Seven Swords (2005) - A Tsui Hark Film
 
Finding The Story
 
When Tsui Hark came across author Liang Yu-Shen’s classic wuxia novel Seven Swords of Mount Heaven after it was first published in the 70’s, he had always wanted to someday turn it into a feature film. He found the mythic story filled with power and revelation; the intensity of it gave the director a deep impression.
 
“The book appears to be a typical wuxia story, but then I found it to be so much more,” he says, “SEVEN SWORDS is very different from other wuxia literature. This story focuses heavily on swords; how a sword is created, giving it its natural characteristics; how the connection and the discipline of a swordsman can change the power of a sword; the impact a sword can create with the owner at different stages; it goes into detail about swords, which is also a culture of its own. This topic has never been fully explored in any of the other wuxia films before, and I think it best expresses the soul of wuxia. ”
 
Continues Tsui: “For years I’ve been in search of the right story from which I could make another wuxia film; a story where I could truthfully build this imaginative yet surreal world, to fully deliver the true spirit of the culture. Then I realized the story has always been in my mind. What makes Liang’s story such a masterpiece, is that it’s about seven swordsman each going through different internal journeys and how they overcome their weaknesses, discovering their potentials, uniting together and ultimately representing a strong force, fighting against the injustice of a powerful sovereignty. It’s not just a story about heroism; it’s about how heroes are made.”
 
Tsui Hark immediately began to envision Liang Yu-Shen’s epic tale as a motion picture. “The book itself makes an irresistible case for adaptation to the screen,” he notes, “it has honorable heroes, their journey of transformation, a purpose, a series of obstacles, and Mount Heaven itself, which stands in for a time and a way of life that has been lost. At its heart, the book has an intriguing and enduring expression of the spirit of unity; being able to sacrifice yourself as an individual for a bigger cause.”
 
In adapting the screenplay, Tsui Hark knew he’d have to set out on his own unique journey and bring his own vision to Liang’s classic story. Nobody understands the danger associated with adapting a novel that is widely read and beloved more than he does. Having adapted many screenplays from novels of the genre, Tsui translated many classic stories to the screen, surprising audiences and critics alike with his cinematic evocation of the sweeping themes of wuxia literature.
 
Tsui’s screenplay based on the original, “Seven Swords of Mount Heaven” concentrated on the coming together of the SEVEN SWORDS, each driven to unexpected courage and strength by love, friendship, spirit of justice, and the longing for a peaceful and harmonious world. The script earned Liang Yu-Shen’s blessing, which was essential to Tsui.
 
Sums up producer Ma Zhong Jun, who is a writer himself and was very impressed by Tsui’s adaptation effort and abilities, “Tsui was able to make his adaptation completely his own without ever violating author Liang Yu-Shen’s intent. He has re-imagined and re-created the whole world of the book into his screenplay. It has everything that’s valuable and worth treasuring in the story, a story of love and heroism, but also an odyssey that tests its main characters in every possible way.”

 

Cast and Characters

From the beginning, Tsui Hark had committed himself to finding the right cast for SEVEN SWORDS’ intensely vivid heroes, heroines, and villains. While it was vital to Tsui to capture the unique sense of the wuxia world through locations, designs, and the action choreography, none of it would mean a thing unless the characters were brought to life by the cast.
 
“Often I write a character with an actor already in mind, but I still spent a lot of energy on casting for this film, making sure that I’d found the right person for each character,” said Tsui. “The process helps me better understand what kind of film I want to make, seeing how one face or the characteristics of an actor would work, and why another won’t. For SEVEN SWORDS, as we were casting what amounted to a collection of characters, I went further, picturing different sequences, seeing if the faces would work with one another.”

Tsui Hark says that this was particularly true when considering the seven major roles that ultimately came to be the SEVEN SWORDS. “The main concept of SEVEN SWORDS is the power of unity. The story is about how a group of seven swordsman come together, joining forces to fight against evil. While each character is very different from each other with each having their own strengths and weaknesses, because of their unity, they are able to further extend each other’s power.”



Legendary Hong Kong action figure, Lau Kar-Leung, was cast as Fu Qinzhu (The
Unlearnt Sword). A retired executioner from the overthrown Ming dynasty, Fu has killed many innocent people in his prior position, and is looking to repent his soul. When Fu learnt of Fire-wind’s plans to attack the Martial Village, he went up Mount Heaven to seek help from Master Shadow-glow resulting in the formation of the SEVEN SWORDS. Being the eldest, wisest, and the most skilled swordsman, he is the spiritual leader of the group, representing ‘wisdom’.
 
