Header image: Still from “Golden Sword Woman” (2022)
Hong Kong boasts an indelible cinema history, uplifted in part by the stunning directorial works of auteur Wong Kar-wai, the comedic antics of Stephen Chow, and the memorable roles of world-renowned talents like Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, and Tony Leung.
But beyond the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, up-and-coming filmmakers continue to make their mark on the local circuit, and the city’s range of film festivals effortlessly appease cinephiles with its showcase of global and Hong Kong titles. We sat down with Victor Yip and Christopher Sin, the director and lead actor of Golden Sword Woman, to talk about their love for the wuxia genre and the challenges behind making independent films.
Victor Yip: I am a commercial advertising director more than a filmmaker, so this is actually my first film with a [narrative] storyline.
Christopher Sin: I did my first internship when I was 16 as a visual effects artist in a production company. Afterwards, I worked as a cinematographer, and I produced and directed commercial and corporate films. During my years behind the camera, I met many assistant directors and casting directors who helped me fulfil my dream as an actor. Now, I star in commercials and print work and I have also worked in many feature films and shows. Golden Sword Woman is my first time as a leading man in a narrative film.
Yip: I have always been in love with martial arts and wuxia films, especially the Shaw Brothers productions, so I wrote a story about a broken family in the wuxia world. But I did not have enough budget to make a 100 percent wuxia film, so instead, I wrote a meta-wuxia film about a martial arts film star who decided to write and direct his own wuxia film.
In the film, the main character Wong Joi, a martial arts film star, decided to write and direct his debut feature, Golden Sword Woman, with his wife Mei-fung as the heroine. Years later, the senile Wong Joi is in the care of his son, Gwok Ho, who blames his father for breaking up the family. Wong Joi, suffering from dementia, reveals the true meaning of Golden Sword Woman, told in a format that echoes the visual style of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films.
Sin: The script is well-written with a lot of dramatic value—it has the mechanics of a theatrical play. Most plays are driven by the change in relationship between characters. Other than the action sequences, there are a lot of melodramatic layers underneath the script for me and the other actors to dig out. It builds a compelling basis for us actors to find an imaginative way to embody these plot points in accordance with the theme.
There is heavy baggage hidden
underneath the unspoken love in the father-son relationship of the
story; the complexity of their relationship is universal across cultures. But their dynamic is also unique and special
because the story is a multi-dimensional period piece bouncing between the
golden age of 1970s cinema and the ancient wuxia world.
Sin: I think men are generally more reserved in their expression of love and feelings. It is hard to admit vulnerability even if it obviously exists. Intentions are expressed through subtle actions, desperate attachments, and the impossibility of ever letting go.
Unlike my character, I have never been an alcoholic or an addict, but what is beautiful about this film is that it is presented through a poetic approach. I could approach it through a sensory or metaphorical experience. For example, this film requires a lot of smoking in the scenes. For each inhalation, I try to explore what images could be behind the smoke, and what sensations and memories could arise from it. By doing so, I try to immerse myself deeply into the shoes of Wong Joi and see the world through his eyes.
Yip: Due to the budget, we only had four days in total to finish the shooting.
Sin: I have been training in martial arts for many years, but one of the most difficult parts of playing the One-Armed Swordsman is that you have to fight with only one arm. In order to maintain the accuracy of the homage, the director insisted that I have to fight with my non-dominant left arm. We were shooting on sloping wet rocks and it was really difficult to do high kicks when your planted leg is on irregular slippery terrain.
Yip: The scene when Wong Joi first comes to his senses and his son comes to pick him up in their home. The traction between the old man and the young man is interesting.
Sin: Definitely the one in which Wong Joi confesses to his son, revealing that he could lose his family if he
fails to bring this film to fruition. At that moment,
his son could see his father’s vulnerability. It is a
beautiful moment when the two of them unmask a lifetime of burden and
connect with each other for the first time. It was a man’s last attempt at
reconciliation, desperately gambling all that he
owned while knowing this was the last chance to win back what was most important to
Yip: Beach of the War Gods, directed by Jimmy Wang Yu. It is a 1973 martial arts film. The scale of the troops in this film is rarely seen in Chinese cinema and also the action is superb. The war depicted in the film was epic and full of interesting weapons and action design.
Sin: When I was in college, I attended a martial arts seminar by a Shaw Brothers legend named Lu Feng (鹿峰). As Lu was speaking in Mandarin, his makeshift interpreter hit a hiccup when the term “Mantis style” was lost in translation. I recalled that the style of Tanglang is called Mantis style in English, so I spoke up and Lu invited me to translate for him for the rest of the day. Many reporters were asking him about his experience in Five Deadly Venoms.
Coincidentally, the film was available on Netflix during that month, so I watched it after hearing about it. The camera angles were raw, with almost no quick cuts—all the stunts were done with true skills. I was impressed by the choreography and also fell in love with the uniqueness of each character. Lu said that they hit their forearms against a tree to strengthen that muscle group, making it painless when blocking off attacks.
Yip: Lou Ye (婁燁), a Chinese director and screenwriter.
Sin: I like Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders. It is like he possesses you through every word he says. His relaxed voice reveals his power, which also brings a haunting layer to his demeanour. I think his charm comes from his undying need to achieve what he wants. He has unlimited and aggressive desires even though the sacrifices are ultimate. Despite being a cut-throat gangster, he has his own morals and vulnerabilities. Because he is secretive and tries to hide his inner thoughts, only a drip of his emotions spills through his eyes. You can feel that he has a volcano erupting inside a calm body.
Yip: Golden Scene Cinema and Broadway Cinematheque—they screen many independent films which are normally hard to find in regular cinemas.
Sin: Golden Sword Woman was screened at these two theatres as part of the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival. What is unique about them is that they are located in residential areas and have a strong artistic vibe to their designs. Regarding filmmaking, there are a lot of fine studios in eastern Kowloon; even the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio was located there for many years. To me, that district feels like the Burbank of Hong Kong.
Yip: Writing a feature-length script.
Sin: At the moment, I am in the process of completing some commercials and I also work as a stage emcee. I continue to train in martial arts and study the craft of acting. I have also taken an interest in studying philosophy, which is deeply applicable to the filmic arts.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.