People ask, ‘How do you make fights different?’ Well, humans only have two arms and two legs, so it’s very hard to come up with something totally new. What we could do this time was to have a great story in which to utilize the action.”
Wo Ping adds, “On this film, there are no parlor tricks. We lay it all bare for the audience, so you can tell that the fight you are watching is the real thing.” Director of photography Poon Hang Sang remarks, “Jet’s actions often can’t be captured at normal film speeds.” Accordingly, some sequences were filmed at six times normal speed, so that movements could be captured on camera and edited into the movie in slow motion.
Jet Li’s Fearless marks the first time – out of nearly three dozen films in nearly thirty years – in which Jet Li will fight predominantly in an arena. “This presented a challenge for choreographing the action,” admits Wo Ping. “We can’t vary the audience’s experience with different sets and locations, so this forced us to be more imaginative with the action and the movement.”
In line with the story’s climactic match, the filmmakers convened an impressive international cast of world-class fighters. The roster grew to include seven-time World Kickboxing champion Jean Claude Leuyer (in the tournament sequence, as the English boxer); World Wrestling All-Stars hero and Australian bodybuilding champion Nathan Jones (in the wrestling-ring sequence); and acknowledged sword-fighting master Anthony De Longis (as the Spanish swordsman, in the tournament sequence). For Wo Ping, this made his work both easier and more difficult. He explains, “Working with people who knew how to fight meant that we could push the action harder, and experiment more. There are things that these guys can do that ordinary actors could never do, and as I pushed them to the next level, so too did they demand more of me.”
The unprecedented caliber of fighting talent on Jet Li’s Fearless also meant that Ronny Yu could call “action” and get precisely that – and in enviably long takes that showcase the fighters’ skill, since there were no novices to work around by way of fast cuts and close-ups.
Further, by introducing fighters to the world of Chinese Wushu, the action sequences were infused with fresh possibilities. Li enthuses, “We could really unleash our imaginations – like, how would a Chinese broad sword hit a Prussian blade? And how would a Chinese martial artist fight an American wrestler twice his size? The fighting sequences in this movie were exhaustive – and exhilarating.”
Out of a 90-day shooting schedule, 60 were spent filming action sequences. Yu adds, “This is the most difficult picture I’ve ever made. I didn’t want to confine Jet; I wanted to give him room to play. With so much room, magic comes up; Jet would bring in his own ideas, which would make sequences better.
“Wo Ping understands how to protect Jet – and make him look good. Because they’ve been working together for so many years, they don’t have to second- guess each other.”