“Fu Qinqzhu’s character is an old swordsman who has experienced life and is a master in swordplay; all the other swords looks up to him” says Tsui “and incidentally, Lau plays that role in the film industry. He has been in the trade for over fifty years, with extensive knowledge in martial arts and filmmaking and we all look up to him. He fits the profile of this character perfectly.”
 
Chu Zhaonan (The Dragon Swords) is played by international action star, Donnie Yen, who recently appeared in the critically acclaimed Hero. The eldest disciple of Master Shadow-glow, Chu is a strong, confident, and skillful swordsman. Due to his tough childhood and drifting youth, Chu holds an unclear source of anger against the world, and tends to act on impulse. As the eldest with the most powerful sword, Chu automatically becomes the leader of the SEVEN SWORDS, representing ‘offense’.

When Donnie Yen was approached with the project, he immediately jumped at the opportunity of working with Tsui Hark again, having last collaborated together more than twelve years ago on Iron Monkey, which led him to international fame.
 
“We have always wanted to work together again, but never found the right project,” Yen recalls. “When I read the screenplay, I knew this was it. Never have I come across such a moving story with such powerful impact. It is not like any other wuxia story, with a simple storyline of a heroic swordsman seeking vengeance or justice; it’s about love, hate, friendship……all human emotions you could possibly think of. It digs deep into what makes us human, and what makes our existence.”
 
Yen saw the role of Chu Zhaonan not only as an opportunity to work with Tsui Hark again but also as a rare chance to further explore himself as an actor. “The action part is easy for me, I’ve been doing martial arts all my life but being able to play a role as complex as Chu is really a new challenge,” he says. “He’s a wild and mysterious man with a lot of energy inside him that could take him to either extreme. When the SEVEN SWORDS went down Mount Heaven to save the village, Chu saw it as a chance of breaking out, a chance to prove and see what he’s really made of, not knowing what he wants to achieve. In the process, he finds the meaning of true love and friendship, and ultimately finds himself.”
 
While Chu Zhaonan is a hot-blooded passionate warrior, Yang Yunchong (The Transience Sword), played by Hong Kong megastar, Leon Lai, is the extreme opposite. Yang’s father was a member of an underground band of rebels, “The Heaven and Earth Society”, that secretly planned to revolt against the Manchurian government. Wrongfully accused of betrayal, he was killed by his own brothers. With his last breath, he made Yang promise that he would never seek revenge for him, thus Yang hid in Mount Heaven, distancing himself from the world, hoping to find forgiveness and inner peace. Calm and rational, Yang represents ‘defense’.
 
“In the beginning, Yang was unwilling to leave Mount Heaven; he just wanted to go on with his quiet life,” says Tsui, “but ultimately he decided to go, out of loyalty to his friends and in the spirit of justice. As I was sculpting this character, I immediately thought of Leon. He does not look like your typical wuxia figure, and that’s exactly what the character portrays.”
 
Best known for his performances in contemporary romances, Leon Lai saw the role of Yang Yunchong as an alternative challenge to his acting career. “I think every actor strives to present himself differently each time on screen,” says Lai, “I’ve never played an action role before, let alone a wuxia hero, and getting to work with Tsui Hark, who is the best director in making films of this genre, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime that I couldn’t possibly miss!”
 
Lai continued, “What I found to be the most fascinating part of the story was how all of the inner struggles and growth of each character is depicted so vividly. It’s a story about how a hero exists in each and every single one of us, no matter how ordinary we are, and when the time comes, it will appear to show you the extraordinary things you are actually capable of.”

Wu Yuanyin (The Heaven’s Fall Sword) was originally a male character in the novel and rewritten to be a heroine in the adapted screenplay. Played by versatile Hong Kong actress, Charlie Young, Wu is a simple village girl who was orphaned at a very young age. Wu has very low self-esteem, not knowing what her abilities are and how far they can go. After she meets Fu Qinzhu, he helps her to identify who she is, and what purpose and meaning she can bring to her life. She overcomes her inner fears and ultimately shows confidence and unleveled courage. Wu represents ‘discipline’.
 
