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Interview with Leo Au-Yeung, Behind the Scenes of Ip Man
Bringing Wing Chun to the Screen 1/1 - Page 2
Author(s) : Mike Fury
Date : 7/7/2010
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Fan Siu Wong
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
Tony Leung Siu Hung
Donnie Yen Chi Tan
Movies :
Ip Man
The Legend Is Born - Ip Man
Lexic :
Wing Chun
< Previous
Page 1 : Ip Man
Next >
Page 3 : Ip Man: The Legend is Born
All photos courtesy of Leo Au-Yeung.

HKCinemagic: Did any of the actors have a Wing Chun background already?
Leo Au-Yeung: Up until the first Ip Man movie, Wing Chun wasn’t that big or at least not in the public’s mind. In Mainland China, for example, it isn’t that big. In towns like Foshan there are Wing Chun schools but it’s definitely not prominent. In comparison, Hong Kong is different because Ip Man took the style over there and as a result those who practice Martial Arts have mostly been able to touch Wing Chun a little bit. However, for the movie, many of the actors and stuntmen were from Mainland China and had never experienced Wing Chun before and didn’t know anything about it. So for many of these people it was a fresh start!
HKCinemagic: How does working with actors compare to working with students?
Leo Au-Yeung: It’s totally different! With my students, I teach them the slower way, the old-school way because they’ve got time to take everything in. It’s only right that they learn the system completely and become really competent because it’s a life or death situation out there! Actors don’t need to know everything but can pull off the appearance of the style for the film. Of course, if they were to apply what they’ve been shown to a real-life situation it would be a totally different story.

Leo Au-Yeung training in China
HKCinemagic: One criticism directed at the first Ip Man movie was about the lack of authentic Wing Chun on-screen. The counter argument would say that in film other elements are incorporated to make the action more interesting for the audience. What are your thoughts on this?
Leo Au-Yeung: At the end of the day, the Ip Man movies are not Wing Chun study material. The main goal is to bring more people into the martial arts but at the same time show some nice characteristics of the Wing Chun style. So obviously there has to be a compromise because Wing Chun movements are often so small and it can be very difficult to capture on camera. The camera likes to see big movements which really show off the power and while you can still show some small movements with a close-up from the camera, there still needs to be a big demonstration of the more powerful movements. I think Sammo Hung was great for this as he has so much experience making great martial arts movies. After I gave the actors and stuntmen an understanding of Wing Chun, Sammo was able to make it look really good on camera. This is an understanding the two of us had and brought this great style of action to the fight scenes.
HKCinemagic: How much involvement did you have in Sammo’s choreography?
Leo Au-Yeung: When the storyboards are created early on, we know in advance how many minutes and seconds each fight scene will last, where it takes place, how many people are involved and so on. So before we do anything, we understand what the motivation and purpose is behind each fight scene. For example, whether Donnie Yen is going to be very aggressive, or hold back and only touch his opponent. During the choreography, Sammo would ask me when the opponent attacks Ip Man in a particular way, how a Wing Chun expert would defend it. From there I’d show a variety of different applications and he’d pick the one he thought would work best, both in the story and in capturing it on camera. The fights were constructed in this way one stage at a time. There’s so much time and planning that goes into creating these scenes. For example, the first fight scene from Ip Man only lasts about 30 seconds but it took one week to generate and coordinate everything! This is how it works: step by step.

Leo Au-Yeung sparing with Tony Leung Siu Hung
HKCinemagic: What was your personal objective in bringing Wing Chun to the screen?
Leo Au-Yeung: My idea was always that if there were an opportunity to portray pure Wing Chun, I would do it. For example in showing hand movements, even if there was only enough time to show five hand movements, I’d want the actors to demonstrate this in the most accurate way possible. I wanted it to look really authentic.

Leo Au-Yeung posing with Tony Leung Siu-hung
HKCinemagic: Did you work with anyone who made a particularly strong and positive impression on you?
Leo Au-Yeung: I was really impressed by Tony Leung Siu Hung who worked as one of the action choreographers. He’s such an experienced and talented guy and I have a lot of respect for him. In the first movie he was Sammo’s right hand man and worked closely with Sammo, but also covered things if he was away and put a lot of his own ideas into the action. Also for the prequel I’ve just worked on, Ip Man: The Legend is Born, Tony worked as the action director so it was great to see him working on-set again. He’s definitely in the top list of names for Hong Kong action. I was also really impressed by all the stuntmen who learn their moves and sequences so quickly and are really dedicated to getting it right and working as a team. Fan Siu Wong, the actor who played the Northern fighter in the first movie, was really nice to work with as well because he’s very hard working and puts in a lot of time. There’s no ego or arrogance, he just wants to get it right. He also appears in The Legend is Born and Ip Man 2. To be honest, I was impressed with the whole team behind the Ip Man movies because filmmaking is a team effort. They all deserve credit.

Training with Fan Siu Wong
HKCinemagic: Did you spend much time with Donnie Yen?
Leo Au-Yeung: Unfortunately I didn’t have much contact with Donnie because while I did a lot of preparation work with the actors, stuntmen and choreographers in China, Donnie was on his own schedule in Hong Kong. However, he was able to work with my teacher, Master Sin Kwok Lam, in preparing for the movie. They trained for a whole six months before filming any of Donnie’s scenes. It was a shame not to work more closely with Donnie but good that he was able to dedicate this much time to training and preparing for the film.
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