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Enemy At the Gates

Film critic Henry Sheehan reviews Enemy at the Gates starring Jude Law and Joseph Finnes.

05:27

Other segments from the episode on March 23, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 23, 2001: Interview with Stephen Soderbergh; Interview with Ang Lee; Interview with Michelle Yeoh; Review of the new film "Enemy at the Gates."

Transcript

DATE March 23, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Steven Soderbergh talks about directing his new movie
"Traffic"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Sunday night at the Oscars, director Steven Soderbergh will be competing
against himself. He's nominated for best director for "Erin Brockovich" and
"Traffic." Both are also nominated for best picture. This week, the
drug-related issues raised by "Traffic" have been the focus of a "Nightline"
series. Late last year I spoke with Soderbergh about making "Traffic."
"Traffic" tells several interrelated stories that are each about the
difficulties of controlling the drug trade. The stories revolve around drug
enforcement agents trying to infiltrate a cartel, American drug dealers who
are fighting among themselves, the Mexican police who are secretly involved
with the drug trade and the new American drug czar, who is pretty clueless
about what he's really up against.

Benicio Del Toro has an Oscar nomination for his role as a Mexican cop. In
this scene, he's just given inside information to American drug enforcement
agents.

(Soundbite from "Traffic")

Mr. BENICIO DEL TORO: So now that you have what you want, let's talk about
how I get what I want.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, you don't have to worry about that. You're not
gonna have any problems there.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, but first let's talk about what precautions you're
taking to protect yourself.

Mr. DEL TORO: You worry about getting me what I want. I'll worry about
myself. Oh, yeah, Javiar, makes you feel good about this.

GROSS: I asked director Steven Soderbergh about the challenges of telling
several separate but connected stories at one time.

Mr. STEVEN SODERBERGH (Director, "Traffic"): There are two concerns. One is
that the tone be consistent from story to story even though each of these
three narratives take place in very different locations. You sort of need to
feel like everyone's acting in the same movie and there's 110 speaking parts
in the film and we are in the course of showing these three stories in seven
different cities. But you at least want to feel like there's a consistency to
the way everybody's behaving. And then on a technical level, I try to
differentiate the three stories by adopting very different visual palates for
each of them. The Mexico section of the film looks very, very different from
what I call the East Coast section of the film which looks very different from
the San Diego portion of the film. Essentially...

GROSS: Describe some of those differences a little bit.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, Mexico's very sort of--we use these heavy, heavy
tobacco filters and desaturated the film and increased the contrast so it's
very blown out, very brown. San Diego has a very diffused and sort of
blossomy feel to it. The light is very hot but pleasing. And on the East
Coast section of the story, we've gone for very cool tones, a lot of blues.
And that way, as soon as you cut to one of the stories, before you've even
seen a character, you know exactly where you are.

GROSS: You said you used tobacco filters.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah, those are still legal.

GROSS: No, that's not what I meant. I mean, is it literally a tobacco filter
that you're using over the lens?

Mr. SODERBERGH: That fits on a cigarette?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SODERBERGH: No, it's a piece of glass that basically is sort of brownish
in hue.

GROSS: Oh, I see. This is just film lingo that I don't know.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah.

GROSS: OK. Now you said you wanted to make sure it looked everybody was
acting in the same movie. How do you do that?

Mr. SODERBERGH: You hope. You also try and cast well. And more than
anything, you try and create an environment in which the performances can be
as naturalistic as possible. And the film is done in a very documentarylike
fashion. A lot of it was shot with available light and hand-held cameras. We
were moving very quickly and I think that contributes to actors performing in
a style that isn't inherently very theatrical. It isn't what you would
typically see in a sort of large-scale movie with movie stars in it.

GROSS: Is there a movie that you particularly admire that helped you think
through how you wanted to make this movie with its multiple stories and
multiple locations?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, there were several movies that I watched again and
again to study their esthetic. It could be something like "The French
Connection," which was a very good model for what we where trying to do. Or
it might be a film like "The Battle of Algiers," which was made in 1966. Or
"Z," which was made in 1969. Both of them with a very, very strong
documentarylike feeling. I mean, in the case of "The Battle of Algiers,"
they literally had to put a title at the beginning of the film saying, `Not
one foot of this film is documentary footage' because some of it is so sort of
shocking that it's hard to believe that it was staged.

