The Japanese star takes on the Chinese mythical film

Recently, I had the opportunity to see an amazing and beautifully shot film called The Promise. It was in Chinese, with English subtitles; the scenery and cinematography of this film was beyond what I've seen in a long time.

In the same lines as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Promise tells a tale of love and war. Writer and director, Kaige Chen (Temptress Moon, Killing Me Softly) created a mythical story of a slave, Kunlun, (Dong-Kun Jang) who turned his life around by saving the life of his master. The feat is witnessed by the General of the Army, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who makes Kunlun his slave.

There's wire work and blue screen work in The Promise, just like a lot of the other Asian films out there. And that really enhances the story. Hardly any of that wire work was done by Hiroyuki Sanada; he was stuck wearing a 50 pound outfit.

We had the opportunity to speak with Hiroyuki about the film; here's what he had to say:

This film was changed a bit from the Asian version to the American version; why do you think there were two different versions?

Hiroyuki Sanada: I heard about the American version; with the editing, it became shorter, and easier to understand. The audience has to use more of their imagination and they're able to make their own film. That's important for the film; you don't want to tell too much or explain too much, so I believe the American version is a lot simple. And my part is a bit less than the original one; but 'm saying to myself, 'less is more.' I really enjoyed the original version, but I believe in the editor and the director.

What was the most difficult part about playing this role?

Hiroyuki Sanada: My biggest challenge was the language, speaking Mandarin; I never spoke that before. I studied with a coach, and I spent a lot of time memorize. But sometimes, the director would change the lines in the morning; I was like a little kid. It got easier as the shoot went on, so finally I could enjoy it. I realized how beautiful the Chinese language is.

How much was special effects and how much was you?

Hiroyuki Sanada: We had a lot of wire work and a lot of blue screen; but I've done a lot of that before. The hardest part was keeping my character; in this film, one of the character's can run very fast, but I can't, my character can't. I like action, but the most important thing is character and drama.

How heavy was the suit?

Hiroyuki Sanada: So hot and warm, over 25 kg (55 pounds), the helmet was made of metal. And when we were doing the opening battle scene, there was no place to go; at the bottom of the hill, it was about 63 degrees celsius (145 degrees fahrenheit). Then, my first time, wearing the armor, fighting, after every take, I'd strip down to my underwear cause it was so hot. I'd drink water, fight; it was the hardest part physically.

How was it working with Chen Kaige?

Hiroyuki Sanada: He knew it, because he wrote it as well. But he's also a great actor as well. And he's played each role so beautiful. Sometimes, he gave my 4 Chinese characters, poems; he'd tell me he wanted those in the scene. He'd give me a few words, and direct us a few different ways. I feel like a half actor and half crew.

Do you think you're going to do another Chinese film?

Hiroyuki Sanada: Yeah, if I have a chance because this time, we figured out how to work together. At the beginning of filming, we had a discussion to find out the best way of shooting. After two months passed, we found our own rules; I'd like to continue this type of film again. Working in other cultures is hard, but if we can find a way to break down the walls, it would be beautiful. I'm really happy about that; that's the most important thing to me right now.

What are the different styles from working over in Asia on films compared to working here in the States?

Hiroyuki Sanada: The difference is in the producer and director; everyone has their own style. But, Hollywood has a lot more money; they can spend a lot on films, and time. In Europe, there's a small budget and thinking about commercial. Only budget and taste is different between there and Hollywood.

Do you believe in the supernatural element like your character does in this film? What was your first reaction when you first saw the film on the big screen?

Hiroyuki Sanada: Yeah, especially in the film because there is a lot of CGI; I wanted to make my character more of a human being and natural and ordinary person. I was really surprised when I first saw the film; the action sequence and the CGI sequence is bigger.

The Promise opens in limited cities May 5th, it's rated PG-13; look for a wider release in the coming weeks.