Stephen Chow talks about directing Kung Fu Hustle
Stephen Chow has been a staple of Hong Kong cinema for the last fifteen years. His breakout international hit came three years ago with Shoalin Soccer, a unique blend of CGI martial arts mixed with zany sports comedy. Chow's follow-up film, Kung Fu Hustle, takes the genre to a whole different level. He brings back the legendary stars of Hong Kong cinema for a story that pits cartoon-like characters against ruthless gangsters. Kung Fu Hustle, already a big hit worldwide, is the highest grossing film to be made in Hong Kong.
The Pig Sty Alley is such a unique setting. What made you think of it?
Stephen Chow: The Pig Sty is exactly what I lived in the past, the same shape, same kind of building, same situations, a lot of people living together.
You brought back some of the classic stars of Hong Kong cinema for Kung Fu Hustle. Some of them haven't made a film in twenty years. What was your reason for casting them?
Stephen Chow: Just try to find some actors who looked great. [Laughs] It's always the first thing that I consider. Is it the right person to shoot the goal? I know them quite well, because I am a fan of them. Like the Beast, I think he is one of my favorite kung fu stars. The other thing is how to find them, because it takes time to find out where they are.
How did you convince them to make your movie?
Stephen Chow: Just talk to them. With my sincerity, you know.
The landlady goes from being not very slim to slim. Did she actually physically put on weight? Is it padding?
Stephen Chow: She gained weight for the role, thirty pounds in a month. She's very slim now. And if we make a sequel, then she has to do it all over again! [Laughs]
Did anyone get hurt during the filming? The fight scenes look very complex.
Stephen Chow: No. Not yet. I have a very good choreographer, Yuen Woo-Ping.
Can you talk a little about working with him?
Stephen Chow: Of course, there is no need to say, he is one of the best action directors in Asia, in the world, I think. He looks so like the old style and looks so traditional Chinese style, but actually he is a person with an open mind, who can accept different kind of opinions. No matter how crazy it is, he will accept it.
Does he get involved in camera decisions?
Stephen Chow: Yeah, sometimes.
What effect has directing your own films had on your style of comedy?
Stephen Chow: It hasn't really made a difference.
How has using computers changed the way you work?
Stephen Chow: I think in Shaolin Soccer, that was the first time for me to do a stunt with a lot of CGI. I'm lucky because that was my first time to do the action with a lot of CGI, so I really get used to like a lot of CGI. So in Kung Fu Hustle, I'm quite familiar with all that kind of thing.
When you're on the set doing a stunt, do you already know what CGI effects are going to be used?
Stephen Chow: Yes. Actually it is quite complicated. Everything is shot like some of them involved CGI. It is a very complicated work that takes a lot of time to do and there are a bunch of people involved; the team from the choreographer and another team from the CGI company and my team. Three teams of people get together and try to do it better!
You've had a lot of success in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. Are you now focusing on the American audience?
Stephen Chow: Yes.
Has anyone contacted you? Do you have any potential things coming up?
Stephen Chow: No.
Would you rather act, direct, or do both if given the chance to make a Hollywood film?
Stephen Chow: Well, actually, what I would like to do is direct.
So directing is what you would rather do?
Stephen Chow: Yeah. I prefer it. But that doesn't mean that I don't want to be a star in any movie! I still would like to have change, but more of a director.
What was the hardest part of filming this movie?
Stephen Chow: [Laughs] What's the hardest part? You have to wear a wire shirt all the time and you're punching and kicking all day long, for 42 years old, old man like me. Yeah, but on the other hand, I love kung fu very much and I'm still practicing myself.
You still practice?
Stephen Chow: Yeah, I'm a real kung fu practitioner.
Do you have to do it every day?
Stephen Chow: Yes. I trained myself.
So you are a master under your own teachings?
Stephen Chow: Actually, I'm not a master. I just train.
What do you think of the new and upcoming stars, like Tony Jaa from Ong Bak?
Stephen Chow: Tony Jaa, great example. It saves money to have Tony Jaa, because you don't need any CGI. He just does it!
You're one of the great comedians in Hong Kong. Are you interested in doing horror films, science fiction, maybe crossing over into other genres?
Stephen Chow: Anything but horror films. I want to, but I'm unable to do it, because I'm scared of ghosts. [Laughs]
You mentioned a sequel before, but you've never done a sequel. I'm sure a lot of people want you to do another Shaolin Soccer. Are you thinking of doing sequels?
Stephen Chow: I don't know at the moment what I'm going to do in the future. It could be a sequel to Kung Fu Hustle, just because I never did a sequel before. So that's why I want to try and do one. I'm not against sequels.
Can you talk about where you got the idea for both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle?
Stephen Chow: A comic, Japanese cartoon, long time ago - over ten years ago. A Japanese soccer cartoon, it's very popular. At that time, the idea was like soccer in my mind. It's spread through the whole world. The last soccer movie was passed by Stallone, The Victory, which is not quite a big hit everywhere. What if I make a combination of martial arts and soccer? Then I go and make up a script with my team and then I have my script in my hand. The reaction was not that positive, because there's no track record. They like to have a track record. They always talk about, "Gimme some examples. What does it look like? Which kind of movie are you talking about?" But it's nothing like anything you have seen before. That's how they think.
How did you convince them?
Stephen Chow: The only way to convince them was a low budget. [Laughs] I need so little!
Can you walk around Hong Kong and be a normal person, or are you usually mobbed by fans?
Stephen Chow: Hong Kong people, they treat me more like a director, like a producer, like a filmmaker. If they recognize me, they treat me as a producer more than a star. And also, I make one movie in three years. I think they already forget who I am, because I've been away too long!