GROSS: Now what are some of the things that you've done in "Traffic" to get a
documentary look but to still have control over what is happening?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, it's kind of planned anarchy in a way. I wouldn't
rehearse and I usually had two cameras running simultaneously so that if some
accident happened, I'd covered myself. And, again, we weren't using very many
lights at all and I wasn't telling actors where they should go, I wasn't
giving them marks to hit. And I was keeping the camera a little further away
from them than normal and using a longer lens so that what I would call their
acting space wasn't violated. And all of that contributes, I think, to a
feeling that is much less traditional in, again, a movie with this many name
actors in it.

GROSS: At the beginning of the movie, Michael Douglas' character is named the
new drug czar and there are scenes in the movie in which he's meeting people
from Congress and other experts, each of whom is pitching their point of view
about what he needs to do to control the drug trade. In one of those scenes
there's several real congressman in it.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Right.

GROSS: Orrin Hatch is one of the people in that scene. Why did you go for
some real people in that scene as opposed to just actors?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, again, it's all out of desire to create a sense of
verisimilitude and make you think that it's happening in front of you. And we
had a sequence which, you know, we referred to as the Georgetown Cocktail
Party.

And so we went to Georgetown and there was some scripted material we had but
we invited a fairly good number of senators and congressmen to join us and
didn't discriminate about who we invited. We just did a blanket mailing,
really. And when they showed up, I basically brought them over to Michael
Douglas and said, `He's the new drug czar. I want you to discuss your point
of view on the drug war. What's happening in your area and how you think he
should navigate Washington.'

And I had three cameras running in this case and it was all improvised and
then edited down to what I hoped was a manageable length. But I don't think
there's any faking that. I mean, you see Orrin Hatch telling Michael Douglas,
the new drug czar, what he thinks he ought to be doing and there's a feeling
to that that I don't think you can cheat.

GROSS: Tell me this, though. You know, you're watching that scene and you're
thinking, `That's the real Orrin Hatch saying what he would say to the real
drug czar, but that's Michael Douglas playing the drug czar.' And, you know,
do you think the audience can ever quite forget that it's Michael Douglas?

Mr. SODERBERGH: No, probably not.

GROSS: I guess what I'm asking is, is it difficult to have someone who's, you
know, a real movie star in a sequence that's meant to have a documentary
realistic feel to it because he is what he is, a movie star?

Mr. SODERBERGH: I think you can in this instance. Or at least I hope you
can, for a couple of reasons. One, Michael is a terrific actor and also is
someone who, I think, is perfect for portraying a man like this, who is put
into this situation. And then again, the way in which the film is made, the
style of it, I think helps blend all of it so that Michael and, for instance,
Orrin Hatch do seem to occupying the same world. And so it didn't--I thought
it blended pretty well. And there are a couple of other instances in the film
where we're using real people portraying themselves. For instance, when
Michael is given the tour of the border in San Ysidro between the US and
Mexico and when he's allowed into the intelligence center in El Paso, the
people giving him the tour there and talking to him and answering his
questions are the real people.

GROSS: Now the scenes in Mexico are subtitled.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Right.

GROSS: In earlier Hollywood films, they would have been in English but with a
Mexican accent. Tell me how you thought through the idea of actually doing it
in Spanish with subtitles and if you fear that that means that the movie's
going to play art houses instead of, you know, shopping mall cineplexes.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, there were two reasons for having the Mexican sequences
be in Spanish. The first is that I didn't think you could get anybody to take
you seriously if you had Mexican characters speaking to other Mexican
characters with accented English. And since we were trying to make a film
that purported to be up to the minute and sort of reality-based, I just never
considered that you would do anything but allow them to speak in Spanish.

And the other important aspect of that is it's very crucial that you
understand that the way Mexicans speak to Mexicans is different than the way
Mexicans speak to Americans. And the Benicio Del Toro character, who plays a
Tijuana state policeman, has a lot of interaction with American characters in
the film. And the way that he relates to them is very complicated and you
need to understand, you know, the impenetrability of another culture, moving
in both directions in this case.

And so I just felt that was the way to go and wasn't really concerned that it
would be a problem for people. And the fact that we have the cast that we
have--I wasn't really concerned that we would be sort of considered an art
house movie.

GROSS: Steven Soderbergh recorded in December. He has two Oscar
nominations for best director, for "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich." Each film
was also nominated for best picture.

