Organised by The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society (HKIFFS) and funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, the Jockey Club Cine Academy (JCCA) Master Class is known for offering the local audience a prestigious opportunity to interact with world-class filmmakers, having brought JIA Zhangke and Keanu REEVES to town for its 2011 and 2012 editions respectively. Today the HKIFFS announced that Wong Kar Wai, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our time, will conduct this year’s Master Class on 21 March during the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF).
Wong has been widely acclaimed: the visionary auteur who helped catapult Maggie CHEUNG and Tony LEUNG Chiu-wai to international stardom; the first Asian to win Best Director at Cannes Film Festival (for his 1997 work Happy Together); one of the top three in Sight & Sound’s list of Top Ten Directors of Modern Times; and the meticulous perfectionist behind this year’s Berlinale opener The Grandmaster. Indeed WKW has become an instantly recognisable and internationally revered name.
“We are very honoured that Wong has accepted our invitation,” said Roger Garcia, Executive Director of the HKIFFS. “With his unique and mesmerising stories and aesthetics, he has created a universe entirely of his own. His admirers hail from all over the world and he has helped advance the cause of Hong Kong cinema internationally. I am sure cineastes in Hong Kong would be thrilled to hear the master himself share his experience and insights at the Master Class.”
The Master Class will be held at 7:30pm on 21 March 2013 at Theatre 1, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, with simultaneous interpretation between Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Free and open to the public, registration starts 3pm, 28 February 2013 at http://jcca.hkiff.org. The JCCA is also receiving applications for another popular programme, Festival Tours, targeted at moviegoers aged 16-25 and featuring post-screening discussion sessions with film critics and scholars who act as tour guides during the HKIFF. Registration is free and on a first-come, first-served basis.
‘The Grandmaster’ was the opening film of the 63rd Berlin Film Festival. Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi walked the red carpet hand in hand as they were welcomed with cheers and applause. Although Leung frequently attended international film festivals, this was his first time at the Berlin Film Festival. At the opening ceremony, the host compared Wong Kar-wai’s movies to women who made people fall for them unknowingly. She even jokingly asked Wong Kar Wai, “If ‘The Grandmaster’ is a woman too, would you get intimate with her or vanish with her?” Wong Kar-wai humorously said, “Both feel pretty exciting.”
The film premiered in Berlin and received a 10 minute applause after the show. Wong Kar-wai cut a special “Berlin version” with 20 differences from the China and Hong Kong version. The film was about 10 minutes shorter. Because some foreign media did not understand the historical backdrop, some reviews said that it “cannot surpass In The Mood For Love“.
The Berlin Film Festival version of ‘The Grandmaster’ mainly added three important scenes and some subtitles that explained the historical background. Some of the subplots with an unclear relationship to the main plot were removed or replaced. The most notable addition that was not in the China and Hong Kong version was how Chang Chen‘s Yi Xiantian and Zhang Ziyi’s Gong Er met and their relationship. After Gong Er saved Yi Xiantian on the train, they later ran into each other at a Hong Kong restaurant named Old Muslim but did not acknowledge each other. Their reunion gave Yi Xiantian the motivation to stay in Hong Kong, which was easier to comprehend for the audience.
Another addition was the rainy night fight scene with Ip Man and Yi Xiantian. The story became more intense and made people’s blood boiled. This scene caught Gong Yutian’s eyes. He praised Ip Man’s kung fu abilities and after asking others he learned that the fighter was the Invincible in Foshan Ip Man. Other addition scenes included a young Bruce Lee staring at Ip Man from the school, Ip Man teaching Bruce Lee martial arts and Ip man’s ferocious fight with Cung Le. Ip Man’s challenge in Hong Kong to Ding Lianshan (Zhao Benshan) was removed.
Tony Leung did not feel that his scenes were removed, the most important was for the audience to accept the pace of the story. “I don’t mind the changes in the different versions, the most important is for the story to make sense.” Although Wong Kar Wai earlier was busy with ‘The Grandmaster‘s promotion, in a short month he was able to make even better changes. The mastery of his craft truly left people speechless.
The 63rd Berlin Film Festival officially opened on the 7th February. Though none of the 19 films that compete for the highest honour Golden Bear prize are Chinese; luckily the Wong Kar-wai directed film ‘The Grandmaster’ is the opening film. Director Wong is the head of the jury and he led American actor Tim Robbins and the rest of the jury to meet the media. In the afternoon he hosted ‘The Grandmaster’ press conference.
Although ‘The Grandmaster’ has been in general release in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for a month and its Mainland box office even exceeded 290 million yuan RMB which is the highest for a Wong Kar-wai film, to Berlin film viewers it is still full of mystery. The premiere’s tickets were hard to come by, the remaining 3 shows also already selling out in 1 hour.
In order to take care of the overseas (especially European) market needs, Wong Kar-wai earlier stayed in the Bangkok editing room to remove 13 minutes from ‘The Grandmaster’s original 130 minutes running time to the less than 2 hour International Version. Reportedly the story structure also was adjusted slightly. “The pace is even more intense and the feeling is even more mature.”
