[ScreenSG] Painting a New Skin

While "Painted Skin" may not have been one of Gordon Chan's best films, it did well enough at the box office for the producers to invite Gordon to do a sequel. The veteran Hong Kong director's answer to that call is his upcoming US$13mil action fantasy "Mural"- although he insists that he only decided to do the latter when he was convinced that it would be different from "Skin". 

In town to promote the movie at the inaugural ScreenSingapore ahead of its release in end Sept in Asia, Gordon said that he revisited the renowned Liao Zhai stories in order to find a story that appealed to him. "Mural" tells of a young scholar who is entranced by a mural depicting a paradise with many beautful ladies, and enters this world to discover that it is more sinister than he could have imagined. 

(From left) Gordon Chan, Abe Kwong and Yan Ni

Asked what it was about the story that intrigued him, Gordon said that he was not a fan of horror movies. "There isn't any point in getting your audiences scared," he said. "I'm not that kind of a director. I don't want to make that kind of a movie." What was different for him however was that Mural "wasn't even a ghost story," he added. "It was really about what goes through a person's mind, and how he thinks about it." 

"And being a short story, it also gave me a lot of creativity to create my own world," he said. Still, it took him a good two years to fully flesh out the story- in between which he also wrote Andrew Lau's "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen". In fact, the cast including lead actors Deng Chao and Sun Li, signed up to act in the movie even before they had seen the script. 

Still, the script wasn't the most tedious process of making the movie. Gordon said that what was particularly challenging about making "Mural" was the 1,200 special effects shots that needed to be completed for the movie. In fact, at this point of time, roughly about 50 percent of the shots have been completed, leaving Gordon and his crew another three months to complete work on the rest. 

Producer Abe Kwong Mun-Wai, who also wrote and produced "Painted Skin", said that these CG shots were the reason for the movie's hefty budget. "One shot costs about $100,000 RMB," he said. As a sign of the time the special effects shots have taken, Abe would have you know that Gordon has already filmed another movie while putting the finishing touches on "Mural"- called "The Four Warriors", it features many of the same cast members as "Mural". 

Another reason for the movie's budget was the elaborate sets and costumes that were made for "Mural". He said that the first time he laid eyes on the lavish three-storey palace that was built as a set for the movie, he was completely surprised by the scale and majesty of it. He was not alone- supporting actress Yan Ni also shared the same sentiments when she saw the set for the first time. 

Yan said that she knew that judging from the amount of work and the budget that had gone into this movie that it would indeed be something special. In fact, one of the reasons why she had so readily signed up for Mural was how pleasantly surprised she was at Gordon Chan's take of the classic Liao Zhai "Painted Skin" tale, which was distinctive and different from what she would have expected. 

Also starring in the film is martial arts actor Collin Chou, best known as Seraph in the Matrix trilogy as well as the baddie in Donnie Yen's Flashpoint. Collin said: "There's a lot of action in the movie, but in the hands of Gordon, you can be sure that it will be different from what you can expect." Rather than focus on the action alone, Collin is also enthused about his character, which he said would be a turning point for him in his career, away from the typical bad-ass martial arts villians he has played for many years. 

Besides the veterans, young stars Liu Yan, Xie Nan and Bao Bei-Er also praised Gordon. Liu Yan said: "When I asked how I should prepare for my character in the movie, Gordon said that as long as I feel for my character, I did not need to have any special preparation." She added, "He told me that it was after all a love story between young people, and I should just develop the same kind of feelings within my character."

Gordon went one step further for Xie Nan. "He told me to go dating, to experience romance, as preparation for the movie," Xie, who plays a tomboyish character in the movie, said. "This is my first time acting in a movie, and I was pretty nervous about it, but Gordon made me feel very comfortable on the set." Ditto for Bao Bei-Er, who counts himself relatively inexperienced among the other cast members. "I did feel some pressure at first, and I tried to prepare for the role by reading other Liao Zhai stories and watching previous movies that the rest of the cast have acted in to understand their style, but I found that it was actually a lot of fun on set."

There was not only fun on set, we learnt, but also romance. The two lead stars, Deng Chao and Sun Li, are in fact dating in real life, and would be getting married tomorrow- which is also where the stars, Abe and Gordon are headed to next. It's a metaphorical new beginning for the two, and one that deserves to be etched in something as lasting as a Mural. 

By Gabriel Chong

Catch our spotlight series with producer Abe Kwong and director Gordon Chan about their thoughts on the potential of the Chinese film market next week!