Coming up, Ang Lee, who's nominated for best director for "Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Director Ang Lee discusses making his latest film,
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The Oscars are Sunday night. Ang Lee is nominated for best director for his
film "Crouching Tiger, "Hidden Dragon." The film is also nominated for best
picture. Lee's other movies include "The Ice Storm," "Sense and Sensibility"
and "Eat Drink Man Woman." "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" is set in ancient
China and blends Buddhist principles and martial arts. The fights defy the
laws of gravity as the warriors climb walls, fly and face off on treetop
branches. The film is a fable about an unruly, aristocratic teen-age girl
who's secretly a martial arts prodigy. She flees her arranged marriage to
live a warrior's life, taking with her a stolen weapon; a beautiful jade
sword. Two highly skilled warriors--played by Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle
Yeoh--try to recover the sword and save the girl. A little later, we'll hear
from Michelle Yeoh, who's starred in many martial arts films. I asked Ang Lee
why he built so many fight scenes around women.

Much of the story in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" revolves around women,
and some of the most spectacular fights in the movie are involving women.
Why did you make women the center of this story and of the fighting?

Mr. ANG LEE (Director, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"): Well, I loved to
do them, I guess. Well, it was in the book. I guess--maybe I'm not a macho
guy, myself. Over the years I found doing especially strong women that really
speak really for me. I found that I really enjoy doing them. They are very
effective to me, and I get attracted to those characters both in real life and
in drama. So any time I see that kind of character that--it attracts me right
away.

GROSS: The fight choreographer that you use in "Crouching Tiger" is Yuen
Woo-Ping, who has done a lot of martial arts films and he also did the
choreography for "The Matrix."

Mr. LEE: Uh-huh.

GROSS: Were there things that you asked him to do that he said to you,
`Sorry, that's not possible'?

Mr. LEE: A lot of soft stuff, like soft weapons, things that tie with a rope
or weapons that would bend to hit around people. That kind of weapon he
doesn't like because it's very time consuming. With--at the same time with
the hard weapons and sticks like that, you can do so much more and there's a
lot more collisions 'cause usually collisions generate a lot of excitement.
But I want to do the Wu Don style, sort of tai chi style. That was just
too soft for him. So sometimes he said that doesn't look good.

GROSS: Well, what is the Wu Don style?

Mr. LEE: It used to be--at least in movies, the shouting styles like hard
kind of style that's similar to karate and tae kwon do. It's--a lot of movies
I have seen that. The Wu Don style is more soft and restrained kind of
style. It's hard to see and more into that, and that doesn't always look good
on film. So sometimes he will reject that.

I think a lot of stuff I wanted to do he would do it gradually. Like, too
many wire works, that's time consuming. He likes to fight on the ground.

GROSS: Well, I'm going to stop you there.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

GROSS: You say he likes to fight on the ground. You have scenes where
characters basically fly from the ground onto a rooftop or, like, walk up a
wall in the middle of a fight or fight on the tops of trees.

Mr. LEE: Yes.

GROSS: I guess the choreographer--that would come under the category of what
the choreographer didn't like to do.

Mr. LEE: No, he did not. He's my hero since I was a film student. He made
the movie that made Jackie Chan. He made the movie that made Jet Li. He's an
all-time hero.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LEE: So to me, he's just one of my great heroes. But he's not known for
good wire work. He didn't like it. He like ground fight. He's--with styles
and classic Chinese fighting stance.

GROSS: And--and...

Mr. LEE: And he's also coming from Peking Opera background, so he like
choreography. But when it's up air--people are up in the air, it's physics.
It's something else.

GROSS: So when they're up in the air, you're working with wires that suspend
them and can pull them up...

Mr. LEE: Right.

GROSS: ...kind of like when Peter Pan flies across the theater.

Mr. LEE: Right. With cranes or poles or whatever you can hook the wires on.

GROSS: Why did you want some of the fights to be in the air or to be on the
top of trees?

Mr. LEE: It's airborne. It's metaphorically gravity defying. In the drama,
there's a lot of social restraints and the Peking, repressed, classic Chinese
society with women's story. I just think on the other hand when they get to
fight, the exhilarating visual effects of flying in the air, which is a great
tradition from the novels and the movie genre. I just feel like using them as
metaphorically, as cinematically a power. I think it's very effective to me.
I just like to do it on the film.

GROSS: Could you describe what was happening on the ground when two of your
characters are having a fight on the treetops?

Mr. LEE: On the ground? Oh, what happened on the ground?

GROSS: Yeah. Who--what--what...