For Young, getting into Wu’s character meant an exciting chance to fully abandon herself to the rhythms of martial arts and her more primal, earthy side, that the audience has rarely seen on screen before. Explained the actress, “I’ve never been in an action role before and have always looked up to action actors. I think it’s amazing that they’re able to memorize all the fight sequences, and at the same time, still act out the drama.”
 
Continued Young, “I also found Wu’s inner growth very close to home. When I first joined Hong Kong cinema, I was unsure of where I was headed. Similar to how Fu helps Wu discover her potential, Tsui Hark helped me find where my position is in the business and how I can further develop my career. I can understand the struggles Wu has inside, and could totally relate to the journey of her transformation.”
 
For Han Zhiban (The Deity Sword), the filmmakers cast China heartthrob, Lu Yi, to play the honest and passionate swordsman that represents ‘reincarnation’. “I was so excited when the project was brought to me. What could be more fun than horse- riding and fighting with swords?” Lu recalls.



And that was exactly what Lu got a taste of in signing on to SEVEN SWORDS. In order to play the role of a natural and native horseman and to fight convincingly with the heaviest sword, Lu Yi had to undergo the toughest training of all. “It was physically exhausting, but I enjoyed every minute of it.”
 
Newcomers Duncan Chow who recently starred in the successful Taiwan film, Formula 17, and Dai Li-Wu, a Peking Opera performer from Taiwan, are cast as Mulang (The Celestial Beam Sword), and Xing Longzhi (The Star Chasers Sword). Characters of two different extremes, Mulang is optimistic and outgoing, always able to view the world from a positive perspective, representing ‘unity’, while Xing Longzhi, an orphan brought up by wolves is a quiet loner, representing ‘power’. While the two characters share a very close bond in the story, the two actors have also developed a very tight friendship behind the camera.
 
“Dai began Peking Opera training when he was eight, so he knows the tricks to a great action performance and I was able to learn a lot from him,” said Chow. Dai further observed, “Xing seems cold on the outside but actually has a warm heart, in real life, I’m actually more like Mulang, and Duncan’s personality is closer to Xing’s, thus we had a very interesting experience working together.”
 
After the casting for the SEVEN SWORDS was done, Tsui Hark faced the real challenge of finding the perfect actor to portray the villain, Fire-wind.
 
“Fire-wind is like a ruthless businessman; everything he does is for the purpose of survival, even if it means hurting innocent people,” says Tsui. “He does not have a high regard of himself, he doesn’t enjoy doing the things he does, but society requires him to become the cold-blooded figure he is in order to survive, so he’s simply following the rules of the game set by the system.”
 
 To play this complex character, the filmmakers cast award-winning actor, Sun Hong-Lei, to deliver the difficult performance. Sun who recently appeared in Zhou Yu’s Train, opposite Gong-Li, is deemed one of the best actors in China.
 
“I have always been biased against wuxia films. I tended to find the genre to be unrealistic, but after reading the screenplay, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” said Sun. “Fire-wind is the role I’ve been waiting for. I’ve played many different villain characters, but he’s completely different from what I have done in the past. On the surface, he seems like the ordinary bad guy, lost in greed and lust, but deep inside, there’s so much life, depth, and layers to him.”
         
Sun continues, “Fire-wind is a very sad and lonely man. His inner world is very simple but what he projects on the outside is so complex. He doesn’t know what he lacks and what he needs, he feels this hollowness inside and he’s constantly filling it up with wealth and power. The sad truth is that what he is looking for is very simple, he craves for love and friendship, priceless things that he does not know how to get. If he had these things, he wouldn’t be the person he is.”
 
In addition to the main cast in the film, the long list of diverse roles provided a number of opportunities for first-rate actors and newcomers to appear in SEVEN SWORDS. Included were well known Korean actress Kim So Yeun as the tragic Green Pearl who is enslaved by Fire-wind after her village is ravaged; newcomer Zhang Jingchu as Liu Yufang, the adamant school teacher and daughter of the Martial Village’s leader; veteran actor Bai Biao as Liu Jingyi, the leader of the village; and action actor Chi Kuanjun as Qiu Dongluo, the deputy to Liu.
 
Tsui summarizes, “The film encompasses such a large canvas, we are truly fortunate to have the participation not only of seasoned veteran actors, but so many of today’s interesting, wonderful, and talented young performers.”

 

Page 3 : The Action and Location & Designs

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