International kungfu star Jet Li has been busy promoting his new martial arts movie Fearless since its premiere at Beijing's New Oriental Plaza last Friday. The movie is scheduled to hit screens today and he considers it his "most important martial arts picture."
Li himself describes it as a labor of love and hopes to convey one main message through the movie: live your life positively.
Fearless is a story about Chinese martial arts guru Huo Yuanjia (1869-1910), who founded the Jing Wu Men (Chin Woo) martial arts school in Shanghai. He practiced and taught "mi zong quan," also known as "my jhong," a Shaolin style kungfu based on deception.
To the Chinese, Huo is a national hero because he competed and won many judo and kungfu competitions. His victories were particularly important because they occurred at a time when China was under the heavy influence of foreign powers.
Li explained that the movie is less a story of Huo Yuanjia the man than it is an expression of his spiritual path.
Preparations for the movie started in 2003. It was also incidentally the time that Li discovered that 280,000 people in China commit suicide every year. He hopes the movie encourages those who have lost faith in life to be strong again.
As big a national hero as Huo might be, there are few written records of him or his life. Li admitted that much of the movie's plot is fiction, although settings and time periods are based on fact. "We just want to tell a convincing story in which Huo is portrayed as a human, not a god," Li said.
Li can relate to Huo's story because he, too, has been through his fair share of ups and downs, having worked hard to make his mark in Hollywood and Hong Kong.
"Huo's attitudes towards life, the world and martial arts depicted in the movie are similar to mine," Li said. "He died at the age of 42, and I am 42 now. I've tried to reflect the philosophies of people my age in the movie. And the main message that I hope to convey through the movie is: live your life positively," Li said.
Fearless will be his last movie that has martial arts as its core subject matter. Li said he no longer wants to make movies in this genre because he has said all he has to about martial arts through movies. But he will continue doing action and kungfu movies because, to him, the three are of different genres.
"Action and martial arts stories only use the form of martial arts. Kungfu represents a concept of time. You spend time practicing it, and you learn new skills. Martial arts are an overall concept, which also includes nurturing the soul.
Shot in Shanghai, Fearless was directed by Ronny Yu Yan-Tai, a much sought-after Hong Kong director in Hollywood. Collin Chou, who gained Western popularity for his performance in The Matrix Reloaded, plays Huo's father. Sun Li, a rising Chinese starlet, plays Yue Ci, a fictional blind character who supports Huo when he is down.
Other members of the cast include Japanese actor Nakamura Shidou and mainland actor Dong Yong. The movie's stunt director is the respected Yuen Woo Ping, who has many of Hong Kong's great kungfu epics under his belt.
Unfortunately, fans won't see any of Li in the movie. For the sake of keeping the action-packed pace of the movie, the movie was cut from its original 143 minutes to just 103 minutes, leaving a fight scene with Li and a Thai fighter, and another with Malaysian former Bond Girl, Michelle Yeoh, on the cutting room floor.
Huo Yuanjia: Facts and Fiction
Foreign audiences might recall having seen Bruce Lee play Huo's apprentice in the 1972 production of Jing Wu Men
Huo hailed from the Tianjin countryside. He founded the Jing Wu Men Marital Arts School. He died on September 14, 1910 at the age of 42, just after he defeated 10 Japanese judokas. Rumor has it that Huo was poisoned in a conspiracy by the Japanese, a tale that was confirmed by Huo Zizheng, his great-grandson, in an interview with International Herald Leader on January 23.
The only piece of written documentation on Huo is Biography of Modern Heroes, a novel by Ping Jiang Bu Xiao Sheng written in 1923. Later stories, TV and movie scripts were all based on that novel.
The Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai is the only proof of Huo's existence and story. The organization, which now covers many continents with branches in many parts of China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, England, Australia, the United States and Russia and organizes major kungfu and sports events, is nearly 100 years old. It remains faithful to the practice and instruction of my jhong boxing.
(China Daily, China.org.cn by Zhang Rui January 25, 2006)