The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom: Huang Xiaoming, Fan Bingbing asked for more love scenes

Jacob Cheung. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Jacob Cheung. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Fan Bingbing stars as the Jade Raksha in The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Fan Bingbing stars as the Jade Raksha in The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The 1993 hit was beautiful but director Jacob Cheung says his film is a good chance for young people to learn about the novel

If The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom had been left in the hands of its leads Huang Xiaoming and Fan Bingbing, the movie would have several more steamy sex scenes.

So says its director Jacob Cheung, 54, who recalls with a laugh how "invested" his two leads were over filming their single passionate sex scene.

"There were more than 100 crew people on the set that day, but neither of the leads asked for the set to be cleared. They were very professional and even made suggestions for me to film more love scenes in the water or on a horse.

"I was actually the one who felt embarrassed by it all because I haven't really filmed many love scenes before. I told them: 'Enough, enough, this is not a Category III film.'"

Category III films in Hong Kong are restricted to audiences aged 18 and over.

He adds with a chuckle in a telephone interview from Hong Kong: "Turns out I'm the one who learnt a lesson or two on the subject from them."

Cheung's new movie, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, is the latest adaptation of Liang Yusheng's classic fantasy novel The Story Of The White Haired Demoness (1957), about a star-crossed love story between a witch-like woman (played by Fan) and martial arts expert Zhuo Yihang (Huang).

The director knows better than anyone that it will inevitably be compared with Ronny Yu's 1993 movie The Bride With White Hair, starring Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia and the late Leslie Cheung, which is widely considered a classic of the genre.

He says: "There is, of course, no way any film can ever replace a classic. But I think we shouldn't let that kind of thinking limit us either.

"Film-making technology is always advancing, so if we take the same good story and make another film, it's a good opportunity for younger audiences to learn about the story. I think it's worth it."

He adds that his adaptation is closer to the original novel, while Yu's version "is very beautiful, but also a lot more creative".

"Both movies are independent of each other and good. So there's no need to compare the two. Lin Ching-hsia and Leslie Cheung's love story was beautiful to watch, but Huang Xiaoming and Fan Bingbing's story will also entertain," he says.

Whatever people make of the new casting, he hopes at least that people will know how much effort his leads put into the movie - and certainly not just for the intimate love scene.

Huang, he says, fractured several toes only 10 days into filming after a wire stunt went wrong and was wheelchair-bound for weeks.

But the actor soldiered on and insisted on going to the set to be a part of the film in whatever capacity he could.

"When he was first injured, there was no way he could even stand and film the scenes, but he still came to the set, pain and all. So we would film certain scenes with the other actors first and get them to talk to air. When Xiaoming got slightly better, we would then film his part and piece his segment with the other footage using digital technology.

"He was always a professional despite the immense pain and I never considered replacing him with another actor. That would just be immoral."

Now that the 100-million-yuan (S$20-million) film is finally ready for release, he is just as ready to get back to working on a smaller-scale movie - which many fans may find to be more up his alley.

The director is known for his gritty dramas such as Cageman (1992), about socially deprived people living in Hong Kong's caged housing, which won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film.

He says: "I'm now preparing to make a film about homeless people and I'm hoping to do an action flick set in the Ming Dynasty next year. I want to make all sorts of movies."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom opens in cinemas tomorrow.