One of the richest men in China, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, is also a martial arts fan. And he is making his debut in Gong Shou Dao (the art of attack and defense), a 20-minute movie.
An eight-minute clip from the film will be screened at the Tmall Double 11 Night Carnival, a TV gala by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, on Friday.
The TV gala, an annual promotion event set up in 2015 by Alibaba on Nov 11－China’s biggest online shopping day since 2009－will air on three satellite channels in Beijing, Shenzhen, and Zhejiang province, as well as on several video-streaming sites like Taobaolive and Youku.
Also in the film, pop diva Faye Wong, who has taken a break for a year now, teams up with Ma to sing the movie’s theme song, Feng Qingyang.
Ma, 53, widely known as a fan of martial arts, is fascinated with Louis Cha’s wuxia (martial arts) novels, and has been practicing tai chi for over 30 years.
He even tells employees to use fictional warriors’ names from litreature classics as their nicknames at work.
Thanks to Ma’s love of tai chi－the 600-year-old martial art rooted from Confucianism and Taoism－Alibaba has hired five national champions to train the group’s employees.
When Irish President Michael Higgins visited the headquarters of Alibaba in Hangzhou during his state visit to China in 2014, Ma arranged for four staff members to perform tai chi stunts for Higgins.
Meanwhile, the movie has three top Hong Kong action choreographers: Yuen Wooping from The Matrix and Kill Bill franchises; Sammo Hung famous for the Ip Man movies; and Ching Siu-tung known for Swordsman.
The cast includes top action stars such as Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing and Tony Jaa from Thailand, as well as A-list actors like Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei and Li Chen.
Besides, Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming and retired Mongolian sumo champion Asashoryu Akinori also feature in the film.
Ma was inspired to make the movie in 2009 when he met Li, the Chinese kung fu giant who’s known for Zhang Yimou’s Hero.
They then co-founded a company to promote tai chi in 2011 and decided to make a film to realise their goal.
For the film, a number of scripts were sent to Ma. But he finally plumped for a tale penned by actor-turned-director Wen Zhang, who shot to fame with the 2007 hit TV series Struggle.
In the movie, Ma reportedly plays a master of tai chi while Li plays a Buddhist monk.
Speaking about the movie and its impact on the Alibaba founder, a source close to Ma says: “Ma has a young heart. He loves art and culture. And martial arts has played an important role in shaping him.”
Separately, the publicity division of Alibaba says that the complete version of Gong Shou Dao will be streamed on Youku, the online video provider affiliated to Alibaba, besides being screened in movie theatres.
As for the cinema screenings, an Alibaba statement says: “As the movie aims to popularise and spread Chinese culture, the theatre screenings will not have tickets. Instead, people will be invited to watch the film for free.”
Giving details of Ma’s commitment to the film, Li says that Ma spent 12 hours each day for 12 days on the film. During this time span, Ma only excused himself once for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s visit to the Alibaba headquarters in September.
“I appreciate Ma for devoting his time to the film and also providing a wonderful platform (the Double 11 gala) to demonstrate Chinese martial arts to the world,” says Li.
Last year, up to 200 million viewers, domestic and foreign, watched the gala, with Alibaba’s online sales reaching 80.7 billion yuan ($11.85 billion) on Nov 11.
As for the movie critics, most of them see the short movie as more of a promotion stunt for this year’s forthcoming Double 11 shopping day.
Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based critic, says that a 20-minute film is too short to evaluate, and the release date makes it more like a marketing ploy for Double 11.
But Fei Yuliang, the vice-president of the Netherlands-based International Health Qigong Association, says the movie can help raise the profile of martial arts in the West thanks to Ma’s reputation and the cast’s star power.