On the Set: Dragonball Evolution Interview with Chow Yun Fat
by Bamboo Dong, Apr 1st 2009
In front of one of the multi-story blue screens was a motorcycle with a side car, flanked by wind machines. That's where Chow Yun Fat would end up sitting, smiling into the fake wind, daydreaming about whatever it is Master Roshi daydreams about. Amusingly, the motions of the cart were replicated by a man heaving at a crank in front of the whole set up, churning it to make it seem like the car was moving. It sure didn't look like magic, but with CGI, anything can happen.
Mr. Chow has been called "one of the coolest actors in the world" by some sources, but he certainly never let that go to his head. He was very patient with all the reporters, and appeared as affable as one would expect an actor playing Master Roshi to be. Afterwards, he asked me where I was born, and after answering, we chatted about my hometown a bit. He may not be lecherous like Master Roshi, but he certainly is just as charming.
This interview was a recorded, group interview with multiple news organizations. Credit for the questions is attributed in part to Comic Book Movies, Comics2Film, IESB, IGN, MovieWeb, SciFi.
Editor's note: Mr. Chow's responses are not quoted verbatim. They have been edited for grammar and readability.
Can you tell us a bit about Master Roshi?
Hmm, Master Roshi. Have you ever seen the cartoon? I didn't have a chance to see all of the cartoon or the comic books, but based on the story itself, and from the script, I think Master Roshi is a very funny guy. Full of a sense of humor. He has a lot of super power. He looks after Goku, who is played by Justin. It is like a master and student relationship. It's not like the traditional Chinese kind of sifu (master), but it's more like a friend, you know.
What attracted you? Why did you want to do this film?
I think the character itself. I've never had this kind of character, from a comic book, and for me, it is very neat, very new. Comedy, drama, action, and all the CGI together. Interesting. Very interesting.
Were you a fan of Dragon Ball previously?
Honestly, when they released it in 1986 or '85, at that period, I was so busy. I was in Hong Kong doing all the John Woo movies, so I missed it. But I can catch up later on them.
Were you used to the CGI by now?
Oh no, first time. I did some wire work in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and one or two shots with CGI, but not like this movie. This movie has more like 40 to 50 percent.
Do you do martial arts in this as well?
A little bit. A little bit. More or less, it is the super power. I do the action and they would do the CGI.
Okay so it's much easier.
How would you describe Master Roshi's sense of humor? You said he was a funny guy.
Some of the ingredients were already written in the script. Since they know the audience in Asia or Europe, they don't have this kind of... over the top. Maybe he's not very suitable for [the age] rating? Master Roshi, his character from the comic book, is very crazy, you know. I saw the script, which is very appropriate for my character now. Not to much, but you can sense it. Of course, in the cartoon, Master Roshi is more than 300 years old. He is a dirty old man with a white beard and a bald head, but this is so different.
Can you talk about working with James Wong?
James Wong is the writer and director and he controls everything. He knows how to play every single scene and he gives me a lot of room to create Master Roshi. I I realize that all the times I'm over the top. He just tells me, "Mr. Chow, too much, too much. Go back, go back." Which is good, because this is the first attempt for this actor and director to make a movie together.
Do you think Dragon Ball fans will like this movie?
I don't know. I think you will like it. It's a really exciting movie.
How do you like working in comedy, as opposed to action?
Action is more physical. Comedy, more or less, is difficult for all actors, except Jim Carrey. *laughs* I mean, the timing for comedy is very difficult. I tried. I hope they like it.
How many of these Dragon Ball movies are you signed to do?
I don't know, because the control is not in my hands. It is in my wife's hands. *laughs* If she feels happy, she'll let me go on and on. I will take Roshi another 40- 50 episodes. *laughs*
Is the film you are working on next in English?
English. My next film will be a drama called Shanghai, which happens in 1940. It has Gung Lee, John Cusack, and Japanese superstar Ken Watanabe.
Do you feel comfortable acting in English as opposed to Chinese?
Honestly, I am still learning every day with my coach. My English is bad. But with Hollywood, I think it's a good opportunity to let me learn more English. There is also more opportunity for people my age. If I'm acting in my country, there will be very limited character for me to play because I'm already over 50. This is the fact, you know, you have to face it.
How's the relationship between you and the younger actors?
They more or less respect Master Roshi. *laughs* Emmy likes to sing and dance. [John] is the rap singer and Justin also loves music. The days are like a party. They're a lot of fun, and even though I'm over 50, I'm still like 25.
Are you learning anything from them?
Energy. Crazy thinking, you know. Not ordinary.
How long have you been in Durango?
Almost two months. I wrap today.
Is your wife here with you?
Yes, she is coming later on.
Are you looking forward to going home?
Yeah. I'm going to eat Chinese dim sum. I miss it. I miss it.
Have you done comedy in your native language?
Yes, I have.
Is it harder when you do it in English?
Absolutely, yeah. Because I don't have an English sense of humor. In my language, I have tons of it. In English, you have to really get the slang, and the culture. It's not easy.
Is there an ideal role you'd really like to play in a Hollywood movie?
A character that doesn't speak a word. That'd be fine. *laughs*
Like a silent film?
Yes. I don't need any dialog coach at all. Well, I'd still need an acting teacher. *laughs*
There was some talk a while ago about prequels or possibly sequels to Crouching Tiger. Is there anything in the works? Have you been approached about that?
No. I think they bought the rights, but I don't know what happened to the writer at the studio. They have all the rights already, but maybe they'll try to do this now or maybe later. I don't know.
Is it something you'd be interested in working on again?
I hope so, otherwise by then, I'll be way old.
Have you already shot Shanghai?
Not yet, not yet. They have to make several changes, and unfortunately, the script writer's strike stopped it, and then they wanted to write it. I think maybe another month, then we can talk about it after it's done.
Is it always just the material that draws you in, like the script? Or does the appeal of working with certain collaborators or people ever get you to sign on to something you might not ordinarily do?
I think the characters are more important than anything. I think different characters give me different inspiration.
You you were saying that in Hong Kong, you feel like you're sort of limited. Would you say the character you played in like, Curse of the Golden Flower... is that in the same vein or is that different? It seems different from a lot of the Hong Kong stuff you did.
That was from Zhang Yimou in another language and with different mannerisms. The men in China have more vision and different direction, more so than in Hong Kong, where they stick to the commercial way. In Hong Kong, they usually have all the gang movies or the action movies or Jackie Chan movies or Steven Chow comedies. That's it. They don't have this kind of money to invest in some of the adventure movies or some thrillers. In Hong Kong, the market is so narrow. Even now, if you want to display your talent, you have to go somewhere else for some resources. To increase your ability, your format, your language.
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