Jack Ma uses martial arts film to revitalize Tai Chi

Alibaba always puts on a spectacle on Singles Day, its annual online shopping extravaganza—and this year founder Jack Ma's martial arts obsession is a part of it.

Ma, one of the richest men in China, is making his debut in Gong Shou Dao (the art of attack and defense), a 20-minute movie. The film stems from Ma's lifelong love of martial arts that has informed both his professional life and personal life. And it marks another step in his ongoing effort to revitalize the ancient practice and take it global.

Ma has practiced Tai Chi for more than 30 years. He even tells his staff to use fictional warriors' names from literature 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.

"I use Tai Chi philosophy in the business," Ma said at Davos in 2015. "Calm down—there is always a way out. And keep yourself balanced. Business is a competition, and competition is fun. Business is not like a battlefield—you die or I win. Business, even if you die, I may not win."

Previews to the 20-minute movie were screened at the Tmall Double-11 Night Carnival, a television gala by Alibaba, on Friday, and have gone viral on Chinese social media.

The television gala, an annual promotion event set up in 2015 by Alibaba on November 11, China's biggest online shopping day since 2009, aired on three satellite channels in Beijing, Shenzhen, and Zhejiang province, as well as on several video-streaming sites like Taobaolive and Youku.

The cast includes top action stars Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing and Tony Jaa from Thailand, as well as A-list actors 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. Pop diva Faye Wong teams up with Ma to sing the movie's theme song.

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.

Ma, a fan of Louis Cha's martial arts novels, was inspired to make the movie in 2009 when he met Jet Li.

They then co-founded a company to promote Tai Chi in 2011 and decided to make a film to realize 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 plays a Tai Chi master, while Jet Li portrays a Buddhist monk.

Speaking about the movie and its impact on the Alibaba founder, a source close to Ma said, "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 said 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 theaters.

As for the cinema screenings, an Alibaba statement said, "As the movie aims to popularize and spread Chinese culture, the theater screenings will not have tickets. Instead, people will be invited to watch the film for free."

Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based critic, said 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, said that the movie can help raise the profile of martial arts in the West thanks to Ma's reputation and the cast's star power.

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