Mr. LEE: Some 20, 30 people pulling them from each and every direction,
hours to set up. We--and the Bamboo Forest was in the southern part of
China. Bamboo Forest is the size of, maybe, Connecticut. And they're always
in the valleys, the bamboo groves. So it's hard to find a row--which we did
find one to park those five, six big construction cranes. So the wires were
set up--cables and wires were set up there according to what I see might
happen on the bamboo, then they set it up--it takes hours and hours--then
trying out. Basically, a whole bunch of people pulling different cables and
wires that are attached to the harness that hang the actors. And they just
pull it in different directions and try to manipulate what might happen
and--according to the fighting and ...(unintelligible) suspense.

GROSS: So...

Mr. LEE: It's very light, bouncy kind of effort, but by a lot of people.

GROSS: And then when the scene is completed you, like, digitally erase the
wire from the screen image?

Mr. LEE: Yes. Yeah, which is a pain in the neck because there's a lot of
foregrounds with the bamboo leaves. Anything soft is difficult to do.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Right.

Mr. LEE: And the cross, too. He raised the wires from the cross. That's
flapping. That's difficult.

GROSS: In an interview with Time magazine, you said that you worked non-stop
on that movie for eight months and that you were miserable. You said, `Near
the end, I could hardly breathe. I thought I was about to have a stroke. I'm
resting now trying to get fit again. But since I'm middle-aged, I'll probably
never come back to normal.' Now this was in December of 1999.

Mr. LEE: This is all true, yeah.

GROSS: How do you feel now?

Mr. LEE: I'm still adjusting, going back to my health. Actually, the worst
time's when I came back doing the editing. That was the worst time, when I
totally feel like the '70s according to--or the early '70s. That was a
backlash to the '60s. That's how I felt when it finally hits home. Some way
in my body was kind of malfunctioning. I was really depressed. But I was
under a lot of pressure to get the full movie out for the Cannes Film
Festival. And there's so many cutting to do; music and especially special
effects, like 400 shots of them. They're all jammed into that four or five
months. So I was in terrible shape. And I'm pretty much getting back except
there is still a little tendonitis on my feet.

GROSS: Why tendonitis?

Mr. LEE: I don't know. It's kind of a body malfunction.

GROSS: Did that connect to making the movie?

Mr. LEE: Yes, it's funny. Tendonitis--I went to the doctor when I came
back. The first thing--he said, `Are you under long time of stress?' I said,
`What's that'--he said, `Oh, it has everything to do with stress.' And that's
probably for the location scouting, up and down the mountain too many times
and standing 16, 20 hours constantly. I think that all adds up. Plus, I'm
middle-aged.

GROSS: Ang Lee recorded late last year. He's nominated for an Oscar for
directing "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which is also nominated for best
picture.

We'll hear from the film's star, Michelle Yeoh, in the second half of the
show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Actress Michelle Yeoh discusses her career and her new
film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Michelle Yeoh is one of the stars of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which
is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture. She starred in many Asian
martial arts films. She co-starred with Jackie Chan in "Supercop," and was
the heroine of the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." She grew up in
Malaysia.

In her fight sequences in "Crouching Tiger," she defies gravity and flies. As
director Ang Lee described, this required suspending her by wires. I asked
her what it's like to work with wires.

Ms. MICHELLE YEOH ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"): Hard, painful.
Because basically what happens is you're in this corset. If you have a
24-inch waist, by the time you remove the corset, it would be down to 18
inches.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. YEOH: Basically, you can't breathe, there is limited mobility and you
are not in total control. You have to work very hard to keep your back
upright and your whole body looking very graceful. At the same time, there
are four or five guys on the other end of the wire who's pulling you up and
down. So you work with very, very subtle feelings of movement. When they
pull, you have to know when to go with them, when you have to work against the
wire and with the wires. So by the end of, like, a 15-minute session, you
really need to come down because your legs get numb, you know, your ribs are
hurting and it's very hard work.

GROSS: You say you have to work hard to keep your back upright, to keep your
posture.

Ms. YEOH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You have beautiful posture, and I'm sure that has something to do with
studying ballet when you were young.

Ms. YEOH: Oh, absolutely. I totally give credit to that because it's given
me that very graceful, very expansive kind of movement which I have been able
to incorporate it into my martial arts, whereby when you watch us fight, it's
more balletic and lyrical rather than being very short and aggressive. It's
explosive, but at the same time, that grace is very necessary. I think that
is the major difference when you watch a woman fight and when you watch a man
fight.

GROSS: What, that sense of grace?

Ms. YEOH: Yes.

