Seven Swords (2005) - A Tsui Hark Film
 
The Action

Director Tsui has felt for some time that the traditional and long-standing style of martial arts choreography in films has become stale with its formulaic visual design, technique, and concept, and consequently needs to be reinvented. While there are many divergent styles of martial arts action design, in SEVEN SWORDS it is presented in an unusual manner with a completely new concept.

Wuxia literature often tells the story of one or many swordsmen seeking vengeance or justice, thus making the sword the most important weapon in the wuxia culture.

A sword is a weapon in which the slightest motion can generate the most destructive offensive force in the shortest period of time. A sword is unpredictable due to the distance between its body and its tip, as well as the minute changes in the angle and strength of the swordsman’s wrist. It is not like any other weapon, of which the offensive force hinges on its weight and length. The skill of a swordsman is closely related to his idiosyncrasies, sub-consciousness and training. If the swordsman is broad and noble-minded, he would wield a sword like a king. It is for this reason that the sword is often hailed as the “King of Weapons”.

With the goal of creating a new “wuxia language”, it was crucial that Tsui Hark found the right action team to take up the difficult task of choreographing the complicated sword fighting involved. The first name that came to his mind was legendary action filmmaker, Lau Kar-Leung. “Lau and I have known each other for many years and I have always been a big fan of his work,” said Tsui. “When it comes to authentic kung-fu fighting, Lau is the person you want to find.”

Respected as “Master Lau” by the younger generation and deemed as a legend by his peers, Lau Kar-Leung played a very important role in the development of the Hong Kong film industry, having reigned as the box-office champ in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with his kung-fu classics such as 36th Chamber of Shaolin. With credits in over 400 films over a span of fifty-three years of filmmaking , Lau has mastered virtually every styles and school of martial arts, successfully incorporating them into his films.

“This is probably the most challenging job I’ve ever taken on in my career; not only do the actors have to undergo heavy martial arts training but all the stuntmen need to be re-trained in order to fulfill this task,” said Lau.

Led by Lau Kar-Leung, the action team includes veteran action choreographer Xiong Xin Xin and additional action choreography by Tung Wai.

“By focusing on authentic martial arts fighting, we are showing the reflexes we call upon in a real life and death situation,” said Xiong (this being his fourteenth collaboration with Tsui Hark). “All of the characters in the story are skilled martial artists, but there is a limit to how much a human body can do, so we stay rooted, not going beyond the physical limit.”

Continued Xing, “Each sword has its own characteristics, but the way the sword is used and the energy it projects also differs when used by different people, thus making the action choreography especially complicated in this film. Take for example The Dragon; it’s very sharp with a flexible blade. When its owner, Chu Zhaonan uses it, there’s a mystical power to it. The human eye is unable to catch the speed of its strike, and the opponent is unable to predict what direction it may take. In a scene where Fire-wind gets hold of The Dragon, he uses it in a totally different way. Fire-wind viewed it to be the most powerful sword; it brought out the most primitive and darkest side of him whereby he felt invincible and empowered and his strikes were quick and strong- but they were predictable.”

Says Tsui, “We want to take the audience to a new level of experience, giving them a different perspective of viewing the wuxia world and its characters.” Lau adds, “As we are not relying on special effects, every detail needs to be thoroughly thought out and designed. By going back to the basics, we are showing the audience the authentic and fascinating beauty of martial arts.”


The Location and Designs
One of the most important tasks for Tsui Hark was finding the right locations where he could create and capture the world of SEVEN SWORDS. There were three major settings: The Martial Village, The Bowei Fortress, and most importantly, Mount Heaven which is located in Xinjiang, a province located in the far north western part of China.

“Mount Heaven plays a very important role in the story : its where the SEVEN SWORDS came together. It’s a landmark representing Xinjiang; legendary and magical. Therefore, right from the beginning, I decided that I wanted to shoot the entire film in its original location,” says Tsui.

Tsui Hark set out on a quest traveling throughout Xinjiang, in order to match his vision of the world so beautifully painted in Liang Yu-Shen’s novel with the utmost authenticity and realism. Tsui further explains, “As a director, it’s important not only to capture the heart of the story, the performance of an actor, but to support all that in the most visceral and pungent way that I can in terms of the environment and the most perfect inflected vision of the world of the characters I can find.”

Hence, for several months, Tsui and his production team searched for the right places to shoot the film. “When we first arrived in Xinjiang, we realized what a huge place it was. The weather changed a lot, so it was very important that we found a more stable area for us to build our sets,” Tsui recalls.

As the filmmakers were passing through Michuan, a city located outside of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, they came upon a piece of untouched land that captured the landscape close to the picture of the world of SEVEN SWORDS that Tsui had already drawn out in his mind. What further impressed the filmmakers was that it gave them the sense of traveling back in time to a simpler, primal, land-based way of life. In rural Xinjiang, the world is rough hewn and handmade, subject to the constant shifting vagaries of weather and nature; it was just the environment they needed to create the Martial Village.

After finding the place to locate Martial Village, the filmmakers traveled on deeper into Xinjiang in search of the place to build Fire-wind’s base. The filmmakers found Da Ma Ying in Turfan, which is located in the Gobi Desert. “While Martial Village was a peaceful farming village, Bowei Fortress needed to project the exact opposite. Survival in the desert is never easy, and placing Bowei Fortress there emphasized the toughness and coldness of it,” says Tsui.

In collaborating with the artists who designed the costumes, weapons, and sets for SEVEN SWORDS, Tsui Hark had one priority, bringing all the characters to life, immersing the audience in the surreal yet realistic atmosphere of the wuxia world he wanted to create.

Nobody felt this imperative more strongly than award winning Art Director, Eddy Wong, who has worked with many visionary Asian directors of his generation. “For Martial Village, we wanted to emphasize the nature of its primitiveness and peacefulness and also have Xinjiang’s traditional look,” says Wong. “It needed to be a fully functioning village, so no detail was overlooked.”

Wong continued, “For the Bowei Fortress, in order to express the cold-bloodedness of its owner, we used black and dirt brown as its color, giving it a rusty metallic look, to create this “castle of greed”. The Bowei Fortress stands in stark contrast to the peaceful green of the Martial Village; It shows the most primitive lust and ugly desires of human nature.”

Tsui summed it up saying, “Through the Martial Village and the Bowei Fortress, we project a civilized and primitive society, a realism that people of modern day can relate to; in contrast, our intent it to create a magical and mystical imagery for and through Mount Heaven.”
 
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