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August 6, 2009

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Action! A new type of kung fu movie is set to hit the screens

DIRECTOR Teddy Chan has a vision of a different kind of martial arts movie. One that doesn't neglect emotions and storyline in favor of the action, reports Xu Wei. "Bodyguards and Assassins" is to be released in December. Hong Kong filmmaker Teddy Chan's 10-year dream has finally come true as his highly anticipated period epic "Bodyguards and Assassins" finished its three-month shooting recently at a huge replica of 1905 downtown Hong Kong built in Shanghai's suburban Songjiang District.

The action-packed film, with a budget of 150 million yuan (US$22 million), is due for release on December 18.

"I have revised the script several times over the past 10 years," Chan says. "The story really moved me a lot. I believe it can move the audience as well."

This time, Chan, known for his popular action films "Downtown Torpedoes" and "Purple Storm," wants to give kung fu film more historical relevance and magnitude, even if the storyline is fictional.

The film centers on a group of martial artists who try to protect revered Chinese revolutionary Dr Sun Yat-sen from an assassination attempt when he was in Hong Kong raising funds on October 15, 1905.

Its all-star cast includes veteran actors Donnie Yen, Tony Leung, Nicholas Tse, Leon Lai, Michelle Reis and Fan Bingbing.

But a big surprise to director Chan were the stunning performances from the 2005 "Super Girl" champion Li Yuchun and Chinese basketball star Mengke Bateer. Both had no previous acting experience.

"Li plays a martial arts talent while Bateer plays a bodyguard of Dr Sun Yat-sen," Chan says. "Their impressive performance submerged my former worries about first-time actors."

Veteran actors also take on new challenges in the movie.

In contrast to his former handsome and squeaky-clean image on the screen, Hong Kong actor Tse had his head shaved bald, for the first time, to play a "rickshaw puller" with suntanned skin and scarred face.

To get close to the heart of the character, Tse even wore special makeup while he was sleeping.

The film also marks actress Reis' return to the screen after her marriage to business tycoon Julian Hui last year.

Reis plays a woman who helps a beggar summon up courage and find new meaning in his life. The beggar, played by Lai, later becomes one of the martial artists to protect Dr Sun Yat-sen.

Director Chan notes that all the cast hopes to break out of the kung fu film stereotype with beautiful, sincere emotions, an in-depth storyline and more cultural connotations.

"The film portrays the gracious and bright side of human nature such as one's love for family, patriotism and dignity in the face of death," he says. "There are so many unsung heroes behind the Chinese revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911. We should show our respect for their devotion and sacrifice."

In addition to its star-studded cast, another highlight of the film is its magnificent set which reproduces the Hong Kong of a century ago.

It depicts Hong Kong's prosperity and vibrancy with a cluster of exotic colonial-style buildings, Gothic architecture and South Asian flavored arcades. About 500 homes, 200 shops and 4,000 signboards were created.

It took about a year and 43 million yuan to build the set, almost as big as 10 football fields.

"This film setting is the biggest of its kind in the history of Chinese cinema," director Chan adds. "It will be reserved for other film projects such as Andrew Lau's new action film."

It is a challenge for anyone to take charge in such a big film production. Lau actually helped direct several scenes when director Chan was busy, for which he received a special gift from the crew ?? a 1905 Hong Kong banknote.

The movie is also the debut production of Cinema Popular, a film company founded by Peter Chan and Chinese mainland director Huang Jianxin.

Peter Chan is one of the few Hong Kong directors adept at different genres, both art-house films and commercial war epics.

The period actioner "Bodyguards and Assassins," in his eyes, is an attempt to make a "new mainstream commercial film," which aims to attract audience from all over the world with more universal storylines, sensational acting and inspirational scenes that touch the soul.

Cinema Popular plans to produce 15 films in three years including the fantasy film "Jung Ku ?? The Man from 18th Hell," suspense thriller "Queen's Road Ripper" and comedy film "The God of Wealth."


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