GROSS: You studied ballet in England at the Royal Academy of Dance.

Ms. YEOH: That's right. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But you have...

Ms. YEOH: I studied ballet since I was, like, four years old. I think I
always wanted to be a ballerina. And when I went on to England--in fact, that
was my dream to have my own ballet school back in Malaysia. And I did a
degree in dance and minored in drama, as well. But I didn't go on to that, I
went on into acting instead.

GROSS: Now I think you had an injury that made it necessary for you to give
up dance.

Ms. YEOH: That's right. I had a back injury while I was doing ballet. And
that--instead of being able to pursue a professional side of ballet, I went
back to college, university, and that's when I went into choreography and
contemporary and other things, instead.

GROSS: How is it possible to do all the fighting in martial arts films with
whatever injury you sustained yet not be able to do ballet?

Ms. YEOH: I don't know, actually. That's a very good question. No, when I
was doing ballet, we used to dance from, like, 9:00--you know, it was a
full-time course. So--and a lot of ballerinas you will find that, you know,
they put their body through absolute hell. I figure with an action movie, you
only do it in short spurts of time, like, you know, for a couple of weeks and
then you have a break. So you're not intensively banging the body in that
way.

I think my specialist, if he ever saw any of the films that I did, would be
very shocked because he told me, you know, `You can't do any of this strenuous
things that's going to hurt your back.' And if he saw me rolling off cars,
you know, jumping off high buildings and kicking around like that, I think he
would be very, very taken aback.

GROSS: Good point. Why don't you describe what was one of your most risky
and strenuous stunts?

Ms. YEOH: That would definitely be in "Supercop," a movie that I did with
Jackie Chan. That's the big difference when you do a contemporary movie like
"Supercop" and then "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In a contemporary film,
you not only do arm-to-arm combat, but also stunts are much more important in
that sense. And I think the craziest one I ever did was to take a bike and...

GROSS: A motorcycle.

Ms. YEOH: A motorcycle, and jump on to a moving train. And the worst is I'd
learned to ride a bike--motorbike probably about three weeks prior to that.
Today, if you ask me to ride a motorbike, I can go but I don't know how to
stop. I always jump off the bike.

GROSS: Now let me say--what you were doing in this stunt, you were driving,
you know, from the ground on this motorcycle and...

Ms. YEOH: Yes, up a ramp.

GROSS: Up a ramp, and onto the roof of a moving train.

Ms. YEOH: That's right, yes.

GROSS: And the outtakes of this are at the end of "Supercop," at least they
are on the video version...

Ms. YEOH: Yes.

GROSS: ...and we see that the first time you tried it, you fell off the
train.

Ms. YEOH: And went bouncing.

GROSS: What did you bounce onto? Not the concrete, I hope.

Ms. YEOH: Oh, no, no, no. If it was the concrete, I wouldn't be sitting
here today.

GROSS: That's what I thought.

Ms. YEOH: No, we have--what happens is on the other side of the train, we
line it with cardboard boxes. So if you--with--when we used to do--I think at
that time I was really very blessed in the sense that I was surrounded by
lucky stars. Looking back at some of the stunts, especially in that film, I
could have been so seriously hurt. When I bounced onto those cardboard boxes,
I could have bounced five feet further away and I would have missed the
cardboard boxes and landed on the tracks on the other side. So, you know,
when I was dubbing that film, that was when I sort of went, `What was I
thinking at that time?'

GROSS: Why do your own stunts? You know, in most American movies the actors
have stunt people to be their surrogate in scenes like the ones you've
described.

Ms. YEOH: When I first went into action films--actually, it was my second
movie that we did that. The reason being is I--the decision was to do or not
to do, because in Hong Kong, you have people, like, you know, Sammo Hung,
Jackie Chan, Jet Li. And they were so established because they did their own
stunts. The Asian audiences are spoiled in that sense that they know and they
will only regard you as doing your job properly if you do your own stunts.
And I think I had a bigger challenge to prove at that time, because, you know,
in the '80s when I first went into action films, there had not been a female
action star, so to speak, so how do--we had to convince the audience, first of
all, that a woman was capable of doing something like that. And the only way
you could convince them was to show them, you know, without any doubling.

But then I was very lucky, because when I first started out doing martial
arts, I had the cooperation of the stunt people in Hong Kong. I guess when
they first started out they were very curious to see, you know, if this girl,
she doesn't seem to realize what she's letting herself in for. And then when
they found out that I could pick up movements that they were throwing at me,
then they got more interested into teaching me how to focus and how to extend
the punch that looks--there is full contact, I must tell you, when we fight in
a film.

