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"Tai Chi 0" sets out to break new ground for Chinese kung fu blockbusters

posted 31 Aug 2012, 16:11 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 31 Aug 2012, 16:12 ]

Stephen Fung's new trilogy blends cinematographic styles and aims to take historical epics and kung fu movies to a new level.

VENICE LIDO, ITALY (AUGUST 30, 2012) (REUTERS) - Hong Kong director Stephen Fung's new martial arts epic "Tai Chi 0" is set to give American and Chinese blockbusters a run for their money.

The movie, the first part of a trilogy, aims to take the genre to a new level, blending elements from black and white movies, historical epics and kung fu films with references from computer games and Japanese cartoons.

Fung's aim is to reinvent the genre and attract younger audiences.

"We wanted to do something new because basically when you look at a traditional kung fu film you are watching something repetitive and we wanted to break barriers and we wanted to do something that can attract a younger crowd. By the term that we wanted it to be young I mean we want this film to have energy," Fung told Reuters Television in Italy, where the film is screening out of competition at the Venice Film Festival.

Fung's sentiments were echoed by influential Taiwanese producer Chen Kuo-fu, who said they hoped to serve a gap in the market where they saw very little innovation.

"Because the mainstream audience is young and they are not seeing films, especially blockbuster films, made for them, in China," Chen Kuo-fu said.

"Tai Chi 0" is loosely based on the story of Yang Luchan and the origins of Tai Chi.

The martial arts form was invented by Chen Wangting (1580-1660) but its secrets were kept in the Chen family for generations and not revealed to outsiders, until exposed to Yang.

The movie is a fast-paced and humorous fictional retelling of his story.

"This movie should not be taken too seriously, as in, we tried our very best to get the best out of the production value. We spent a lot of money on the set, on the costumes and make it look good. But then at the same time it shouldn't be taken as a historical epic kind of movie because it's not, that's not our intention either. So, I don't have that weight on my shoulders. Neither do I have that weight on my shoulders for the fact that it's about Tai Chi. And maybe to the rest of the world it's not that heavy of a baggage, but then to a Chinese person Tai Chi is not just about the martial art, it's about the whole Tai Chi philosophy. It's about yin and yang and all that. So I don't want any preaching in this film. I just want to tell a simple story about this main character and how he became the master of Tai Chi as a martial art," said Fung.

Making his silver screen debut in the film is Chinese martial arts champion Yuan Xiaochao.

Making the movie was an eye-opening experience for the youngster.

"It was my first time making a movie, and slowly I discovered that when you practice, you can usually practice alone and only need to face the coach. But making a movie you may need to face a lot of people, so sometimes it can be embarrassing. In practice there are often exaggerated movements. But in movies you may need to adjust the movements and be a little bit more minimal," said Yuan.

Famed Chinese actor Tony Leung Ka Fai plays the head of the Chen family, the master who eventually helps Yang into the secrets of Tai Chi.

Leung said he jumped at the chance to take on the physically demanding role, a departure from the characters he usually plays.

"So I would like to play in a martial arts movie to improve and express myself to the audience that I can do something else before I retire. To tell you the truth, I was wondering if I can still play martial arts movies after like two or three years because I'm getting old. I'm getting weak," he said.

The movie follows Yang's journey into the Chen family village, where plans to build a railway line through their lands is threatening age-old traditions.

Leung said he had drawn inspiration from his country's history as he prepared for the movie.

"I put my character somehow into our country, China. Before, China is a city like that, never open to anybody and we refused to accept Western culture. But now, under our great leader Deng Xiaoping, he slowly opened the doors of China to accept the world and for the world to know China," he said.

After its Venetian premiere, the movie will be released in Hong Kong and Australia in September, with the sequel "Tai Chi Hero" slated for an October release in China.