Flying Swords of Dragon Gate was Jet Li’s first 3D movie. Find out how different it was from his other films
JET Li is one of the most sought-after martial arts actors after Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. But success for Li was not instant.
The 49-year-old, currently residing in Singapore, began wushu training when he was eight years old under renowned coach Wu Bin of the Beijing Wushu Team.
He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts films, most notably the Once Upon a Time in China franchise, in which he played the famous hero Wong Fei-hung. However, it was in Shaolin Temple (his debut film) that Li made his mark in, and the rest, they say, is history .
In 1998, Li became a household name among the Western audience when he appeared in Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 4, the fourth sequel in the franchise. Other Hollywood films include Romeo Must Die, The One, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor opposite Brendan Fraser and our own Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh, and Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables.
(He is expected to make a return appearance in the sequel, slated for release next month).
Last year, he starred as Abbott Fahai in The Sorcerer and the White Snake. But it was his performance in Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (in the same year) that reminded the audience what Li is most famous for — realistic fighting skills. Li plays Zhou Huai’an who is determined to take down powerful Eunuch Yu (played by Chen Kun).
The story begins three years after the infamous Dragon Inn was reduced to ashes in a fire in the desert. The inn is rumoured to be the location of a lost city buried under the desert and its hidden treasure will only be revealed during a deadly sand storm that occurs every 60 years. The movie is a remake of Dragon Gate Inn (1966) and New Dragon Gate Inn (1992).
Li, who was originally offered Zhou’s role in the 1992 movie that eventually went to Tony Leung) had to turn down the offer due to other commitments at that time.
“I had several other film projects on hand the last time, but I quickly said yes the moment the director (Tsui Hark) offered me a part in the new remake. It was Tsui who brought me to Hong Kong and opened my eyes to filmmaking, thus giving me a new phase in life. After so many years in the business, I feel like I’ve never left the world of wuxia (martial arts),” he said in a recent e-mail interview.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate also marks Li’s first 3D movie. “I’ve never worked on a 3D movie before, despite being in the film industry for more than 30 years. I am eager to see what 3D technology will bring to wuxia films as well as to the fans,” he said in a press release.
Shot entirely in 3D, the movie also marks another milestone in the Chinese film industry.
Here, Li shares more on the making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, which is airing tomorrow (July 15) on Celestial Movies (Astro channel 322) and Celestial Movies HD (Astro channel 309) at 9pm.
Q: What are the differences between making 2D and 3D movies?
Li: There are three major criteria when it comes to choreographing for a wuxia movies: the exquisiteness and the difficulty in the moves; the (movie) set up; and how to use film as a medium to show the characteristics, and principles behind wuxia. 3D brings a whole new visual experience, which also means that the original moves designed for a normal or 2D viewing simply do not fit into the 3D version. We need to come up with different moves that best showcase the effect of 3D.
What are the challenges you encountered?
When it comes to making 3D movies, I am a newcomer. But it was also an exciting experience. I remember a scene where Chen Kun and I were filming a sword-fighting scene. Tsui told me that I would be holding a long chain-like weapon in one hand, while Chen’s sword would change into two arrows. When we shot the scene, those weapons were not there, so we had to imagine them. The shooting process was quite slow: we filmed about six scenes each day and then we moved on to 20-30 scenes per day.
In the movie you played a swordsman. Would you consider playing a wuxia master perhaps?
My character in the movie is very self-centered and does not care about moral standards. He only serves his own interests. However, a wuxia master has a sense of social responsibility and follows strict moral conduct, which is definitely not as much fun to play.
What was it like working with Tsui Hark?
He doesn’t talk much and he can be a little strange sometimes — the team nicknamed him “weird Tsui.” But he is a very focused person. He does everything for the sake of his movies. He’s always staying ahead of his game and is the best at what he does.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate airs tomorrow at 9pm on Celestial Movies (Astro channel 322) and Celestial Movies HD (Astro channel 309). The repeat is on July 17 at 10.45pm on both channels.