If Sony has its way, actor-director Stephen Chow will be the heir to Jackie Chan’s kung-fu/comedy throne, thanks to his unique blend of CGI fantasy fight imagery and stunts in Kung-Fu Hustle — story of a wannabe gangster who tries to prove himself to the local gang but is thwarted with each step he takes along the way. Stephen Chow Sing-Chi grew up a Bruce Lee fan and martial arts addict but started his career as a kids TV show presenter; once he starred in a Chow Yun-Fat spoof, All For the Winner, he soon became a Hong-Kong martial arts superstar, as well as a man known for the yuks. He established his nonsense style with last year’s Shaolin Soccer and a taste of international success. Now, with Kung-Fu Hustle, he may yet establish a whole new genre.
The L Magazine: With its humor and special effects was it harder to do this film than a conventional kung fu film?
Stephen Chow: So you don’t think I directed a kung fu film?
The L: Well, it’s a special kung fu film…
SC: How? Hmm [pause]. The difficulty in this film is just like what you said: how to make it different from any other, because there’s already a lot of different kinds of kung fu films in the past. So that was a challenge.
The L: Where did you get the idea for both Kung Fu Hustle and your previous, innovative, kung-fu film, Shaolin Soccer?
SC: Shaolin Soccer comes from a Japanese cartoon from a long, long time ago — over 10 years ago! It was a Japanese soccer cartoon that was very popular. At that time, the idea was like soccer in my mind. Everyone likes soccer — it’s spread throughout the world. Is it possible to make a soccer movie? Even if the soccer movie is in Hong Kong …
The L: What made Kung Fu Hustle happen?
SC: After Shaolin Soccer, I had more confidence to handle this kind of thing and then the real kung fu films were dying. I love kung fu films, so I like making them.
The L: When you’re on the set doing a stunt, and you know you’re going to have a computer to work later, do you worry much about the stunts on the set?
SC: Overall, it is a very complicated work that takes a lot of time to do and there are a bunch of people involved, with the team from the choreographer and another team from the CGI company and my team, you know? [Laughs] Three teams of people get together and they try to do it better!
The L: What’s the hardest part?
SC: What’s the hardest part [laughs]? You have to wear a wire shirt all the time and you’re punching and kicking all day long; for a 42-year-old man like me… [laughs]. Yeah but on the other hand, I love kung fu very much and am still practicing myself.
The L: Jackie Chan has said that martial arts cinema is dying out because the younger stars don’t do the kind of training he did when he was with the Seven Little Fortunes — is that true?
SC: I think the potential kung fu star — the younger generation — is actually all over the world, but it’s just a matter of are you really going to find them? Actually, the potential for the stars of the future are everywhere but you have to search for them.
The L: Would you work with people coming from other disciplines like Thai boxing?
SC: Thai boxing. Tony Jaa… [from the recent Ong Bak] he’s a great example. It saves money to have Tony Jaa, because you don’t need any CGI. He just does it all!
The L: You’re one of the great kings of comedy, but are you interested in other genres like horror, or science fiction?
SC: Anything but horror films. I want to [do them] but I’m unable to do it, because I’m scared of ghosts [laughter].