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with Daniel Wu
Award winning Hong Kong director/actor Daniel Wu visited San Francisco in March 2008. Wu,
representing Blood Brothers, an action drama directed by newcomer Alexi Tan,
served as a guest and panelist for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to Wu during the festival,
in which he generously shared his experience working with Tan, as well as memories of
his days in the Bay Area, and also some of his future plans.
Please enjoy the interview!
* The interviews were originally conducted in Cantonese.
Who is Daniel Wu?
Born in the US but made his name well known in Hong Kong, Daniel Wu (1974~) is one of the most important
lead actors of his generation. As an actor, Wu used to be the proud recipient of the Golden Horse
Best Supporting Actor Award, and as a fledgling director, Wu captured the Best New Director
Award at HKFAA.
Wu was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. He spent his college year at the University of
Oregon, majored in architecture. After he graduated, he went to Hong Kong in 1997 and started his modelling
Wu's modelling career was cut short when he was casted to play a leading role in Yon Fan's Bishonen, a film about
homosexual relationship between several men. That's when he started to explore a career in films.
In 1999, his role in Purple Storm further established his name as a professional actor.
Throughout the years, Wu has acted in more than forty films, which helped building up his reputation as one of
the most sought top-tier actor in Hong Kong. In 2005, his excellent performance in Jackie Chan's New Police
Story gained him a Golden Horse award for best supporting role.
In 2006, Wu made his directing debut with Heavenly Kings, a pseudo-doumentary aims at mocking
the lucrative music business. The film brought him the Best New Director Award at HKFAA, and it was
welcome by film festivals around the world.
In 2008, Wu paired with Jackie Chan again in Derek Yee's Shinjuku Incident, which was slated
to be released later the year but ended up postponing to the spring of 2009. In the mean time, Wu
is also working on his script and is getting ready to direct his second film.
Cinespot: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Let's begin with Blood Brothers. Tell us
about your experience working with new director Alexi Tan.
Wu: Alexi is a very special person. He grew up in London and went to school in New York, and then
he returned to London to work, and finally he went to Hong Kong. His life and work experience is very broad,
and he also sees a lot of films from Europe, US, Japan, Hong Kong, etc. That explains why he has very broad
taste in films, and was diversely influenced. Therefore, you could find a lot of those influences in
Blood Brothers, for example, there was some resemblence with Alain Delon's films, and also some
Sam Peckinpah's Western, and Godfather. He put in a lot of his favorite things in the film.
Cinespot: Compared to other more experienced directors, how was he different?
Wu: There are certainly some differences. A new director and an experienced one are totally
different. For instance, some Hong Kong directors start out as production assistant, and then
get promoted to assistant director, and then after a few years they finally make their way to the director's
chair. So in terms of the technical aspect, they are very skillful. As for Alexi Tan, perhaps he
was not a very technical person, nevertheless he had very strong work philosophy on the set. His idea was quite
different from many Hong Kong directors, which I guess was probably due to his different background
Cinespot: So did you spend more time on the creative process since he was quite new to
Wu: Not really. I usually just listened to what he said, and we spoke in English. In terms
of directing, I tried not to interfere, since it is the duty of the director. I know that some
actors, like Tom Cruise, might take part in directing and editing, but I don't want to be that kind
of actor. Although I have directed a film, as an actor, I don't cross the line. When I am an actor,
I act, and when I am a director, I direct. I remember Derek Yee once said, "Once you have been a
director, nobody would dare to find you to act." That's why I make my job duty very clear.
Cinespot: How did Alexi Tan first approach you?
Wu: We met a long time ago, through Wing Shya, a photographer. At that time, I was
hanging out with Chang Chen in Taiwan, and then Wing called me, saying that a new friend
just came to Taiwan, and would like to meet up with us, and that's Alexi. He was also a
photographer back then, and was looking for some photography job. After I talked to him,
I thought he was quite amazing, and I felt that he really wanted to start a career in
Asia. And then we haven't really met for a few years. One day, someone sent me a script
and the writer's name looks familiar... I then got to know that he spent the last few years
shooting music video and commercial, and met John Woo and Terence Chang. He became part
of Woo and Chang's crew and eventually started making films.
Cinespot: What was the most remarkable thing during the production?
Wu: It's probably the opportunity for Chang Chen, Liu Ye and me to get together, it
was quite rare for a film to have all three of us in it. When Alexi first contacted me,
I immediately rang Chang Chen, asking if he also got the same script. I made sure he
would be in it before I signed in, and then I also called Liu to confirm he was in. It
was like scheduling ball games with friends, it's always more interesting if all of the
actors are good friends. We spent a lot of our break time drinking, playing basketball and
Cinespot: How would you rate your colleague Liu Ye?
Wu: He is an incredible actor, his eyes can act! He is just like a younger version of
Al Pacino. Same as Chang Chen, he also enjoys playing basketball, it was great working with him.
Cinespot: Most people know that you grew up in the States. Tell us more about your time in this country.
Wu: I was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in Orinda, a city in East Bay. I spent most of
my middle and high school time in Oakland. Oakland's Telegraph Avenue was my most frequent hangout place,
every day after I got off school, I went there to play skateboard, smoke, shop and eat pizza. After I graduated
from high school, I went to the University of Oregon to study architecture, I stayed there for five years
before I moved to Hong Kong. When I was in Oregon, there was quite some cultural shock. As you know,
there are many Chinese in San Francisco, but the situation in Oregon was very different, even the Chinese
restaurants were run by White people, it was so strange. I remember I always went to Vancouver to "yamcha"
and have dimsum at that time.
Cinespot: The production of Hong Kong movie was known for being very rush. Is it still the case now?
Wu: There is nothing like the Wong Jing's "seven days" production now. Perhaps some HD television movies are
made quickly, say in about 10 days, but most other films are shot in at least twenty call days. Some
films, like Shinjuku Incident, have even more production time, which is
very generous. I would say, those 6~7 days crappy productions were gone now, but I admit that I have starred in
those productions before! I still learned a lot though, since there was no script for those films, you gotta think
really fast and undestand clearly what your role is about.
Cinespot: Talking about social realist films, that's the kind of film you would like to make, the
market seems to be quite small in Hong Kong. Does it limit your development as a director?
Wu: If I direct, I want to go the independent path. I don't mean to avoid commercial element, but
I just tend not to touch too much on it. Certainly I hope my film can make money, but it is fine if
it cannot, the most important thing is for me to convey my message.
Cinespot: You wrote your own script for Heavenly Kings. How do you usually write?
Wu: I always find other collaborators to discuss, it is like playing tennis, I need some
kind of interactions in order to conceive new ideas. Since I don't write Chinese and I am not a
professional writer who is familiar with the screenwriting process, I also need a screenwriter to
actually write the script. As an actor turned writer, I depend on my actor's instinct and I usually draft the scene
in my mind first, and then think about the dialogues.
Cinespot: Do you have any writing partner?
Wu: I don't have a fixed one, but there are a few like-minded writers and I usually find them to talk.
In part II of the interview, Daniel Wu talks about his directing experience as well
as his future plans. Please click here to go to Part II!