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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
'Speaking Mandarin Was Like Speaking Shakespeare'
Chow Yun-fat on martial arts, Hollywood and mastering another language


Russel Wong for TIME.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Chow Yun-fat at Hong Kong's Felix restaurant.

When Hong Kong's Chow Yun-fat split for Los Angeles in 1995 and co-starred alongside Jodie Foster in Anna and the King, he became Hollywood's first successful Asian leading man in 80 years. He is onto another winner in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee's martial arts extravaganza. He speaks to TIME Asia reporter Stephen Short about the physical demands of the movie, his woeful Mandarin, and working with Lee.

  WEB FEATURES
'Speaking Mandarin Was Like Speaking Shakespeare'
Chow Yun-fat on martial arts, Hollywood and mastering another language
'I Thought I Was Going to Have a Stroke': Exclusive Web-only interview with Crouching Tiger director Ang Lee
'It's Emotional and Dramatic': Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to action-packed films, but the going was tough in Ang Lee's surefire hit
'I Felt Like a Mouse and Ang Lee was a Lion': Zhang Ziyi on acting, stardom and Richard Gere

Rebel Without a Cause
Teen hearthrob Nicholas Tse on movies, Faye Wong and Hong Kong's 'It-girl'

TIME: Anna and the King was a big production, but nothing compared to Crouching Tiger, am I right?
Chow:
Actually, the shooting for Anna took longer. But Crouching was different, more physical.

TIME: Did you get injured?
Chow:
Yuen Wo-ping, the kung-fu director, managed me very well and gave me as much protection as he could. He knows I'm not a martial arts man. And when you're hanging 60 feet up in the air in a bamboo forest, you need protection.

TIME: What was the verdict on your Mandarin?
Chow:
It's awful. The first day I had to do 28 takes simply because of the language problem. That's never happened before in my life. It put me under a lot of pressure. There was a lot of dialogue in this film, more than I've ever had to speak before. It was like speaking Shakespeare.

TIME: The bamboo scene must have been really tough for you on a technical level?
Chow:
We had 3 different hangers for the bamboo scene. New technology means you can use 3 wires at the same time. It took 14 days to shoot. Every day we did about 2 to 4 shoots. It's one of the toughest scenes I've ever had to act. This scene really drew me into the script. Except for that scene, everything else was easy, well, not easy, but at least the scenes were on the ground. In the air you have to manage not only your dialogue, but your grace.

TIME: What about the scenes with your [Malaysian] co-star Michelle Yeoh?
Chow:
The director and cameramen really got the best out of us. We would do 2 or 3 rehearsals and that would be it. But it was tough when she got back from Baltimore [Yeoh had to return to her hometown when she tore a ligament while shooting] because we had little time and we had to prepare the lines in her "emergency room". This movie was so emotional--it was very exceptional that way.

 SPECIAL: WEB FEATURE
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
Cover: Instant Classic
Taiwan filmmaker Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not only a star- studded epic, but also a rule- bending masterpiece that weds martial arts with sense and sensibility
All Aboard for the Zhang High Express: Actress Zhang Ziyi sizzles
'I Felt Like a Mouse and Ang Lee was a Lion': Zhang Ziyi on acting, stardom and Richard Gere in this web-only exclusive interview
'It's Emotional and Dramatic': Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to action-packed films, but the going was tough in Ang Lee's surefire hit
'I Thought I Was Going to Have a Stroke': Exclusive Web-only interview with Crouching Tiger director Ang Lee
'Speaking Mandarin Was Like Speaking Shakespeare': Chow Yun-fat on martial arts, Hollywood and mastering another language

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Back to China
In the martial-arts drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee and a cast of big stars struggle with moviemaking on the mainland (11/29/99)

PHOTOESSAY
On Set With Ang Lee
Elaborate sets, derring-do and big stars are all found in the martial-arts drama "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

TIME: Did Ang seem nervous at times?
Chow:
I think he wasn't sure how to manage the kung-fu sequences, even though he had loads and loads of ideas. He would tell Wo-ping how he wanted things done, his own way, and Wo-ping would argue with him. Ang would say he didn't want to shoot things the Wo-ping way because it was an Ang Lee movie. But he kept having to compromise because his ideas couldn't be turned into reality. Finally, he would say to Wo-ping, "Master, I'm wrong. Let's do it your way now."

TIME: Do you think this movie is special?
Chow:
This is a new kind of movie, and for me it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in it. Acting is so fragile, so you have to take a chances. This film also wasn't about money. It was about quality. I had been dying to work with Ang Lee. You know, we only used parts of the book to make the film. [Crouching is based on part of a Wang Dulu novel that runs to several volumes and thousands of pages.] There's a chapter or two that could be made into another film, perhaps a sequel.

TIME: Do you want to make any more movies in Hong Kong?
Chow:
Not really. I don't want to do that Hollywood/Hong Kong/Jackie Chan thing. I've made too many Hong Kong movies. Now I want to wait for the right script.

TIME: But young Hong Kong actresses like Shu Qi and Cecilia Cheung all want to work with you?
Chow:
Tell them to speed up and meet me in Hollywood.

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