(For Kenneth Bi) Did you have Jaycee Chan in mind right for the lead role from the beginning?
I did have Jaycee in mind to begin with. I needed a young actor who could have the capacity for goodness and anger. Jaycee has both those qualities that the character demanded. His anger was not obvious at first but it came out little by little.
I sent Jaycee the English script of The Drummer about a year before production began. He turned it down. I was not given an explanation. When we got our financing together a year later, I went back to him again. This time we met face to face and I described to him my motivations behind the story and the way I was going to shoot the film.
He basically agreed to do it right then and there. It was only later that I found out that the first time around he saw the title of the script — The Drummer, read a couple of pages of the script and saw some gangster activities in the opening and thought the film was some kind of gangster musical. Gangsters, rock drummer, musical... He was busy with two other film projects then so he put mine aside. He didn’t know the film was about a very specific type of Zen drumming.
(For Kenneth Bi) Are the drummers in the film the real Zen drummers?
With the exception of Lee Sinje who played Hong Dou and Jaycee Chan, the drummers are the real-life Zen drummers who played themselves. There is no one else in the world doing what they do, because it is an original creation combining Polish theatre in the convention of Jerzy Grotowski, traditional Chinese ritualistic drumming, martial arts, and Buddhism.
The drummers appearing in the film are the original members of U Theatre. They have weathered many years on top of the mountain, training their minds and their bodies. There is a certain look about them.
Some of them had already left the group after drumming for more than ten years but Lan Jie, U Theatre’s Artistic Director, made it a mission to get as many of the original members back to work on the film as possible.
Bo-ren who played Shu, the man who likes to talk to trees, was studying to be a lawyer at the time of filming and had an exam right after our film shoot. He’s now a lawyer. Hsiu-mei who played Shan and Ah Hui, the man who strikes the gong, are now involved in other theatrical productions.
(For Kenneth Bi) After you cast Jaycee, did you think about casting Jackie Chan as the father?
It crossed my mind that I could cast Jackie Chan to play the violent and overbearing father of Jaycee Chan. It was simply fantasy because Jackie Chan, up till that point, had not done a drama without any Kung Fu action.
I always pictured Tony Leung Ka Fai in this role when I was writing the script. This character required a certain type of animal magnetism. A combination of sexy machismo and menace. I just stuck with the plan.
Actress Yumiko Cheng feeling Tony Leung's raw animal power
(For Kenneth Bi) How did the story idea of The Drummer come to you?
The idea for the film came to me because of this one performance I saw of U Theatre at the end of 2000. It had such an impact on me that I immediately went to meet them at their training ground atop of a mountain in Taipei.
I then did extensive research with them over the years, following them around from Taipei to Macau, and even as far as Paris!
U Theatre in rehearsal at the Palais Royal in Paris, right across from the Louvre, July 2003
(For Kenneth Bi) Why did you contrast the Zen drummers’ mountain setting with that of a Hong Kong triad world?
Living in the cities we think we are civilized and sophisticated, but we’re in fact all caged animals. In the mountains where animals are supposed to be, live the truly enlightened and refined people. Once this dialectical idea emerged, the film followed.
(For Jaycee Chan) How long did you train on the drums?
I trained for several weeks during pre-production. The producer flew Lan Jie, the founder and Artistic Director of U Theatre, from Taipei to Hong Kong to train me and Tony Leung. I started with the basics: how to hold the drumsticks and how to stand.
When we arrived Taitung, the filming location in the southeastern part of Taiwan, I started to train intensively with Shifu. My favorite was the big Holy Drum. I had to agree to cut my hair before he would let me train on it, haha.
(For Jaycee Chan) Your role goes through a major transition, which was the more challenging part for you?
The Zen part, definitely. It wasn’t too hard for me to play the rebellious gangster, but I had to really work on being Zen.
I wasn’t aware of it myself, but many of the cast and crew told me afterwards that after working and being with members of U Theatre for about a month, they thought my demeanor, attitude and even appearance had all transformed.
(For Jaycee) What was it like working with Tony Leung?
I had worked with Tony briefly before on my first film (don’t go see it, I was terrible in it!). Actually this time it was pretty brief also; we only had three scenes together and he’s beating me up in two of them. I really admire him because he’s very experienced and exact with his performance. It was great feeding off of his energy and interacting with him. I liked the punches he threw at me, literally and figuratively.
(For Rosa) Why was this film co-produced with a German company?
Many independent films in Asia are financed in similar ways, involving partial European funding. Since The Drummer was not an obvious genre film or, as people in Asia like to say, a “commercial” film, our best chance of getting this independently developed project made was to finance it independently and then produce it independently.
We met our German co-producer, Thanassis, through our Taiwanese co-producer, Peggy. We didn’t set out to seek money from German sources specifically, but it worked out and The Drummer became the first Chinese-language film to be funded by Germany’s Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg.
Thanassis Karathanos (co-producer), Kenneth Bi, Jaycee Chan and Rosa Li (co-producer)
(For Rosa) Has this film been distributed outside of Asia?
Yes, The Drummer has been sold to over 40 countries and territories so far. It’s been released all over Asia except for Japan, which should happen early next year. The first European rollout was in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, with Germany and Spain set to follow later this autumn. I think Australia and New Zealand are also planning late autumn releases this year.
——— If you have a question, please feel free to post a comment ———
The Drummer was the opening film for the "Year of the Dragon" section at the Munich Film Festival. Jaycee Chan and I were invited to present the film at the festival.
Wir Lieben Kino means We love cinema...
Director Jennifer Lynch (the one holding the mic) and actress Julia Ormond (the one on the right) on the panel before us.
Fans staking Jaycee out everywhere
Opening night interviews
Opening night party
Photo taken by Jaycee's assistant, Alice, with her new Canon camera
Q & A session after the screening. Jaycee Chan, Kenneth Bi, Andre Matthias (composer) and Bernhard Karl (festival programmer)
Q & A session after the screening. Jaycee Chan, Kenneth Bi, Thanassis Karathanos (co-producer), Andre Matthias (composer) and Bernhard Karl (festival programmer)
It's five star treatment all the way. We stayed at the Bayerischer Hof. Hip-hip artist Pharrell and Celine Dion were both also staying at the hotel.
Pharrell and Alice
Alice took these great photos of Munich.
This monument commemorates the Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938, where, in one night, 91 Jews were killed and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps by the Nazis. More than 2000 synagogues were also destroyed.