Hong Kong actor Ekin Cheng did not think twice about accepting the role of wushu icon Huo Yuan Jia, even though he had to shave his head.
“Since the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is fast approaching, I considered the spirit of the Chinese people. To me, the spirit of the Games is synonymous with the spirit of martial arts. I believe the Chinese should look to Huo Yuan Jia’s altruistic example, and be open-minded about the study of martial arts.
'The Legend of Huo Yuan Jia' poster
“The first day of shooting was on location at the starting point of Huang He (Yellow River). It’s one of China’s amazing tourist attractions. The view was majestic. If we were not filming the series, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness such a breathtaking sight since it would take several hours of travel to get there.”
Cheng revealed that he did a lot of research to prepare for his role as the founder of the global Chin Woo Athletic Association. He even met up with Huo’s descendants to suss out the martial arts master’s psyche.
“I watched previous productions of Fok Yuen Gap (Cantonese for Huo Yuan Jia). For example, (Jet) Li Lin Jie’s interpretation in Fearless as well as the well-known TV series by Wong Yuen Sun. There are numerous things to consider when portraying a character like that.”
Cheng has been asked many times whether he would be concerned about comparisons between his interpretation of the historical icon and Jet Li’s in Fearless (2006). He acknowledged that people would inevitably draw comparisons with Shaolin-trained Li’s portrayal as it is the most recent.
However, The Legend of Huo Yuan Jia is actually based on a much older 20-episode TV version, The Legendary Fok. Produced in 1981, the Hong Kong ATV series is said to be the first to feature Huo Yuan Jia. It starred the popular 1970s Hong Kong action hero, the late Wong Yuen Sun, as the title character. Even the theme song used for the present production is the original Cantonese song sung by veteran Hong Kong crooner Johnny Yip Chun Tong.
“The advantage of a television series is that its duration allows more room for the development of a character. So, it is more about his life experiences and his relationships with his family, his wife and all the people whom he loves and holds dear. It is also about how he deals with the decline of China, and how he set out to bring about change and empowerment.
“All these are not often accounted for in movies. So, I did a lot of groundwork. Hence, it’s not just about how well I fight or how cool I look,” stressed the 40-year-old actor.
Cheng relished playing a Chinese folk hero who instilled pride and nationalism in his countrymen.
“Essentially, he’s a cultural icon, a national hero. I had to achieve that strong sense of altruism he exudes, and how he looks at the big picture.
“In ancient China, people were by nature extremely conservative. Culturally, there was a heavy emphasis on ethics and morals. So, Huo had to push for a change in centuries-old ideas, customs, procedures and regulations.
“Now, in our generation, originality is much applauded. So, we just claim that we’ve achieved a breakthrough, it is that easy. But, in the past, it was very difficult to initiate change. People were more resistant to reformation and less inclined to accept new ideas and concepts. So, Huo was a force to be considered.”
Cheng exclaimed that the most unforgettable experience while filming the TV series was the bitter cold weather in China.
“The unbearably chilly temperatures made it very difficult to do anything at all. Especially for action scenes, where every move became impossibly difficult to execute and every scene laborious to shoot.
“There was a scene in which (Jordan) Chan Siu Chun, who plays Chen Zhen, had to film in the rain. He had already rehearsed and practised all the moves. Then, when it came to filming the scene with the rain falling on him, he ran off, because it was so cold that the raindrops practically froze. And since our heads had been shaved, it was quite mind-numbing.”
Fans can expect Cheng’s latest film by early next year. “I’ve just wrapped up the filming of a movie by Singaporean director Kelvin Tong. It’s a very interesting horror flick titled Rule Number One (Dai Yat Gai). I play a policeman and my co-star is (Shawn) Yue Man Lok. The supernatural action thriller is about how logic and one’s perception may not always be correct.”
Cheng also has another exciting project in the pipeline.
“I’m going to Japan to film a movie, where I’ll be portraying a ninja. I’ve already undergone a period of training in Japanese martial arts, because Japanese sword-wielding techniques are markedly different from the Chinese.”
Hong Kong Actor Close Up: Ekin Cheng
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English Name: Cheng Yee-Kin, Dior Cheng, Kaohun Cheng, Magua
Chinese Name: 鄭伊健
Born: October 04, 1967
Birthplace: Hong Kong
Occupations: Singer, Actor