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[Exclusive Interviews] Anthony Wong, Edison Chen, and Shawn Yue on Initial D
Written by Siu Heng Tell a Friend
The FilmThe much-hyped motion picture Initial D has been a miracle for the moribund Hong Kong film industry, grossing over HK$35 million within one month. Three Hong Kong actors, Anthony Wong, Edison Chen, and Shawn Yue, joined Taiwanese singer Jay Chou in creating this box office miracle. We interviewed them to see what they had to say about Initial D.
Anthony: The film is enjoyable and exciting, and it matches the standards of Western movies. I can only think of one or two Western car racing films that I find enjoyable. It's really difficult to make a car racing film, and Andrew Lau has demonstrated what it should be like. The camera movements and sequences bring out a cartoon-like feeling, which is highly stylized and never seen in similar films by foreign directors. Lau uses a white screen to convey high speed, and frames that resemble maps to compare the speeds of different cars. Western car racing films also have close-ups of racers, but they do not have such cartoon-like sequences. Jay, Edison and Shawn don't know how to drift in reality, so the drifting parts depend solely on the director's skills.
Edison: I was really happy when I first watched the movie. My favorite part is the opening sequence when Shawn and I race on Mount Akina. I think Andrew Lau spells out the spirit of Initial D right in the beginning.
Anthony: It would be wrong to consider Initial D as an ordinary car racing movie. Car racing is only a selling point. The film is actually about father-son relationship, friendship, and love.
The MangaThe Initial D movie is based on a long-running manga by Shuichi Shigeno, first published in 1996. We asked the three actors whether they have read it before, and each of them had something to say about the manga.
Shawn: The Initial D manga is really famous. I have read it before. It surprised me that Shuichi Shigeno trusted Andrew Lau so much that he gave him the rights to adapt the manga. Authors of Hong Kong comic books would have more worries about how directors are going to adapt their comics into a feature film. I believe that Shuichi Shigeno will be satisfied with the film, as it preserves to a large extent the spirit of the manga.
Anthony: I started reading the manga when I made the movie. Even though Initial D is really famous, I am not really interested in machinery and car racing. So I don't have any special feelings towards the manga.
Edison: I haven't read the manga before, but I am glad that I didn't read it. The movie has to cram the whole series into a 100-minute film, and my role as Ryosuke Takahashi becomes quite different in the film. If I had read it before making the film, I might have been preoccupied with the Ryosuke Takahashi in the original manga. Now that I've finished shooting, I've become interested in reading the whole series!
The CharactersAnthony Wong plays Bunta Fujiwara, a once-legendary car racer who now spends his time making tofu and ordering his son Takumi Fujiwara (Jay Chou) to deliver it for him. On the other hand, Edison Chen and Shawn Yue play two young street racers who venture to Mount Akina, where they meet Takumi Fujiwara and become his competitors and friends. How did the three actors create their particular characters?
Anthony: I stepped into the shoes of a Japanese guy right in the beginning of shooting. I hope to "Japanize" my actions and acting. The original manga doesn't say much about Bunta Fujiwara, but I wanted to give a sharper portrait to this character, making him more of a cool guy. Bringing up his son alone, deserted by his wife, giving up his beloved car racing to make tofu, Bunta should have a lot of grievances towards life. He always gets drunk. Make-up could not help me in this case. I had to drink sake and get myself drunk to play Bunta Fujiwara. Apart from a heavy drinker, he is also the "God of Car Racing", which many viewers should find incredible. A lot of people wish to have a scene with Bunta in a race. There was originally one in the script. But we didn't shoot this part due to time constraints.
Shawn: I play Takeshi Nakazato in the film. Takeshi doesn't have a moustache in the manga. When I was informed of Takeshi's image in the film, I wanted him to look cool, always in black. I discussed with the director and we decided to attribute a more outstanding characterization for Takeshi by adding a moustache and changing his hairstyle. Takeshi Nakazato is aloof and quiet in the manga, but I think he should look more cheerful. After all, he has already found his true love: car racing. During shooting I tried to show his confidence by always wearing a smile.
Edison: I play Ryosuke Takahashi, a wise and calm guy, very much different from the real energetic me. So I spent a lot of time discussing with the director about how I should portray Ryosuke. With the cooperation from the whole crew, I felt more comfortable in playing this role. I felt really pressured on the first day of shooting when I had to interact with Anthony. Besides, I didn't have time to practice driving with Shawn and other actors before shooting, so it was really difficult for me to portray the veteran car racer Ryosuke Takahashi.
The ActingHong Kong magazines and newspapers have reported that Anthony Wong has criticized Jay Chou for not knowing how to act at all. What are indeed his, and also the other actors' views on Jay's acting? The veteran award-winning actor Wong was able to provide some of his observations about the younger generation in the film industry. In a perhaps-related note, after making Initial D, Jay Chou and Edison Chen became Anthony Wong's godsons!
Anthony: Asking me to comment on Jay's acting is just like asking me whether a primary school kid has wisdom. I would say, "How can a primary school kid have great wisdom? But he can still be clever."
Edison: I was in Jay's first scene during shooting. He was a bit nervous, saying that he was not used to acting in front of so many people. They shot the next scene with Jay and me twenty days later and his acting had become far more natural. I was pretty sure that Anthony had taught him a lot. I knew Jay put a lot of effort into playing his role well. When he was not around, he was in his racecar, the AE86, thinking of how to portray Takumi Fujiwara better. He worked really hard!
Anthony: Edison has the skills. Shawn has made a lot of films and he has a good grasp of his role in Initial D. The director helped the actors a lot though. But I think a lot of people have missed out Anne Suzuki, who played Natsuki Mogi in the film. She is young but skillful in acting. Her role in the film is not an eye-catching one. Actually she had plenty of opportunities to get more attention, but she refrained from doing so and only played her part well. She is the best among all actors and actresses in the film, very professional.
The ActorsInitial D is not the first film collaboration between Anthony Wong, Edison Chen, and Shawn Yue. Anthony Wong first collaborated with Edison Chen in The Twins Effect (2003), and all three co-starred in the Infernal Affairs series, also directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. The three shared their views on acting and the actor's life.
Edison: To be frank, I never knew how to act before The Twins Effect. When making that movie I had plenty of time to chat with Anthony and he taught me a lot about acting. I tried harder when making Infernal Affairs II, hoping that viewers would see my improvement.
Shawn: Infernal Affairs II is important to me. Tony Leung won the Best Actor for his role as Chan Wing Yan in Infernal Affairs, and I deliberately tried to imitate him when playing the young Chan Wing Yan. During the shooting of Initial D, Edison and I exchanged views on our lives as actors. Both of us, and actually also Anthony and Jay, have a common goal. We hope that the new generation actors will perform better, so that the audience will have better expectations of them.
Anthony: I have made too many crappy movies. I can only say that I am a survivor in the film industry. An expert in making crappy movies, I can finish one within two or three days. An actor doesn't have much say on what roles to pick. I understand the rules of the film industry. Even when I don't quite agree with the role that I am requested to play, I understand the director's point of view and I will try my best.
Anthony Wong was very excited whenever he talked about the film. His profound experience in the film industry allowed him to make some unique and illuminating comments on Initial D. For the moderate and sincere Shawn and the dynamic and youthful Edison, their words in the interview showed that they have been making a great effort to improve. Whether their acting careers will become as successful or as revered as Anthony Wong's is something Hong Kong movie fans may yet discover.
(Interviews conducted in collaboration with Asicro Clip.)
Published August 10, 2005