At just 31 years old, Takeshi Kaneshiro is one of Asian cinema's fastest rising superstars. Half-Taiwanese and half-Japanese, he hit the big time as a teen pop idol in the early 1990s, then graduated from music to movies with roles that include the critically-acclaimed Chungking Express, Fallen Angels and Returner. Avid videogame fans may also remember him as one of the voices of the button-bashing beat-'em-up Onimusha, where he starred alongside French actor Jean Reno. Here he talks about working on martial arts love story House Of Flying Daggers.
In House Of Flying Daggers you play a very intensive role. How much martial arts training did you have to do?
In this movie I needed to learn the basics of using a sword. It took about a month. The only things we could learn were the basic moves like this and this [he demonstrates a few simple blocks and parries]. The problem was, we didn't know what kind of action movie we were going to make. The action director liked to arrange all the scenes and the details on-set. So everyday we'd go on set and wait for him to come in and see what he wanted to do. Then we'd practice, then we'd shoot.
That sounds quite dangerous...
It was very... precarious!
The movie was shot on location in the Ukraine. Was that a challenge?
Not so much for us, the actors. We just had to sit around and wait. But it was something of a challenge for the director [Zhang Yimou].
The snow battle looked like it was more challenging for the actors than the director...
That was good actually. It was very cold and very tiring, but the snow was really something. I once heard this opinion about drama. What is a movie? A movie is story, story, story. What is a story? A story is all about drama. What is drama? When I walk to the door over there and enter the room behind it - that is not drama. But when I walk over to the door and it's locked and I do something to make the door open - that's drama. So drama involves something that stops you from doing what you want to do. When I was fighting in the snow, I knew that it was going to be dramatic. Even when you tried to walk, the snow was against you. So even the walking was dramatic!
The snow wasn't planned for that fight scene, was it?
No, it wasn't planned. It was a gift!
Was that the most difficult action sequence to shoot?
The hardest for me was fighting with the other actor [Andy Lau] and actress [Zhang Ziyi]. It was easier fighting against stuntmen, because they were professionals and if you hit them it didn't hurt them so much. But when you're fighting one of the actors it becomes really scary because you're afraid that you'll hit one of them. So I think doing action scenes with real actors is very difficult.
I guess you don't want to go down in history as the man who hurt Andy Lau, do you?
No! Exactly! [Laughs]
Do you think it's a very different film from Hero?
It's totally different. But the common point of both the films is about sacrifice - when you make a choice you have to sacrifice something.
After finishing this big-budget Chinese epic would you be interested in working in Hollywood, or do you prefer to remain in Asia?
I'll try any kind of movie, not just because of its budget. A big budget doesn't mean it'll be a good movie. So if the story's good or the character's interesting enough to make you want to collaborate on it, then I think I would take the opportunity. But I don't think Asian people get very good roles in Hollywood. I'm not really aiming at moving into that area.
This must be a great time to be working in Asian cinema with internationally acclaimed films like Old Boy and lots of Hollywood interest in Asian films...
I think that the cinema industry in mainland China has really opened up and all of Hollywood and Europe wants to go into that market. That's why Asian movies have become so huge in western countries.
Have you noticed a difference with your fans? Do you have more international fans now?
Basically, I don't have a fan club. But I have noticed that I get more letters from people in non-Asian countries than I used to...
House Of Flying Daggers is released in UK cinemas on Friday 26th December 2004.