It's all in good fun!

Talking Pictures with Tsui Hark & Nansun Shi

Tuesday, 8th August 2006

Tsui Hark started working in movies in Hong Kong in the 1970s and was part of the 'group of 7' directors who went on to make lots of films. His first film was the Butterfly Murders and his first big success was Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain. Since then he has made lots of films including two Van Damme features.

His partner Nansun Shi has been the producer on his movies and also worked on the popular series of movies Infernal Affairs.

Tsui Hark on Seven Swords...
This film was based on the book Seven Swordsman of Mountain Tian by Liang Yu-Sheng.

He came to be involved in the project by accident when he visited a friend in China in 2003 who was meant to be directing the film. They talked about it and the director asked if Tsui Hark would step in. He thought he was joking, but his friend started telling everyone that he had this famous director involved so Tsui Hark decided to continue with the project.

There is already a sequel planned as it was a very long book. The novel was very controversial in the 1950s and includes lots of political references from that time. Tsui Hark himself read the book a lot when he was growing up as talking about politics at that time was discouraged in Hong Kong.

The Wruxia genre became a way of escaping the stress of everyday life, but it always had a political undercurrent.

Nansun Shi on working in China...
The film industry opened up in China during 2003 which allowed them to film there, especially the rules about co-productions. No longer was there a 50/50 crew requirement, it has been changed to 70/30. This was because China didn't want the USA to dominate the film market once it is opened up.

This was also done to encourage better quality productions in the hope of getting a wider worldwide audience. At the same time there is still a lot of censorship in China as there is only one version of the film for the whole country so it has to be suitable for all markets.

The problems with this are that it limits creativity as the film and script are censored. This limits the more edgy productions and there are still taboo topics such as no corrupt policemen are allowed to be shown. Even jokes can get censored and if someone doesn't think a historical figure in a movie should say something they won't.

There was previously a quota of films to be made in China which led to a lot of period productions as they are easier to get up.

On Seven Swords...
The author of Seven Swords lives in Sydney so it is really an Aussie film.

Tsui Hark on Seven Swords...
He thought a lot of swordplay films are very stagy and he wanted to make something more realistic. For one thing the costumes in most Wruxia movies are impractical and he didn't know how people would actually put them on in real life and keep them pristine. In Seven Swords the clothing was more realistic.

It is a fantasy story, but it is based on a real historical period. He wanted to make it look different to other swordplay films.

How did he come up with the design of the swords? They are not mentioned much in the books. As he used to be a comic book illustrator, he sat down with the author of the book and designed 14 swords in total (there are seven swords for each generation.) Also seven more swords for the baddies so there are 21 swords in total.

Nansun Shi on difficulties of the location...
It was very difficult as the province of Xinjiang they were working in China was as big as Australia and very isolated. In summer it is 52 degrees centigrade and in winter it gets down to near freezing. They started filming at the end of August and it started to get cold early so it was a very difficult shoot.

Tsui Hark recommends drinking hard liquor in hot weather to cool down.

Nansun Shi on the size of the production....
She was the producer so she had to deal with all the problems. They built a village for the production but the art director went nuts and it took half an hour to walk from one side to the other.

What was it like working with Liu Chia-Liang, the 'Kung Fu Grandfather'?
Tsui Hark said it was good as he was the first wruxia action designer. He had always wanted to work with him, but had never had the chance.

On the film's Melbourne connection...
Digital Pictures Illoura worked on post production, Cinevex labs, the line producer Chi-Wai Fung and Peter Webb. The talking pictures session was the first time Tsui Hark & Nansun Shi had met them face to face.

From the Q&A:
Have American movies hurt the Hong Kong film industry? There are always good and bad movies in the industry so it balances out. It is very sick.

During the 80s/90s there were 300 films a year being made.

during the 00s only 40 or 50 so there has been a lot of attrition in crews. For example when Tsui Hark was trying to get a shot late in the day, all the crew followed him up the hill when they were meant to stay down in the valley.

What was it like directing in the US?
He has thought about the same thing a lot. It is more about producing a product for market.

He had to follow what the studio wanted and they had someone supervising the production.

A lot of former Hong Kong film directors want to work in Hong Kong again but there is no longer the opportunity.

Videos originally helped distribution, but they also harmed production as there are too many of them.

They will have to start from scratch and build up the industry again.

Tsui Hark on the differences between The Legend of Zu and Seven Swords...
Different novels so required a different style.

Zu Warriors was written in the 30s so covered different topics.

Creative style drawn from the book.

What are your main influences?
Kurosawa. The first movie he saw of his was Yojimbo.

Nansun Shi also mentioned Kurosawa and many others including Truffaut and other famous directors.


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