GROSS: No, really? There is?

Ms. YEOH: Oh, yes. There is no such thing...

GROSS: How? I mean, how full? You'd be breaking each other's noses and jaws
every day if there was complete contact.

Ms. YEOH: No, when it comes to the faces, obviously--yes, you--even
sometimes when we kick the stunt double in the jaw, there is full contact.
What we can do is instead of wearing leather shoes, which is too hard, then we
would sort of pad the top of the foot. Or, you know, use rubber shoes so that
it's softer, but when I smack them across the face or the neck, there is not a
touch (demonstrates touch), there is an actual (demonstrates punch) impact on
it. And I have knocked out my stunt boys doing that before. So when we are
fighting with each other, you know, when we're hitting each other on the arms
or we're kicking each other on the--around the body, there is impact. But
the--when you fight with someone who is very experienced, they know on impact
to absorb and know how to react to it.

GROSS: Well, how do you absorb impact?

Ms. YEOH: So they're not...

GROSS: Because I'm sure you're hit, too, right?

Ms. YEOH: You learn--this comes with experience, honestly. The first few
times when I did it, it was just sheer taking the punches, and then after that
you learn that it's timing as well and this is something that, you know,
you--it doesn't come overnight. If you're lucky and you're working with
someone that's--whose rhythm is in sync with you, then it's much easier. If
not, then, you know, both of you are just going `kung, kung, kung,' you know?
It just--belting at each other the whole time. When you can--upon just--the
impact of it, and you move together with that punch or that kick, then you can
absorb and take away, you know, the direct hit. But then when there is no
hit, you will--you as an audience will be able to see it very, very clearly.

GROSS: My guest is Michelle Yeoh. She stars in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon," which is nominated for 10 Academy Awards. More after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Michelle Yeoh, star of "Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It's nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

In your new movie, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the choreographer is you
and Woo-ping, who is one of the famous Asian martial arts films
choreographers. Would you take one of those scenes where, you know, say,
like, three people are coming at you at the same time and you disable them
with a couple of kicks and jumps. How are you going to rehearse that scene?
Are you going to do it over and over again till everybody knows what they're
doing?

Ms. YEOH: Yes.

GROSS: And the first times, do you do it without really connecting, just to
make sure you've got, more or less...

Ms. YEOH: You're good. Have you done this before?

GROSS: ...everybody in place?

Ms. YEOH: You've got the right drift.

GROSS: No.

Ms. YEOH: That is what happens. First of all, the stunt coordinators, you
know, Yuen Woo-ping and his right hand men, would work out and see what
other movements they think would look good for the camera or that situation.
And then afterwards, what happens is the two leads will do it with each a
stunt coordinator so that, you know, it's not the two leads having it--working
it out together. Because, you know, they--the stunt coordinators know
exactly what they're doing. So then these two separate teams will come
together, and then when I'm doing it with my co-lead, the one I'm fighting
with, first of all, we do it slowly. We run through the movements that we
know, until we know exactly what we're doing, without contact, with gentle
contact, you know, just so we touch, we know. OK, duck, go under, kick,
smack, bang, react. So this is what we do.

So in your mind, that's practice, that's rehearsing. And then when we shoot,
that's when we have to go into it. So prior to shooting, it's just going
through the movements because you do not want to expend your energy as well.
Remember when you're doing a shoot there, for us, the normal shooting hours
are 12 to 15 hours and if you're doing an action sequence you would be
fighting the entire day. And every shot needs 110 percent from you. So when
you're rehearsing, you try as best not to dispense that full energy. You do
it halfway as you get more, sort of, used to the movements. And then because
there is speed. You don't do it `pop, pop, pop,' you know? You have to go
`tung, tadatung, tung, tung, tung, tung.' So it's that rhythm that happens
during the shoot.

GROSS: You know, sometimes, even a good actor will forget a line and need to
be prompted. If you forget a move, you're really sunk.

Ms. YEOH: It is less dangerous when you're not using weapons because...

GROSS: Right.

