27th Feb2015

Interview: Michelle Bai talks ‘Kung Fu Killer’

by Phil Wheat

In Kung Fu Killer, Ip Man star Donnie Yen plays martial arts instructor Hahou, working with the police to bring down a vicious killer targeting various kung fu masters to prove himself the greatest. Amidst a variety of situations and settings – a film studio, a dinosaur skeleton, a tattoo parlour – each fight scene is more crowd-pleasing than the last. If it all sounds like a deliriously old-school martial arts movie given a deliriously 21st century twist, there’s a good reason for that – that’s exactly what it is!

To celebrate the films release Andrew Heskins of easternKicks.com sat down with one of the films stars, Michelle Bai, to discuss all things Kung Fu Killer

M-Bai

How did you become involved in the movie “Kung Fu Jungle” (aka Kung Fu Killer)?

Michelle Bai: It was a coincidence probably, because I wasn’t a hardcore martial-art action actress to start with.

It is quite different to roles you’ve played before, was that difficult for you to do the martial arts and so on, or did you enjoy doing that?

It is difficult, and the sword is too long and too heavy to control for girls. On one hand it was tough, on the other hand I enjoyed it. Even though it was very difficult, the sword was so long and very difficult to manoeuvre, even so I enjoyed it because it’s a new challenge, it’s a new thing a learning curve for me so I enjoy it.

Did you do a lot of training with Donnie Yen and rehearsing and did he work with you on set for the fight choreography?

It took two months training but it was only when I got to the set that I realized that it was totally different from what I was trained to do. When I actually got to the set the choreography was quite different so I only realized that all the things I did during the two months before shooting was only a preparation and during training Donnie wasn’t there. During training I was taught a bit more sword work and quite fancy ones as well, some cutter, some styles, but on the set when I was actually fighting with Wang Baoqiang, the protagonist, I realized that it was actually very high-impact fighting, it was a matter of life and death, it was fighting for lives, so that was really tough.

Did you get hurt at any point?

Minor injuries yes, because it’s normal to be injured in an action film, but nowadays I think actors are very fortunate to have a lot of protection and the director looked after us really well. But there was a scene when I was with Baoqiang and I was meant to be next to a wall of shelves and things and the whole shelf collapsed on me so I had to back off, but I didn’t quite do that in time. So I didn’t get the timing perfect, and the shelf collapsed. I was stuck between the wall and the shelf which was very dangerous and my head was about to be hit and then it collapsed on me and I thought it was OK I didn’t feel hurt at all. But later on I realized that a whole patch of skin came off on my hand and it leaves a scar on my hand and the scar would be there permanently. But compared with other action actors, it’s really nothing, this little patch of skin is really nothing because when I worked with Donnie I got to see all his old injuries, he has old injuries all over his body so they do all the tough work and it’s very tough on real action actors and all the stunt men.

And of course you’ve got to appear with two of the world’s most iconic martial artists, Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, what are they like to work with and how different are they on set?

To start with, Jackie Chan was probably the very first Chinese person, after Bruce Lee, to promote Chinese martial-art films in the Western world, so he’s iconic in the sense and he’s a very important person in Chinese martial-art film industry. So he’s always a representative of Chinese films in this regard, and he’s a very nice person, but his Kung Fu movies are more or less, the films have a lot of comedy, humour element in it so it’s quite different. And Donnie Yen now is also a world class actor and he’s a very nice person, and he also helps promoting Chinese martial art films to the Western, to the wider world, so they are both very important, very crucial characters, crucial people in Chinese martial-art films, and it’s really good to have these people to do that, and he’s also a very nice person.

Are their styles of directing different, because Jackie Chan directed you on Chinese Zodiac, and Donnie Yen would have been directing the action sequences in Kung Fu Jungle, how different are their styles of directing?

I’m afraid I can’t really answer you in a professional angle. The reason is that when I worked with Jackie Chan I didn’t have any actions at all, I didn’t have any actions to do so I didn’t really work with him as an action actor and I’m not a martial-art person anyway so I can only see things from an audience angle as a viewer, but this time working with Donnie Yen is actually action and it’s head-to-head, so I can’t really compare giving you a very professional insight on it. I can only see things from just an ordinary audience from the angle of an audience.

What was Teddy Chen like to work with as a director?

To start with, Teddy Chen is a very caring director. When I injured myself, he gave me a whole week, much easier job to do, no action for a full week so I could heal, he only gave me some drama or romance to do so I just needed to stand there and didn’t have any actions at all. And this was really helpful, so Teddy Chen is a very caring and very thoughtful director, and the other thing is that I didn’t realize there would be so huge a response to the ending credit of the film when he showed all the faces alongside their names. That also made people realize how many Chinese actors are there that people didn’t really catch, didn’t get to see or catch people’s eyes, didn’t realize there were so many Chinese action actors, and this was a very touching thing to do as well. And I was surprised and he was surprised as well to have this response a very good response to the ending credit, and this is also a very nice thing to do.

Do you think you’ll be doing or would you like to do more roles in action films? And what have your favourite acting roles been so far? How does it compare to being a singer and you’re more famous for doing sort of romantic comedies beforehand, where’s the deliberate jump to action movies?

As an actress I’m supposed to be trying out different things, so I’m really happy to try to do different roles. My favourite character would be my next character. The question regarding whether or not I would play in martial art films again, it is tough but I enjoy it.
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Kung Fu Killer is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, courtesy of Signature Entertainment

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