Hearing from director Dante Lam about the training that he put his young actors through to prepare for their roles in ‘To The Fore’, one can’t quite help but wonder if he had gone overboard in his quest for realism. Even before the cameras started rolling, each one of his actors had to endure 8 hours of training every day, which consisted of at least 100 km of cycling, followed by bodybuilding, followed by even more hours on the treadmill bicycle, personally supervised by none other than former Hong Kong competitive cyclist Dominic Chau.
So intensive was the training that Taiwanese actor Ethan Ruan dropped out shortly after filming began due to a relapse from an old torn right knee ligament; indeed, Ethan’s doctor advised the actor to rest for two months and undergo another two months of physical therapy in order to ensure that his knee could heal completely. Ethan was eventually replaced by Mainland actor Shawn Dou, who shares the screen next to Lam’s ‘Unbeatable’ star Eddie Peng as well as Korean ‘Super Junior’ band member Choi Siwon in the sports youth drama that promises to be an immersive journey into the world of bicycle racing.
After more than a year of pre-production, shooting and post-production, Siwon and Lam are taking the film’s press tour to Singapore in anticipation of its opening here on 6 August. As you may expect, Lam’s insistence on pushing his actors to the fore-front of realism was one of the key subjects on the minds of most journalists. “Besides being able to act, I wanted my actors to be able to have both the attitude and the physique of a true pro-cyclist. That’s why I put them through many, many hours of training in order to prepare for their roles,” said Lam.
Lam added, “The actors knew fair well that they had to train hard for this film, which in itself was a display of willpower that the movie speaks about.” Having them train together was also important, he stressed, as it was a means for them to bond, which was what the actors had to do as a team. In fact, Lam revealed, the actors were such good teammates that they were fooling around on the set together. Though he joked that it made them difficult to control, Lam thinks highly of their friendship and camaraderie.
Siwon himself speaks fondly of the bonds he had forged on and off the screen with Peng and Dou, calling them like ‘brothers’ and speaking of Lam as their mentor. “This was a very special movie for me to make,” said the multi-lingual Choi. “Not only because I love cycling, but also because it has left a legacy for me in the friendships that I have made.” Choi readily admits that he and his co-stars were such good company on the set that they did indeed make directing a little more difficult for Lam – though he adds that they did know when to ‘wise up’ and not get scolded.
“There was this time when we were shooting in the evening, and [Dante] really wanted to get a good shot just as the sun was setting, but the producer was saying that we had to pack up because it was time for us to leave,” recounted Choi. “We [Eddie and I] could sense the frustration in Dante’s voice and we told each other to make sure that we got the shot right.” And just to make matters clear, Choi dismisses any talk of competition between him and Eddie – even in the physical department – explaining that he and Eddie were in physique quite different from each other in the first place.
Though the shoot was just as tough as the preparation, Choi is all ready to sign up for the sequel, if ever there was such a chance. Lam was however much more circumspect about the prospects of doing part two, calling this one of the most challenging movies he has made in his career. “Doing action movies is easy. I’ve been doing that all my life,” he said. “But this one really felt like I was learning from scratch. Before this, my longest shoot was 58 days for ‘The Viral Factor’. This one took me 71 days!” Lam added though that he is “very happy” with the result, in particular because he never expected to be able to film the sport in such a thrilling manner.
And for that, Lam credits his producer Candy Leung, whom he calls his ‘lead-out’ in real life. Just as a ‘lead-out’ of which the Chinese title of the film refers to assists a sprinter in clearing the path ahead, Lam said that Leung, whom he has worked together for the past 20 years, is his ‘lead-out’. “She has helped me to resolve many difficulties during the shoot, in particular in this instance getting permission to shoot in the many varied locations, including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea and even in the Tengger Desert. On that note, Lam revealed that he had considered filming in Singapore as well, but eventually decided against it due to scheduling.
As different as this is from the usual Dante Lam film, the critically acclaimed director of such police dramas like ‘Beast Stalker’ and ‘The Stool Pigeon’ hopes that audiences will appreciate the effort and dedication that the whole filmmaking team had put into this movie. “Filmmaking is, like professional cycling, a matter of teamwork,” he said. “And this movie wouldn’t have been possible if not for each and every one’s role in making it happen.”
Text by Gabriel Chong and Photos by Linus Tee