Raymond Wong Takes on Chinese History in 'Saving General Young'

The producer chooses comedy over tragedy, starting 'Magic to Win' before the upcoming historical epic.

HONG KONG -- Producer Raymond Wong follows comedy with tragedy with his $15 million take on the Chinese historical tale of a war-torn family, titled Saving General Young, produced by Wong’s Pegasus Films with China’s Huayi Brothers and Henan Film Studio.

First, though, Wong will return to familiar grounds with Magic to Win, an update of his 1980s comedy series The Happy Ghost with a new twist.

Filming of Saving General Young will start in August 2011 for release in the second half of 2012, with Ronny Yu (Fearless)as director on a script by Edmond Wong, son of Raymond. It marks the seventh collaboration of the father-son team. Yuen Tak (The Legend) has signed on as action director.  The film will mix scenes of epic warfare and family drama in equal measure, and revolves around loyalty to one’s country and filial piety to one’s kin.

“It’s a heart-wrenching yet inspiring tragedy,” says Wong about his reinvention of the well-known 10th-century rescue mission taken by the male line of the Young military clan to save their captured father, the titular General Young, from invaders in the northeast under the prophecy that “seven sons depart, six sons will return.”

“However, the prophecy was wrongly interpreted,” said Wong, “in fact, it meant that seven sons depart, but only the sixth son returns.”

“In past adaptations of this classic tale, the focus was always placed on the sixth son. But our new take puts equal emphasis on all seven brothers, with the eldest taking the lead,” the producer of martial arts hits Ip Man and its sequel tells The Hollywood Reporter.

One of Hong Kong’s busiest actors, Louis Koo (Triple Tap, Overheard), will take the role of the eldest brother. Koo signed a seven-picture deal with Pegasus in 2010, and has starred in the second and third installment of Wong’s revived All’s Well Ends Well Too series.

Former pop star Wu Chun (14 Blades) will play the sole survivor among the brothers. Deng Chao (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame) and Vic Zhou will also join the clan. Hong Kong television icon Adam Cheng will star as the captured Young patriarch. The only female role of note in the story is that of the matriarch Young, to be played by Xu Fan, the lead in last year’s blockbuster drama Aftershock.

“The character is much older in age than the real-life Xu, but I’m grateful that she doesn’t mind accepting the challenge of playing an elderly character,” Wong notes. “Xu is a highly respected and selective actress, and she’ll be the only female lead in the film.”

The second part in the epic of the tragic and patriotic Young family has likewise spawned numerous retellings in Chinese opera, fiction, film and television adaptations, which depicted the mother, widows and sisters of the clan taking up arms and joining in battle against the invaders after the brothers were wiped out. Wong hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing to screen the story of the female warriors of the Young family, but that depends on the performance of Saving General Young.

Yet comedy will come before tragedy for Pegasus, as Wong reawakens his Happy Ghost franchise of the 1980s CinemaCity heyday for the Chinese audience, now renamed Magic to Win. Wong’s Ip Man director Wilson Yip is at the helm, and Edmond Wong again on the screenplay. In fact, the whole crew from Ip Man will return for this CGI-heavy US$10 million update, with Wong reprising the role of the motivational high school teacher, this time possessing not supernatural powers nor a Chinese vampire-style past life but magic instead.

“When we did the original series, we had to make do with makeshift visual effects and old tricks; now we can use state-of-the-art CGI effects,” Wong said. Filming is tentatively scheduled for June for a late 2011 release.  

Wong plans to finalize Chinese co-production partnerships and his cast during Filmart. Having been the major force in the revival of the Chinese New Year Hong Kong comedies through Pegasus, Wong is also looking to continue the company’s Chinese New Year comedy run, with a new addition on the agenda to begin production at the end of the year.