou Waterfall. The safety issue for that scene was the biggest challenge of the whole movie. The landscape looks magnificent but are very dangerous; there was no chance for us to make any mistakes. We meticulously planned out the whole choreography and tested and rehearsed it for many times before rolling the camera. We also double-wired our talent just to make sure they were completely safe. This fighting sequence took us 15 working days to complete.

PC: Did you shoot on film or digitally?

YWP: Practically all on film.

PC: During the years that you have done fight choreography, how has technology advanced your art?

YWP: Technology has helped my martial art choreography greatly. For example, the use of the high-speed Phantom camera in True Legend helps to enhance and bring out the details of each action and movement. An older example may be the use of the virtual camera and the bullet-time effect in “The Matrix.” I feel I’m still old-fashioned, so whenever I can, I prefer to shoot kung-fu scenes for real. Yet at the same time, special effect and visual effects can definitely enhance, and help the portrayal of kung fu and the power it involves. And in a digital world, actors can do some movements that are impossible to do in real life.

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