Ms. YEOH: ...I tell you, when you're fighting arm-to-arm combat, the biggest
mistake someone can do is like if you're supposed to be punching them across
the face left to right, and they suddenly blank out and they react right to
left, that's when accidents happen. The biggest problem is when you use
weapons because when you hit at someone, it was--like, for example, in this
movie, it was very intimidating for the new girl because this was her first
action film. And when I attack her, I don't have a smile on my face going
`OK, watch out left, watch out right.' I'm really going with a very intense
and very fast movements. And at the beginning, of course, I, too, am worried
that `What if I make a mistake and I hit her on the wrong side or she makes
a mistake and she puts her head in the wrong way?'

Because at the end of these spears that we use, even though they're not
sharpened, you know, to be cutting, it's still metal and if I was to jab in
there, she would be spewing blood all over the place. So there is that risk
factor. That's why if you are fit and you are trained, your reaction, your
reflexes are a lot faster. And also when we fight, we don't react before the
punch is thrown. We only react after the punch is thrown. So you literally
watch where the punch is going. So in case that person goes the wrong way,
you're not going to be the idiot that goes with it. So it's just practice and
being very, very aware of yourself and who you are fighting with.

GROSS: In your new movie, "Crouching Tiger," you tore a knee ligament during,
I think, the early phase of the shooting.

Ms. YEOH: Yes.

GROSS: And you had some surgery, recovered for about three weeks and then you
were back in the film again. How did you manage to do that?

Ms. YEOH: I think it was sheer discipline, gritting my teeth. I'd waited a
year and a half to do "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," when Ang Lee first
approached me after I'd just finished "Tomorrow Never Dies," and he said to
me, `I want to do "Sense and Sensibility" with martial arts. And I--at that
moment said, `Yes, fine.' And I'm a great admirer of his work and I knew that
working with Ang I would be taken to another level. I would learn very much
from him about acting, about our film business.

So when that accident happened, it was in the first action sequence, actually,
the last night of that big fight scene that we have. Fortunately, it was the
last night. And fortunately also in this movie right from the word go, I had
only two fight sequences, one at the beginning and one at the end. So there
was a big change around in the scheduling where they had to allocate that
final sequence until the last 10 days. I was very, very fortunate to have the
care and attention of Dr. Andy Cosgarea from Johns Hopkins and also the
physiotherapist, Ian Dow(ph), over in Baltimore, because without their looking
after, I would not have been able to get back to the set.

When we first discovered that, yes, there was--because I was in self-denial
when I had the fall and I thought I'd just sprained my knee, you know. After
three days I will be fine. I'll be jumping, I'll be running. But, you know,
because when I turn right, my leg would go left, that something was not right.
So I was there with Dr. Cosgarea. He did the MRI. I think he could see in my
face, you know, that I wanted him to say, `No, you're fine. Don't worry. Get
back on the set.' He had to give me the bad news. And following I had to
give the bad news to Ang. And from day one, Ang had always said to me, `You
are my warrior in this movie.' And I knew how devastated he would be. And so
was I. But he said the thing that really kept me going, he said, `Don't worry
about it,' you know. `Make sure your knee gets back into fit condition
because your health is the most important thing. And then we will wait for
you.'

Because I would have been so devastated if he had, you know, to replace me and
get someone else to do this part that I had been wanting to do for so long.
So after surgery Dr. Cosgarea had said to me if I was willing to go into a
very intense rehab program, you know, professional footballers go back into a
professional game by the end of three months. So it was possible that I could
do that, you know, barring there were no complications and I was willing to put
up with the pain and aggravation and all that. So that was what I did,
gritted my teeth and knew that I wanted to be back in China filming with my
crew. So I spent three weeks out here doing rehab and then going back to
China.

GROSS: How's the knee now?

Ms. YEOH: It's not 100--I guess it will never be at 100 percent because, you
know, I think also consciously, mentally, you always think `Oh, there is an
injury.' So you're always more aware of it. It's coming along. I still have
to do therapy for it.

GROSS: "Crouching Tiger" really shows off your acting abilities as well as
your fighting abilities. Do you have any inclination to get out of martial
arts films and do more straight dramatic films?

Ms. YEOH: No. I--you know, as an actress, I want the balance of being able
to do both. I do love action films. And, you know, this is where I've
always worked so hard to do to get to is where--there should be a balance in
action film whereas whereby the dramatic element is just as important as the
action. And Ang has proven to us very clearly in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon," that it can be done, that the action doesn't need to overwhelm the
dramatic, you know, the beauty about the emotional side, the story segment can
be told. Personally, for myself, I've just started my own production company
with partners Media Asia in Hong Kong and I--in fact, my first production will
be an action-adventure, so the question that you asked me, will I move away
from action films, no. I really do enjoy making them. But then I will have
the balance of doing non-action films because I do understand that the body
needs to rest sometimes.

