HK director Chan has big hopes for debut martial arts film

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Hong Kong director Peter Chan has high hopes for his first foray into martial arts cinema: he wants it to be a milestone in the venerable genre.

Beautifully filmed in Yunnan, southwest China, "Wu Xia" -- screened out of competition at Cannes -- boasts an all-star cast led by Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang and kung fu movie legend Jimmy Wang.

It takes its title from the Mandarin term for the martial arts genre, which has undergone "a huge evolution from one form to another" and which is forever reinventing itself, Chan said on Saturday.

"What we are trying to do with this film -- as much as we can, to the best of our ability -- is to hopefully be in that cycle of evolution and be one step ahead of our contemporaries in trying to do something that we think we could be proud of and that could extend this genre for another 30 or 40 years."

Chan was first going to call his project "The Accomplice", but with a story line that sees Kaneshiro as a late Qing Dynasty detective schooled in forensic medicine, it could just as well have been titled "CIS: Imperial China".

Yen plays a village papermaker who becomes a local hero when he foils a violent robbery at the general store, until the bespectacled, umbrella-toting Kaneshiro turns up to investigate and unearths a darker tale.

Chan is best known for drama, including Venice festival closer "Perhaps Love" in 2005, and so aficionados of martial arts choreography might lament a relative shortage of jaw-dropping stunts.

But "Wu Xia" pleased Hollywood's powerful Weinstein brothers enough for them to snap up worldwide distribution rights outside Asia and francophone Europe, with a proposed title change to "Dragon".

Seen going into a midnight screening of "Wu Xia" in Cannes was "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker.

Joined at a press conference with his main players, the articulate Chan, 48, easily identified by his grey-streaked hair, said "Wu Xia" was unusual for him in that he had the idea before he developed his characters.

"This is the first time that I am actually more fascinated with the style rather than the content.... The content was to service the style," said the director, who used Jake Pollock and Lai Yiu-fai as his cinematographers.

"It reminds me of my younger days when I worked with Jackie Chan when I was an assistant director," he added.

"The script usually came from the fact that Jackie would say, 'I want to jump from here to here -- give me a story that would make that make sense.' I always laugh at that, but this is exactly what I did with this film."

Wang, 68, who mentored Chan in the 1970s, was a late addition to the project, playing a martial arts master -- and a few self-effacing words from him on Saturday proved why he is such a beloved figure in Hong Kong cinema.

"This motion picture is like a top-class sports car," he said. "The director is a new-generation designer and engineer. Donnie is like the engine, like the heart. I am just a spare part -- but of the best quality."

© 2011 AFP

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