Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q: You must be very pleased with the film’s performance
A: I didn’t think I would get such results, so
I’m very happy.
Q: Tell me about the origins of the film?
A: In the beginning I followed the traditional ways these
martial arts films are constructed by referring to the genre of
martial arts stories which are very popular in China. Then I discovered
most of the good stories have been made not once, twice, but many
times by other directors. So, I thought since they have all been
created by these famous authors, why don’t I write my own
version? Therefore I thought I would write my own and picked this
very famous piece of history of the emperor and then assassin.
Q: Do these stories originate from ancient times?
A: Although this genre existed in ancient times, all
the films brought to the cinema are based on stories, these martial
arts stories, from the 20th century. According to my research,
the earliest source is from the Tang dynasty, 1700 years ago,
there was a famous Chinese poet who wrote poems based on the martial
arts type of character.
Q: The actual martial art itself comes from that period?
A: Although martial arts have been practised for thousands
of years, these characters, these martial arts, almost samurai
type of characters, found in the poem, actually relate to an even
So, already in the Tang poems they relate to earlier dynasties.
Unlike in the Japanese films, where the samurai is a historically-based
class of people, these fighters were very much part of the creation
of writers rather than historically-based.
Q: What motivated your move from an arthouse sensibility
into the martial arts arena?
A: When I was very young, about 15, during the cultural
revolution I got hooked on reading these martial arts stories.
After the cultural revolution, in the eighties, I graduated from
film school and started to work. At that time it seemed that with
all my contemporaries the aim was to make artistic movies. The
idea of making marital arts films was slightly beneath us.
So, in the nineties we broke loose, we no longer felt so restricted
by this ideal of making arthouse films, all sorts of film arrived,
in their own terms. So I began entertaining the idea of making
a martial arts film. It took me two or three years from researching,
finding the story and writing the script.
When the script was finished it was at the height of Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s fame, so I thought about abandoning
this film altogether. After a while, I thought about it and persevered,
my script was ready, so I carried on and made the movie. In a
way I have to thank Ang Lee for beating the path, because with
the success of Crouching Tiger funding for Hero became easier.
Q: They look enormously complicated films on a technical
level, how difficult are they to create?
A: This was my first martial arts film, I found in immensely
complicated. If you see on film two minutes of fighting that would
take me two weeks. You find that in creating this film about four
fifths of the time I spent filming action scenes. So I spent a
lot of time thinking of new angles and new ways to present these
fight scenes because there have been at least 500 films like this
in China and the East. Through this experience I have learnt so
Q: You are also regarded as a meticulous director.
A: Because I started as a cinematographer, the scenes
are so important to me, I have to be meticulous about every single
frame. That is how I work. I am the kind of director that every
detail has to be in my head before I begin to shoot my film, unlike
Wong Kar Wai, for instance, who is completely different in style
and works by improvisation. He can’t work like that.
So, in the opening scene, where you see some water droplets coming
down; something so tiny, like how each of those drops of water
and where they fall, is already in my head before I start.
At the same time as filming the fight scene, I was filming these
drops of water coming down and people were wondering what on earth
what I was filming that for when I should be focussed on the fight
scene. But it was already in my head, how I would intergrate the
fight scene with the water coming down.
Q: Would you liken yourself
to Stanley Kubrick?
A: He is a great director! When I was studying film,
he was so important, we learned from his films. He is a master,
and again the whole film is in his head. The other reason why
I am so meticulous is because it is so expensive to make a film,
so every minute is money, so I have to be prepared.
Q: The filmed has been likened to Akira Kurosawa’s
Rashomon, was it an inspiration?
A: Kurosawa is one of my favourite directors, and this
story is almost a homage to Rashomon. So, in fact, in thinking
about the Rashomon type story, it is usually presented in more
dramatic types of films. I thought why don’t we use this
technique in a martial arts context.
Q: What are the themes of the film?
A: I feel the main theme is sacrifice. In order to achieve
peace, you have to have sacrifice; in order to follow a belief
in this idea of creating peace. In fact, this is a key film in
the history of China, the culture of China, this concept of sacrificing
one self for the greater good has been throughout history. This
is a very well known Chinese theme. The martial arts fighter is
always fighting for the point of good for the country and the
Q: How did you come up with the extraordinary colour
A: Actually because I had this idea of telling it in
a Rashomon-style of storytelling, I woke up and I had this idea,
it just came to me. I was thrilled, it is a totally different
way to overlay the Rashomon style of ideas.
In fact, when Kurosawa made it in black in white, maybe if he
could have made it in colour he might have come up with this idea,
and taken my rice bowl away from me! Luckily Kurosawa left us
a way forward.
Using the different colours I hope will emphasise the different
concepts or ideas in the different stories.
For instance, in the first story we use red because that story
is so passionate, it is about love and death.
And the second one uses blue because the story is quite sad and
melancholic; that the lovers can’t stay together. And the
third story, because the first two were almost leading you up
the garden path, is in white as it is the true story. That is
how Chinese people would relate to the contents of the story and
the colour. Towards the end, the big fight scene in green, well,
I had run out of colours so I used green. There isn’t any
great relation, it was because green was left over.
Q: Did you always have Jet Li in mind as Nameless?
A: I have seen every single Jet Li film made. He is a
true martial arts actor and is the best in the world. But I felt
that his strength didn’t lie in intimate scenes, scenes
about love, so I didn’t give him any of the love scenes,
just the assassin. The role of the assassin has no emotion, not
to anyone, he has to be completely inscrutable. That is Jet Li’s
strength. So Jet was also very happy to co-operate because it
was not an onerous task to play this role. They were all very
Q: Did any of the actors struggle with the martial arts?
A: The other actors were not really experts, so all of
them had to put in a lot of effort. Jet Li also gave a lot of
ideas, he was around a lot giving a lot of suggestions.
Q: Have you had any offers to direct Hollywood films?
A: I feel I only know how to make Chinese films. So if
Hollywood wants to fund a Chinese film that is great, but I am
incapable of making an American film.