Stephen Fung first stepped into Hong Kong entertainment industry during the 1990s with his band Dry and later gained recognition by acting in classic action films like "Gen X Cops" and "Gen Y Cops". However, the Hong Kong heartthrob was not satisfied with his achievements, and so he made his directorial debut with the dark comedy "Enter The Phoenix" back in 2004. After 8 years of sitting in the directorial chair, the actor-turned-director finally brought out the big guns by presenting audiences with a blockbuster Chinese martial arts film mixed in with steampunk and animation elements, "Tai Chi O". Cinema Online was able to sit down with the director, who shared his filming experiences of the action film with us.
Cinema Online's interview with Stephen Fung was conducted on 1 October at Fullerton Hotel, Singapore.
Q: Is it hard for you to present the theme of Tai Chi in your piece?
Stephen Fung: Not really. First of all, whenever people mention about Tai Chi, the modern generation would probably think of the exercises that a bunch of elderly men and women are often seen doing in parks on early mornings. That is not what Tai Chi is all about. That is what we are trying to portray in "Tai Chi O", the art of Tai Chi in an entertaining manner instead of explaining the relationship between the Chinese and martial arts with too many facts like teaching a dull history lesson.
Q: What makes you come up with the idea of having a fruit fight in the story?
Fung: There are two reasons. First, I saw people tend to spend their free time playing Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds on their phones nowadays. Therefore, I discussed with my crew whether we can include the elements of those games into the movie. Secondly, the residents in the Chen village are living their lives peacefully and they are a harmonious community. When it comes to protecting their homes from the Western invasion, we want to show their harmony even when they are battling an army with guns and armoured technology. So, we thought that using fruits as their weapon would be a great idea to achieve our purposes.
Q: You have used all kinds of fruit except durians in that fruit-fighting scene. Have you ever thought of using the Malaysian fruit?
Fung: (Laugh) That's a good idea. I didn't thought of durians for that scene. Maybe we'll use them in the next episode.
Q: For this movie, you have the chance to work with veterans like Sammo Hung, who is the action director, and Tony Leung Ka-fai. Do you feel pressured working with them?
Fung: Honestly, I don't. You know, being an actor for so many years, I've already collaborated with so many big names and I'm used to it now. We had a great time working together and all of them were so eager to produce a high quality film for the audience.
Q: You made a cameo appearance in "Tai Chi O". Why not extend your scenes?
Fung: My focus is still on the directing. Aside from playing a character that is necessary for the beginning of the story, the reason that I made that short appearance is to show my cast and crew that we can make things work. For example, I was burnt in the fire in one of the scenes with no help from the stuntman. I did it all on my own. I want to tell everyone that if I can do such a dangerous act by myself, the others should also put in effort to perform their own duties well too.
Q: What made you decide to cast Yuan Xiaochao as the main character seeing as he has no prior acting experience at all?
Fung: Well, I wasn't the one who cast him. Producer Chen Guo Fu brought him to me and we felt that with his experiences in Wushu and his personality, he can handle the role of Yang Luchan.
Q: Although the movie has been well-received by foreign audiences since it was screened at various film festivals in different countries, the story is still grounded in Chinese culture. Do you worry that foreign audiences may not be able to understand?
Fung: No, I'm not worried at all. Based on the responses from international audiences and critics, they have no problem absorbing our Chinese culture. The only thing they complained about was that the subtitles moved too fast. Sometimes, as a viewer, you don't really have to fully understand an idea by reading and hearing, as the visuals will also lead you to the core message of the film.
Q: Thank you, Stephen.
Fung: You are welcome, Cinema Online.