Time Is Unity
When Besson wrote the first version of the script
for Lucy 10 years ago, he intended for the action to
be set in Taipei, Taiwan. He had gone to the city in
1997 on a promotional tour for The Fifth Element and
loved the people and the feel of the city. When the
time came to scout locations for this action-thriller, the
filmmakers considered a few different Asian cities to
lens the picture-for budget and logistical purposes.
Says Besson: "The funny thing is that, in the end, we
shot in Taipei and picked the very hotel I'd stayed in 20
years ago. I couldn't have come up with anything better
than what I had on my mind all those years."
Besson-Silla affirms that there was no way Taipei
could be re-created elsewhere. "From the very
beginning, he had always pictured the movie in
Taipei, because Luc wanted it to be set in an Asian
city where things are moving so fast. Taipei fit the bill
perfectly. Besides, there aren't that many European or
American films that have been shot there."
The director enjoyed
the shooting conditions
in Taiwan, and he
actively encourages other
filmmakers to film their
movies there. "The people
who live in Taipei are the
gentlest people I've ever
met," Besson enthuses.
"The authorities are
trustworthy and helpful
with film crews. As
well, you have all kinds
of real locations-city
beaches, forests, mountains-all within 100 miles."
He pauses, "On top of that, this place has the best
dumplings in the whole world."
Lucy marks Johansson's first time filming in
Taipei. "I just loved being able to explore that city,"
she says. "It was so welcoming. In some ways, just
the fact that we were all so tired and jet-lagged and
out of our element added to the disorientation of my
character and the place she's coming out of when
she starts being affected by this drug."
In Taiwan, it is customary to say prayers and give
offerings to the spirits at the very beginning of any
film production. Producer Besson-Silla recalls that
experience: "On the first day, we had a table set up
with food and drinks. When I came on set, I was like,
'What is this table in the middle of the set?' Someone
said, 'It's for the spirits.' It was a great experience,
and I loved being able to go to another country and
explore the local culture. I believe it brings a lot to the
crew and to the film."
Besson also fell under the spell of the country's
traditions and recounts the production's first day:
"Everyone was holding sticks of incense in their hands
and said a prayer in Chinese. Then we bowed, facing
north, west, south and east, to chase all the demons
from the set. And it worked because we never had a
single demon for the entire production. It was so sweet
and touching to see that. No matter what your religion,
communion is something common to everyone."
After Lucy flees Taiwan, she ends up in Paris,
where some of the most nail-biting action scenes of
the production were shot. Key locations include the
famed Rue de Rivoli, just near the Louvre Museum
and the Tuileries Garden, the world-renowned
Sorbonne University, the Val-de-Grace military
hospital, where high-ranking French officials are
treated, and a bustling flea market.
As Besson-Silla remarks, when it came to lensing
the film's most intense car chases, the team decided to
shoot in the middle of summer, when there are fewer
people in Paris. Says the producer: "Luc had this
crazy idea of having Lucy drive her car against traffic
on Rue de Rivoli, which is a very busy four-lane, one-way
street, between the Louvre and Concorde Square.
And there she goes at full speed, in the middle of the
day! It was pretty astonishing."
The director was intent on shooting
one of the most challenging action
sequences of his entire production
in a Paris flea market. "We were in a
flea market full of people, at 2 in the
afternoon, and cars were just flying all
over the place and landing on fruits
and vegetables," he laughs. "There was
a lot of security, and after shooting for
three days, we had a pretty good stunt."
Min-Sik also enjoyed working in
Paris: "Paris has such great food that
it's been very painful for me to resist
the delicious French cuisine," he says.
"I think I've gained some weight, so it
hasn't helped me at all."
Cite du Cinema
Besides shooting on location in Paris, the
production lensed portions of the film at a
soundstage belonging to the new Cite du Cinema,
Besson's nine-studio facility just outside Paris.
The 102,500-square-foot state-of-the-art studio has
already hosted several major productions, including
recent films such as 3 Days to Kill, The Family,
Taken 2 and The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Most of the interiors, such as the hotel suite,
and parts of the Sorbonne University were recreated
at the soundstage. Besson-Silla elaborates:
"It's much more convenient to work in a studio
because it's a more controlled environment. We had
so many visual effects that being on a set made it a
lot easier to organize."
The director remembers the Sorbonne set: "This
is one of the oldest universities in the world, and we
put more than 2,000 rounds of bullets into the walls
everywhere. So on the first day, it was all clean. Then,
day after day, we just shot the hell out of the place.
You couldn't even see anything in the end because it
became so foggy. I'll keep in mind an image of the first
day-when everything was so clean-and of the last
day, when you couldn't even recognize the Sorbonne."
Besson muses: "The funny thing is that the Sorbonne
is all about knowledge, but I dropped out of school at
an early age to make films. Now, here I was, making
a film on knowledge and intelligence and destroying
the ultimate embodiment of knowledge."
Johansson marvels at the sets built at the
Cite du Cinema: "The sets were massive and
really detailed," she comments. "We could be in
an apartment, or in a luxurious Taipei hotel suite,
or anywhere else for that matter. I was travelling
through different universes, all within the studio."
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