High-wire act raises the bar in fight scenes

Special to The Times

THANKS to his longtime partnership with Hong Kong action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung, Zhang Yimou’s films often showcase jaw-dropping airborne stunt choreography. Using a combination of kung fu and wire work, known as “wire fu,” in 2003’s “Hero,” actors sailed over Chinese landscapes in fluttering robes; in 2004’s “House of Flying Daggers,” police and military threw mid-air punches and kicks high above open fields and bamboo groves.

In their latest movie, “Curse of the Golden Flower,” the filmmakers raise the wire-fu bar again.

Until now, a typical scene using wire fu included a maximum of 10 to 15 martial artists dangling from wires hoisted on cranes up to 70 feet off the ground. But for a fight scene in “Curse,” featuring masked swordsmen battling an escaping family on horses in a narrow, remote valley in the Szechwan province, Yimou and Siu-Tung doubled prior wire-fu records, hoisting 30 martial artists on wires more than 600 feet long.


The location took four months to prep; wires had to be secured in sheer rock faces because the valley was too steep and narrow to accommodate cranes. More than 200 wire riggers recruited from the Chinese army rappelled down to the middle of the cliffs with electric drills and secured three positions for every wire in the crumbling rock face. Once the scene was set it took 15 days to shoot the action with up to five cameras, averaging 10 to 20 takes per shot.

Yimou even brought in a remote-controlled helicopter camera to film the fight scenes. Siu-Tung’s exceptional work has not only won the recognition of his peers; the government recently named him one of the top martial arts directors in Hong Kong.