Singaporean behind China's top film

Ix Shen shooting on location in South Africa for Wolf Warrior II.
Ix Shen shooting on location in South Africa for Wolf Warrior II.PHOTO: COURTESY OF IX SHEN

Actor Ix Shen finds success as executive director of the hit Wolf Warrior II

Action flick Wolf Warrior II, the all-time top-grossing film in China with 4.5 billion yuan (S$919 million) earned thus far, has some Singaporean involvement - former Channel 8 actor Ix Shen, 46, was its executive director.

"My job was to present whatever you see on screen. If the car chase in this scene called for a jeep to be speeding down an alley with bullets flying around and two other vehicles chasing, my job was to execute all that," he tells The Straits Times over the telephone from Phuket, where he was taking a vacation.

The position of executive director, which he says is unique to the Chinese movie industry, is a cross between associate producer and assistant director.

Among his responsibilities was yelling "action" and "cut", which proved to be quite a challenge when shooting underwater. "There's no way I could give hand signals and speech was inaudible. I had to devise a way of using an aluminium pipe and hammer so I could do two clanks for 'action' and three for 'cut'."

Shen, the male champion of talent hunt Star Search 1995, ventured to China in 2009 to further his career and acted in some films and television shows, including the wartime series Iron Eagle (2016).

The Singaporean says Wu Jing, the star, writer and director of Wolf Warrior II, was looking for someone who could communicate in English, Mandarin and Cantonese as the cast was mainly from China, the crew included Africans and Europeans, and one of the stunt directors was from Hong Kong.

Shen met the criteria, but he is quick to emphasise: "Just because a fellow Singaporean can understand your English doesn't mean that a native English speaker can understand your English. Same goes for Mandarin."

Language was definitely a challenge when he first uprooted himself to venture to China, but it helped that he had been involved in Chinese productions since 1996.

"Almost annually, I had been going there for co-productions and that was when I really started to work on my Mandarin and improve," says Shen, who in China goes by Shen Qing instead of Shen Qingshan. He dropped the final character of his Chinese name as it was difficult for people to read it.

The success of Wolf Warrior II has meant that offers have started coming in for him. Projects which have been talked about include a third Wolf Warrior film, for which he helped with the trailer shot in Iceland. Hollywood has also approached Wu, who has kept Shen in the loop about his plans.

"We're all taking our vacation right now and will probably sit down for a meeting after," says Shen, who added that he intends to remain in China for the time being. "This is where the industry is really booming. If you're in the movie business, if you're not in Hollywood and you're not in Bollywood, you have to be in Beijing."

He sees no need to choose between acting and directing, pointing out that it is "very normal" for actors in places with a mature industry to go back and forth between being behind and in front of the camera.

"Right now, I'm most attracted by challenges. That's what drives us on and I will gladly accept it."

Coming back to Singapore for a project is not out of the question either. "Once you have filmed in different parts of the world, Singapore is just another geographical place. It's always what the story is about," says Shen, who returns to Singapore every Chinese New Year as his parents are here.

Things are going smoothly on the personal front as well for the actor, who was once an item with former actress Ericia Lee. He has been in a relationship for six years and plans to get married soon to his fiancee, who is not in show business.

Wolf Warrior II has done particularly well in China because of its unabashed patriotism.

Shen says: "Kudos to Wu Jing because he really understands the pulse of the country and he knows how to motivate audiences and stir their emotions."

But the movie has also struck a chord with viewers in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia. "We wanted to make an action flick that people would enjoy, that's the biggest direction when we set out to make the movie," he says.

In Singapore alone, Wolf Warrior II has grossed more than $1 million since its release on July 28.

Shen says: "Everyone (involved with the movie) is feeling over the moon right now."

•Wolf Warrior II is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Singaporean behind China's top film'. Print Edition | Subscribe