GROSS: Right. Well, Michelle Yeoh, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. YEOH: Oh, thank you so much, Terry.

GROSS: Michelle Yeoh stars in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which is
nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Our conversation was recorded late last
year. Coming up, film critic Henry Sheehan reviews "Enemy at the Gates." this
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New movie "Enemy at the Gates" based on real event that
took place during World War II
TERRY GROSS, host:

The new epic "Enemy at the Gates" is based on a real event that took place at
the siege of Stalingrad during World War II. Film critic Henry Sheehan says
it also cast a sympathetic eye towards our former Cold War enemy: Russia.

HENRY SHEEHAN reporting:

"Enemy at the Gates" takes place during the Battle of Stalingrad, a turning
point of the Second World War. From September 1942 to February 1943, over two
millions Russians and Germans died in a struggle over whether the Nazi race
across Russian soil would continue or the invaders be driven back to Germany.

The movie opens with epic panoramas of the cataclysmic battle, and then
narrows down to a series of Western style ambushes and shootouts. On the
Russian side, a young shepherd from the Urals, Vassily Zaitsev, has been
picking off Germans with such frequency that the Nazi high command orders in
their own aristocratic sharpshooter, a Baron Koenig, to take him out.

In between the gunfire, Vassily discovers a love interest in the form of a
beautiful, young Jewish intellectual, who has remained in the ruins of her
hometown to fight the Nazis. All in all, pretty standard fare of no
particular distinction; competent rather than inspired.

But there's a subplot on which the movie makes a bid for importance. One
reason the Germans are so anxious to kill Vassily is that he's become a
national hero. An idealistic commissar, Danilov, has decided that Vassily's
exploits are just the thing to buck up a demoralized Russian soldiery and
nation. Here, Danilov, played by a moony Joseph Fiennes, tries to persuade
party boss Nikita Khruschev, played by Bob Hoskins, to go along with the
propaganda scheme.

(Soundbite of "Enemy at the Gates")

Mr. JOSEPH FIENNES (Danilov): Here, the men's only choices are between
German bullets and ours. But there's another way, a way of courage, a way of
love of the motherland. We must publish the army newspaper again. We must
tell magnificent stories, stories that exalt sacrifice, bravery. We must make
them believe in a victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight.
Yes, we need to make examples, but examples to follow. We need our heroes.

SHEEHAN: But "Enemy at the Gates" isn't just about propaganda, it's a
propaganda film itself; calculated to replace some old national stereotypes
with more current models. Take, for example, the portrait of Koenig, the
German marksman brought in to kill Vassily. He's played by cool, reserved Ed
Harris as a world-weary pro who disdains Nazi regalia. He's a professional
soldier; an enemy we can respect even as we hiss.

Vassily, on the other hand, is an unadulterated hero. Played by handsome Jude
Law, Vassily is simple, patriotic and sensitive. It's hard to reconcile
sensitivity with a large body count, so the filmmakers--French director
Jean-Jacques Annaud and his co-writer, Alain Godard--are careful about what
killings they show. After we see Vassily pick off a quartet of German
officers--including a fat and, thus, particularly unlikable one--that's pretty
much it. The succession of killings that make him famous are simply never
shown.

Only Khruschev among the Russians is allowed to be crude and bloodthirsty.
Danilov, the commissar, is wracked by doubts as the movie goes on. The Battle
of Stalingrad unlocks a conscience that was apparently undisturbed through the
purges and forced collectivization of the 1930s.

In other words, the Russian people have always been terrific. It was only the
Communists that led them astray. Since the Communists are gone--or like
Danilov, converted--we can treat them like humans. All those victories the
Russians paid such a high price to win during World War II can finally be
acknowledged now that they have political leadership approved by the West.

We've seen this political about-face in American films. The anti-German
movies of the 1940s gave way to films in the 1950s that explicitly drew a line
between the German people--who had become our allies against the Russians--and
their Nazi overlords. The Russian people were so demonized for so long that
they need a similarly thorough propaganda fix. "Enemy at the Gates," with its
English cast, French writer-directors and German financing isn't really a very
good movie. But it does make a nice greeting card for Western Europe's new
trading partners.

GROSS: Henry Sheehan is film critic for The Orange County Register.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with an excerpt of Hans Zimmer's
Oscar-nominated score from the film "Gladiator."

(Soundbite of music from "Gladiator")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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