8Questions with Cung Le on ‘The Grandmaster,’ The Ultimate Fighter China, and Family

cungleI recently got a chance to talk to actor and MMA fighter Cung Le, who is in The Grandmaster, a movie by Wong Kar Wai about Bruce Lee’s teacher Ip Man

We covered a variety of subjects, from movies and MMA to the differences between Chinese and American martial artists. 

If you read on, you can find out about deleted scenes in The Grandmaster, how Cung is learning Mandarin, and even on how he tries to balance family, movie making, and fighting.

We’ve covered Cung Le on 8Asians before, but check out his candor when I spoke to him last week.

Here is the edited transcript of our conversation.

There have been other Ip Man movies.  I think the last one was with Donnie Yen.  How is The Grandmaster different?

First of all, the Grandmaster was directed by Wong Kar Wai.  He’s one of the best directors out there.  Tony Leung spent three years to develop the skills to perform in this movie.  The storytelling is different than Ip Man.  Donnie Yen’s Ip Man was fun to watch and the action was amazing, but at  the same time, Wong Kar Wai brings a different feel to the movie.  Teaming up with Wong Kar Wai and Master Woo-ping!  Tony Leung is an amazing actor.  Everyone on the cast did an amazing job.  The action, acting, and storytelling makes it different from the other Ip Man movie.

Tell us about your character (Tiexieqi).  Is he based on a real person?

No, my character was suited for what they wanted to highlight in this movie.  They brought me on, gave me steel boots, and had me throw a lot of kicks, so they wanted show off the art of kicking and how Wing Chun matches up against the kicks.  I actually had a middle part of the movie, and I was supposed to film the ending of the movie.  I filmed the middle part.   We had another fight scene, and I came back to challenge him because Wong Kar Wai had mentioned to me that it was my first time being beat, I felt like it was a fluke.   When I went back to challenge him, he beat me.  At the end, it looks like I was coming back to challenge him, but instead I brought back my son.  We never got a chance to shoot that.  because Wong Kar Wai’s son got sick, and then I went back to the set of The Man with the Iron Fists.  When they needed me again before they moved locations, I had to finish my scene  with Lucy Liu, so they had to scratch that scene.

The visuals are just stunning – you mentioned Wong Kar Wai directing.  That fight scene in the rain – did the rain make it particularly difficult to film?  Was that really you jumping through the window [intereviewer note:  around 0:27 in the trailer]?

Filming in the rain was actually fun.  Wong Kar Wai didn’t want  me to jump out of the window, so he had the stunt guy jump out of the window .  I actually wanted to do every single stunt, and the only stunt that I didn’t do was that one.

In the Chinese films, you are usually a bad guy.  Is it generally more fun to play a bad guy than a good guy?

It just depends on the character.  I just recently finished a movie Certain Justice where I played an anti-hero, and that was really fun to play.  My character was a good guy that was up against a group of Aryan brothers.  It just depends on the part and what I get to do and how open the director is to let me explore the character.

You have done a number of films in China.  How is your Mandarin coming along?

I just finished doing pronunciation on Rosetta Stone and got 100%.  The first part, the basics, I got 95%.  I feel like I am starting off on a good foot.  Most of the time, I would practice the dialogue,  get it down, know what I am saying, and deliver it – in the Chinese films.  Now that I am going to be part of a 12 episode show for The Ultimate Fighter in China, I am working on my Chinese –  I’m taking it seriously.

When is that (The Ultimate Fight China) scheduled to start?

I am supposed to start filming October 6, so I am going to be here for a few more months and then head to China.

Do you know who the opposing coach is?  You usually are supposed to fight him.

I am not fighting.  There are already two coaches.  I am actually playing the mentor coach.  I am going to be like a figurehead out there.  So it’s a big part for me.  I get to work with the athletes on both sides – so I don’t have to take sides – I get to work with all of them.

That’s a much different kind of role from what I have seen in the US Ultimate Fighter.

In China, they want to push respect, discipline, honor, and team comradery, instead of the format in that they have here.

I think I would be relieved to see something other than the drama that usually happens in the Ultimate Fighter.

I think with Chinese martial artists, those guys wouldn’t know how to be that way.  It will focus on their strength – competing and training and doing everything with honor.

Do you know when  your next UFC fight is?  Do you have an Opponent?

They needed me to head up this project in China.  I was supposed to fight Michael Bisping for the Manchester show, but it didn’t work out [interviewer note – Bisping is fighting Mark Munoz].

One last question.  I have two sons at home like you and I am amazed how you manage do all of these things:  fighting, making movies, training. 

I am one up on you – I have three sons .  I am good at managing my time.  When I am not working,  I am spending time with my family.  I make  sure that the kids have enough time with me, and also my wife.  When I am away working, I am focused on work, but when I am training,  I keep my training camp at home and fly in the people I need.

The Grandmaster will be released in Los Angeles and New York on August 23, and in the rest of the US on August 30.  You can follow Cung Le on twitter @cungle185.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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