Exclusive: Corey Yuen Declares War


It’s not often that you get a chance to talk to one of the great Hong Kong martial arts choreographers, mainly because so few of them speak English. In this case, when ComingSoon.net had a chance to interview Corey Yuen (The Transporter, Kiss of the Dragon), we had to do the interview via Email, which is rarely ideal but often necessary. Yuen proved to be a man of few words as he answered a dozen questions quickly and concisely.

His latest movie is War, a crime drama that pits two of Yuen’s subjects, Jet Li and Jason Statham, against each other. Yuen has worked with both action stars a number of times, the first time in Jet Li’s The One and he’s worked with Jet Li, maybe more than any other action choreographer or director. Yuen told us what was different about this project in terms of working with Li. “I told Jet Li, ‘You’ve done so many martial arts films, and you should try to do a drama movie, and this one is very good for you.’ I think he is a very good actor.”

And what about Jason Statham, who has become a bit of an action star thanks to his work with Yuen in the two “Transporter” movies? “He has become more experienced and also, his understanding of movements is getting better and he learns faster.”

Yuen explained to us how he works with Jet Li and the cinematographer when designing the action scenes. “I would read the whole script first, then think of the fighting scene. It is impossible to come up with the fighting scene on the set, but we can always modify it to make the movements look better. I normally would think of the fight scene first, then discuss with (cinematographer) Pierre Morel.”

We asked specifically about the action scenes in War which mix hand-to-hand combat with swordplay. “This is an action movie about a Asian story, and we have used actors from Hong Kong and Japan, so we designed the fight scenes according to the script. I don’t think doing sword fighting was something new (for me), but we always design the action based on the script. I try my best to make sure to give the directors what they need and also the best quality of the martial arts. I hope I can work with more directors that I haven’t worked with, and also I hope to work with more new directors.”

As a director, Yuen has made a number of movies with women stars including the Chinese action drama So Close and DOA: Dead or Alive, based on the popular video game, so we asked him how he finds these women who can handle whatever he throws at them action-wise. “The story is very important, of course. If the actress knows how to do action moves is the better, but if not, we will train the actresses before filming.”

“I tried my best to do a good job during filming,” he replied when asked about the much-maligned “DOA,” which was given the runaround by the Weinstein Company before being dumped with little fanfare earlier this summer. “Marketing is not something I can take charge of. Everything has to have good timing.”

“In China, we have more freedom to be creative,” he replied when asked about the major differences between working with Hollywood and Chinese studios.

“Each person has different style and personality,” Yuen told us when asked for a comparison with some of his peers, which include Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wo-Ping. “It also depends on the script and the director. Luck is important too. Working together is all based on faith.”

“Right now, I’m working as the action director on John Woo’s film ‘Red Cliffs’ and also, I’m planning on a new movie that will be focus more on actors,” he said about upcoming projects.

When asked about who might be the next Chinese martial arts star to appear when Jackie Chan or Jet Li finally retire and he answered enthusiastically, “I’m actually in search of such person too! That’s why I’m planning on this new movie, focusing more on men, and I hope we can find someone from this.”

You can see Yuen’s latest action work in the new Lionsgate movie War, which opens across the nation on Friday, August 24.