Stephen Chow's epic journey

Writer: Ng Suzhen

Director Stephen Chow thinks a moment before answering the next question.

Four years since his last movie "CJ7", comic genius Stephen Chow is finally back with the all new "Journey To The West", meant as a prequel but not necessarily a prequel, as the man himself puts it. The actor-director likens the movie to a fun fair, and explains to us the idea and concept behind the film that took him so long to make.

Cinema Online's interview with Stephen Chow was conducted on 28 January at Le Meridien Taipei, Taiwan.

Q: Hi, Stephen. We're Cinema Online from Malaysia. Good to see you.
Stephen Chow:
Hello, Cinema Online.

Q: It took such a long time for your fans to finally see your work again. You've worked on this story before in "A Chinese Odyssey" and we'd like to know why you decided to touch on this tale again.
After finishing "A Chinese Odyssey" in 1994, I started thinking if I can film another story based on "Journey To The West" because it had so many interesting elements to expand and work on. This Chinese fairy tale encompassed so much potential, so much so that I felt that it would be better to concentrate on a particular point in the story, which is the beginning of the story where everyone meets.

Q: Your movies are usually quite family-oriented. But this time, we've noticed that the current "Journey To The West" does not seem too child-friendly.
My personal opinion is that it is still a very suitable movie for kids to watch. I really love kids. I find it very easy to communicate with them, maybe because I used to work on a children's programme (Trivia: Stephen was partnered with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai at the time, before both went on to be big stars). I find that the preference of kids nowadays is different from what kids would have loved traditionally. They would love things that are fresh and exciting, things that would give them a rush, which is why I feel the movie is okay for them to watch. Of course, I admit, there are certain scenes that would seem a bit too much at times, but it all serves to balance the movie. There will be fun and comedic parts, but at the same time, there would also be scary elements. It's like going to the fun fair when you are a kid. You can see everything there, each with its unique element. There's the haunted house, the rollercoaster, the Ferris wheel. The movie is just like a fun fair, so isn't it suitable for families? [Laughs]

Q: Show Luo said he had so much pressure acting in your movie trying to avoid acting too much like you. What gave you the idea of including Show into the movie and how was it like working with him?
I don't think his acting style in the movie is similar to mine. Show is actually an actor of calibre, a creative actor in terms of coming up with something new on the spot. Following a script strictly is a big waste of his talents. He must be given room to fully express his creativity as there is just so much he is able to contribute. Every take I took of him were just so different to the point that I had too many choices on my hands to pick. As an actor, he is very capable of giving multiple performances for the film. I've actually waited for the opportunity to work with him for a long time. But I wanted to find a character that will interest him as well as fit the filming into his schedule. To wait for his schedule to open up is not an easy thing. I've been working hard on that for a long time.

Q: The choice of using children's nursery rhymes to defeat demons is an interesting one, how did you come up with the idea?
I sing nursery rhymes all the time, ever since I was a kid. Plus, like I mentioned, I worked with a children's programme as a host before as well. Nursery rhymes became a favourite of mine. I feel that in order to really touch the hearts of the demons, nursery rhymes seem to be the perfect weapon because it is something that is really pure at heart.

An enlightening moment between Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang) and his disciple, the Monkey King (Huang Bo).

Q: We've heard that this is supposed to be a prequel to "A Chinese Odyssey", but the similarities seem to stop at the characters as well as the quote of "a million years" inserted into the movie. How would audiences connect to its last two predecessors?
Actually, it doesn't matter if the audience doesn't see the connection because it is basically two different stories altogether. Of course, the theme song is the same. I would have wanted Show to sing the song if he was a girl. [Laughs]

Q: How is "Journey To The West" different from your last two instalments of the movie?
Before this film, there wasn't much focus placed on the special effects of the demons. This time, we took the trouble to allow the demons to manifest onto screens via the effects, something that the audience hasn't really seen before. The Monkey King, for example, is a character that is ever-changing, the perfect agent for imagination. He can be anything with his power of 72-changes. In my story, he doesn't fit any one image. He can be Mr. Huang (Huang Bo), who is one of the people playing the Monkey King, or he can be a beast, a little monkey, or King Kong. He does not have a stagnant image. Our effects may not be as grand as what Hollywood does, but it does not mean we are losing out to them. We win in terms of imagination.

Q: Would you still consider helming the lead in a movie in the future? The audience is going to be disappointed without seeing you on screen.
Would they be disappointed? I don't think so.

Q: Yes, they would! Everyone was talking about it after the "Journey To The West" screening!
But of course, I will still appear on screen. There are plans for me to return to the big screen but it has to be a character that is really suitable as well as interesting for me to play. Actually, I am in preparations for a role like that.

Q: Is it possible to reveal a little bit about your upcoming role?
Well, it's a character that is going to be set in modern times. It's easier, not that tough on me compared with period films.

Q: How does it feel to be completely behind the camera for "Journey To The West"? How did you come to the decision to forgo any roles in your movie?
The main reason was that "Journey To The West" was a very hard movie to film. I gave serious thought about it. In order to better present the material, I had to make the movie whole-heartedly. To direct and act at the same time is something that I've done many times over. But for this particular film, I realize that I wouldn't be able to make a good movie if I took on both the roles of actor and director. So in the end, I decided to go behind the camera full time instead.

Q: Well, Malaysian fans would be looking forward to "Journey To The West". Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Stephen.
You're welcome, Cinema Online.

Cinema Online, 07 February 2013

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