You may not immediately recognize Yuen Woo-ping‘s name, but if you’ve seen the Matrix movies, the Kill Bill movies, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you’ve seen his work. The renowned martial arts director and fight choreographer has orchestrated some of the most memorable and thrilling action sequences in all of cinema, working with people like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Donnie Yen. Some of his films, like Iron Monkey, Wing Chun, and the original Drunken Master, are widely celebrated classics of the genre, which has benefited from his talents for nearly half a century.
This week, Yuen releases his latest directorial effort, a spinoff of the popular Ip Man franchise called Master Z: Ip Man Legacy. The film focuses on a martial arts master in 1960s Hong Kong who loses a duel with Ip Man and decides to retire, only to be drawn back into fighting by a local drug dealer. Normally, we would ask Yuen what his Five Favorite Films were, but with such an extensive list of credits, we thought we’d do something a little more interesting. With that in mind, read on for Yuen Woo-ping’s five favorite fight scenes that he himself directed.
This one is from my most recent film so it’s still fresh in my mind. The idea was to do a fight completely at height on the signs on our Hong Kong street set. We designed the sequence for months as the wire work with that many people was especially complicated. It was all done off real buildings, nothing was done in a studio. We were hesitant to commit to this sequence because we were shooting in the middle of typhoon season and we were worried the wind would destroy our set and we would not have time to rebuild and would have to scrap the sequence midway through. In the end, we took a chance and the heavens watched over us and we finished the sequence three days early.
Though not really a fight, this sequence of grabbing papers caught in a wind has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the times where we take all the martial arts know-how and use it on a character moment without combat. A beautiful little scene.
Hero fights with two people are the most fun to choreograph and probably also the most entertaining to watch. This film was a long time in the making – almost three years. The actors trained hard to learn martial arts and it all shows in this scene. Zhang Ziyi’s bagua and Max Zhang’s xingyi are on full display and we incorporated the best moves from each style. It was the perfect culmination of martial arts, hard work, and cinema.
The film is regarded as a classic but many people were skeptical when Ang Lee wanted to make this film. We really pushed ourselves on these two sequences. The Night Chase sequence not only had to have the actors flying on rooftops, but the cameramen as well. Combined with Tan Dun’s drums, the sequence is as thrilling to watch as it was to make.
The Dojo Fight was a fun sequence. Ang Lee wanted a fight with “everything” so we used every weapon we could think of. Even though there are a couple comedic beats in the sequence, it really showed how powerful the Green Destiny sword was in the story.
This was my second film as director and it was made in same style as my first film, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I got to work with my father, who first got me into filmmaking. Since I was still just starting out, the budget and schedule were very tight. And at that point, people were still figuring out the kung fu genre, so we were really left to figure things out on our own. All the hard work paid off and the film was a huge success in Asia. It made drunken boxing popular again to the point where wushu started practicing it again. It made Jackie Chan a star and it got me work for years to come.
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy opens in limited release on Friday, April 12.