As a teenager, Willie Ying learned martial arts to take on bullies and now he's using it to take on the big screen.

The director and producer moved to New Zealand aged 12 and attended Auckland's Kelston Boys' College in the 90s. He was subjected to bullying and quickly became part of a fighting culture.

"That's the main reason ... if you don't want to get teased or bullied, you have to be stronger, you have to prove yourself. So I studied martial arts, mostly in my backyard with the book of Bruce Lee," Ying says.

Now at 33, he's putting his personal experiences into his new film - the first film he has produced, written and directed, and which he shot in just 20 days.

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The Final Blade centres on a centuries-old battle for the mystical Chicken Cup, which a noodle shop owner and his young apprentice must find and protect.

It's part coming-of-age tale, part cultural exploration, part comedy and part martial arts action flick. It's won a slew of awards, including best foreign feature film, best concept, best narrative feature, best action film and best feature film at various international film festivals.

"I think the reason they gave me those awards is just because I brought a story rather than just a bunch of fights without any heart, because I don't like action movies without heart," Ying says.

"Obviously, the audience loves action but some movies can be beautiful and epic in their action. The real mission is to bring a strong story with spirit and this little character who can inspire young people and show them when you do something, you should give it 100 per cent."

That's what got Ying so far - well that, and a bit of Hollywood-esque divine intervention. Ying was training at home when a man who was passing by asked him to "show him some moves".

"This was a very strange man you know, he came out from nowhere. He was like one of those guys in the martial arts movies when the master just happens to come down the street," Ying recalls.

That man persuaded Ying to seek out proper teachers, from whom he learned kung fu and karate over the course of a decade. It wasn't all just for the bullies however: at 19, Ying put his martial arts skills to further use and embarked on stunt work.

He's since worked on most of the major international productions to have passed through New Zealand - including Power Rangers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - as well as major productions in Hollywood and China.

But stunt work was simply an introduction to the film industry. About 2012, Ying moved behind the camera to the director's chair for a less physically demanding film experience.

He's since made four feature films in China, but The Final Blade is the first he's produced himself.

"This is the first time not being hired by another company," Ying says. "Normally you turn up and do the job and shoot it the way the bosses want it shot - you have to negotiate all the time. But this is the first time I didn't have to do that, it was just me. It was an amazing experience."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Willie Ying
What: Special screenings of The Final Blade
When: Next Thursday
Where: Event Cinemas Queen Street, St Luke's and Albany