Disney may not be the first name in martial arts epics, but it looks like that’s what the studio is poised to deliver with this month’s Mulan. Based on the trailers, Niki Caro’s movie looks like it would fit in alongside films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers and Mulan even enlisted some martial arts icons to take part. In fact, one Mulan star was so quick with a sword, they had to shoot him in slow motion, as director Niki Caro recalls:
One of my favourite moments on set was the first time I experienced Donnie Yen’s martial arts skills in real life. As Commander Tung, he does a sword display in front of all the recruits and my jaw hit the floor. The way that man moves, and the way he moves his sword — (it was) so fast I literally couldn’t see it move in real-time. I had to shoot the sequence again in slow motion, just so I could see what he was doing. It was astonishing!
As anyone who has seen his work in the Ip Man films or even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can attest Donnie Yen is fast. Watching him is like watching footage that’s been sped up or a videogame with a cheat code employed. But I suppose it’s one thing to see it in one of his movies and another to witness it in real life. That’s exactly what Mulan director Niki Caro got to do on the set of her film.
Donnie Yen plays Commander Tung in Mulan and as director Niki Caro told AsiaOne, the character performs some sort of sword display for his recruits. It sounds like it’s meant to impress the troops and show them their commander’s prowess, but the person it really impressed was Niki Caro. Donnie Yen’s movements and how fast he was with his sword blew the director away. He was so fast in fact that the tech couldn’t keep up!
According to Niki Caro, Donnie Yen was moving his sword so fast that it wasn’t even really visible in real-time. So in order to get a better sense of what he was doing exactly, the director had to shoot the sequence of Commander Tung’s sword display again, only this time, in slow motion. With Donnie Yen slowed down, Niki Caro was actually able to see every deliberate and quick movement that went into this blur of sword and body.
The experience of witnessing Donnie Yen’s abilities in person for the first time made for one of Niki Caro’s favorite moments on the set of Mulan and it sounds like Commander Tung’s sword display is definitely something to look forward to when this movie hits theaters.
I’m sure witnessing it in person is a special experience, but that Donnie Yen could impress with his martial arts abilities should come as no surprise. The 56-year-old action star trained from a young age in a variety of martial arts disciplines, including Wushu, which I’m guessing provided some of the basis for his sword display in Mulan.