Thursday August 9, 2012
The blind spy
By SETO KIT YAN
Tony Leung Chiu Wai ‘sees’ with his ears in spy thriller The Silent War.
TONY Leung Chiu Wai admitted that he was in a bind. In his latest movie The Silent War, he was cast as He Bing, a blind but street-smart guy who is recruited for a spy mission because of his extraordinary hearing ability. Not only did he have to play a blind man, he had to portray one who “sees” with his ears as well.
“Initially, I wondered how to play this blind man. He’s not completely blind as he can actually see light. But everything looks blurry to him. Because his hearing is exceptional, his ears basically do the ‘seeing’ for him. Hence, I cannot play him like other blind men. So, this situation’s rather peculiar for me,” Leung, 50, explained in a recorded interview.
Playing a blind man is nothing new to the multiple award-winning Leung. He was a blind swordsman in Ashes Of Time (1994), a blind saxophonist in Blind Romance (1996) and a blind marriage consultant in Sound Of Colors (2003).
To prepare for his role, Leung reportedly spent time studying how blind people relied on their sense of hearing. The directors also hired an expert to teach him how to interpret the Morse Code.
“He Bing is basically a small-time rogue living off the streets. After he discovers that he has a special ability, he uses this gift to make a living. He inadvertently ends up as a member of the 701 intelligence agency,” Leung said of his character, who learns how to shoulder the heavy responsibility of being a national hero.
“I feel my character being recruited by 701 is like getting a new beginning in life, especially when he has never done anything honest and is like a gangster. Getting his achievements recognised makes him realise that not everything one does is for monetary rewards,” said Leung who is currently filming Wong Kar Wai’s martial arts biopic The Grandmasters (Yat Doi Jung Si in Cantonese), in which he plays Grandmaster Ip Man.
Chinese actress Zhou Xun, 37, plays Zhang Xue-ning, the spy who recruits him into the intelligence agency and coaches him to become her counterpart.
After collaborating with Zhou in The Great Magician last year, Leung took on The Silent War partly because of her; the other reason was his close friendship with the filmmakers.
In another recorded interview, Zhou offered: “I feel Zhang Xue-ning is living in a world caught between truth and deception. In the beginning, she appears to be a social butterfly who can handle everything. As an undercover agent, she has to get close to people to gather vital information.
“So, eventually, I feel that my character can hardly differentiate the feelings she has for those around her,” said Zhou, who will next appear in the Wachowskis’ epic adventure Cloud Atlas, which is based on the 2004 David Mitchell sci-fi fantasy novel.
The Silent War (Ting Fung Jeh in Cantonese) is jointly written and directed by Hong Kong filmmakers Felix Chong Man Keung and Alan Mak Siu Fai, who are known for their action thrillers like the Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002-2003), Overheard 1 & 2 (2009 and 2011) and The Lost Bladesman (2011).
Formerly known as Windseeker, The Silent War is an espionage thriller set in the 1950s. The tale is adapted from the novel Plotting Against by May Jia. The movie also features Mavis Fan and Wang Xuebing.
Working with Chinese cinema’s biggest stars like Leung and Zhou, director Chong had nothing but praise for his two leads.
“When Tony first arrived in Shanghai, the weather did not agree with him so he got very ill and threw up eight times. Yet, he continued to film his scenes in between throwing up. So, we basically got accustomed to him being such a committed actor.
“Zhou Xun played her character very well. She was able to deliver the subtle nuances of her true-false relationships. She truly lost herself in her performance. Actually, she is a lot like Tony. When she is acting, she puts in her own true sentiments. She can be moved to tears by something minor, even when the scene did not originally require her to cry. We were touched by her sensitivity to the character’s state of mind and continually revised the script as her character developed.”
> The Silent War opens in local cinemas nationwide today.