Eddie Peng Yuyan is fast becoming the go-to actor for directors seeking a young star who's willing to fully commit to the arduous training required of their action heroes.
In Rise Of The Legend, the Taiwanese heartthrob plays Wong Fei Hung, China’s most iconic folk hero who has been lovingly immortalised in the movies.
“Playing this role has brought me confidence, as the Wong Fei Hung character is that of a young man who is confident, living his dream and forging his own path in life,” Peng, 32, said in an interview transcript courtesy of RAM Entertainment. “I draw inspiration from this, to motivate myself to learn and do things instead of just thinking about them.”
Known for taking on physically demanding roles, as well as for his sculpted physique, Peng was Roy Chow Hin Yeung’s only choice to play Wong Fei Hung. The Hong Kong director was so impressed at how Peng transformed into a gymnast for Jump Ashin! (2011) and how he morphed into a boxer for Unbeatable (2013) that Chow was confident Peng would have no trouble turning himself into a wushu warrior.
“After six months talking to the director, I found out it was going to be a new-age Wong Fei Hung film that was experimental and modern. It was going to be a martial arts film that no one has seen before,” Peng said.
Wong Fei Hung had traditionally been portrayed by martial arts practitioners like Kwan Tak Hing (The Story Of Huang Fei Hong series), Gordon Liu (Challenge Of The Masters), Jackie Chan (Drunken Master), Jet Li (Once Upon A Time In China series) and Vincent Zhao (Wong Fei Hung TV series).
Peng had to spend almost a year honing his Nanquan (Southern Fist) boxing skills and learning Wong Fei Hung’s famous Shadowless Kick.
“I have plenty of respect for the Wong Fei Hung character. Portraying a national folk hero that you grew up with, and with a predecessor in the form of Jet Li and him being the reason I was introduced to kung fu, is not easy,” Peng added. The actor sustained several injuries during filming, including a torn ligament in his right wrist after putting his fist through a pillar.
Like his previous action roles, Peng underwent physical training for Rise Of The Legend. For the actor, it was merely willpower to wake up early to attend martial arts coaching. But this time, apart from picking up basic martial arts movements, he had to cultivate the spirit and boldness of a wushu practitioner.
“Subtle things like having the right look in your eyes, having a ferocious fighting spirit or calmness, relies on training to get them perfect. I’ve seen many martial arts practitioners, living a particular lifestyle that follows a certain discipline, diet, and practices which make them who they are,” Peng revealed.
The movie was one of the hardest projects Peng has had to take on. The entire shoot took three months, and two of those were spent filming fight scenes that became physically taxing for the actor.
“I was lucky that the team I worked with was very good, which made the process a breeze. Apart from the action scenes, the film is also filled with emotional drama, psychological twists – which makes the role an even challenging one. While it was a big challenge, it’s also a rare opportunity for me to try living like my hero.”
■ Rise Of The Legend is currently playing in cinemas nationwide.