Actually, Wong Kar Wai has a deep relationship with the Berlin Film Festival. ‘Days Of Being Wild’ and ‘Fallen Angels’ both participated in past festivals and won European and American film critics word of mouth. This year he is invited to be the jury chair. On the eve of the opening ceremony Wong Kar-wai led the jury members including actor Tim Robbins, Oscar Winning Danish director Susanne Beir, Venice Silver Lion prize winning Iranian director Shirin Neshat and others to meet the media and kicked off the 11 day long film festival.
Another with a Berlin connection was Zhang Ziyi. Her films ‘The Road Home’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Forever Enthralled’ appeared there. Two days prior, Wong Kar-wai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi completed its Paris promotion and headed to Berlin at night. Zhang Ziyi’s 34th birthday was on the day after the Berlin premiere and four years ago she celebrated her birthday in Berlin.
Tony Leung was ailing when he met up with Zhang Ziyi in Paris, then they walked the red carpet in Berlin. Luckily his mother tagged along, even though he was overseas for this Lunar New Year he would not feel too bad.
Seated in a hotel suite off Place Vendome in Paris, Wong Kar-wai is in fine spirits. You would never know he has just flown in overnight from Bangkok, where he was working around the clock to finish the international cut of his latest release, the martial arts epic The Grandmaster. The new version that opens the Berlinale is about 13 minutes shorter and also went through a small change in structure.Grandmaster has already been released in China to positive reviews and generated nearly $45 million at the box office, giving Wong his first bona fide blockbuster. As the film makes its international premiere Thursday night at the Berlinale Palast, audiences will be treated to a mix of stunning action choreography (by Yuen Woo-ping) and Wong’s trademark melancholy. The film is an account of how legendary martial arts masters Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), her father Gang Baotian (Wang Qingxiang), The Razor (Chang Chen) and Ma San (Zhang Jin) navigate their lives in politically unstable times in 20th-century China.
Wong, who also presides over the festival competition jury, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the last-minute fine-tuning of a project he conceived nearly 17 years ago and what the film says about contemporary China.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you decide to make an international version of the film?
Wong Kar-wai: The version [released in Asia] has elements which Chinese audiences will be familiar with but which will not be that familiar to foreign audiences. There’s so much information that people could easily become confused. For example, during Ip Man’s opening voice-over about his own background, he talks about his family having a business on Bonham Strand West [a traditional hub of import-export trade in downtown Hong Kong]. Hong Kong audiences will know what that means, but to foreigners it doesn’t mean anything. So we just changed it to how he was running a family business which exports goods to Hong Kong. We made adjustments like this so that international audiences know what it is about.
THR: The film has gone through quite a long period of gestation and production. How different is the final product from the original idea?
Wong: I started out wanting simply to look at Ip Man the person. Later on, however, I discovered what I really wanted to examine is the whole martial arts landscape. I think the biggest question for me was, “What made Ip Man so remarkable?” Some would say it’s because he had a disciple called Bruce Lee, but that would be ignoring something that is crucial: the circumstances which shaped Ip Man’s life. His life is a microcosm of contemporary Chinese history. He lived through the Qing dynasty, the early republican years, the northern conquest [by the government against warlords], the fight against the Japanese [during WWII] and finally the exodus to Hong Kong [during and after the Chinese civil war between 1945 and 1949]. If you don’t give a proper account of this background, you won’t be able to understand the difficulties he goes through. Among the Chinese, and especially among martial arts practitioners or artists, there is this very important notion of passing the torch. It’s about realizing how one doesn’t own what one’s learned. Receiving inherited wisdom from the generation of forefathers means there’s also a responsibility to pass it on. This is the burden a grandmaster has to bear.
THR: Is this something you can identify with as a veteran in your field?
Wong: I wouldn’t really say I’m a grandmaster, so there’s nothing autobiographical about the film. But I think just like what Ip Man did for martial arts, Hong Kong cinema needs a new way of thinking. The other day, while working in Bangkok, a friend gave me this 1990s book about Hong Kong films. The author was saying then how we’ve been making too many films for international markets and we were losing our own unique qualities. But we have to understand that Hong Kong films have been dependent on overseas markets from the very beginning; we’ve never been dependent on our own domestic market. And now you have all this talk about “going north” to tap the mainland Chinese market. But if Hong Kong films are really good, the sky’s the limit. You don’t have to rely merely on the mainland Chinese market. You shouldn’t really constrain yourself.
THR: So how does it feel now to be a Hong Kong filmmaker working on the mainland?
Wong: My cinema is something that belongs to the Chinese people as a whole, and it shouldn’t be limited to just a certain geographical territory in a certain historical era. It’s not like I have to make a film with mainland audiences in mind when we have mainland money in it — and in fact, there’s quite a bit of money from elsewhere as well.
THR: Can The Grandmaster also be seen as a chronicle of how Hong Kong became what it is, given that it ends with all the martial arts experts settling in the city and becoming part of its urban fabric?
Wong: That’s right. This is what I hope the film could be interpreted as. I’m happy now because I never expected the film could whip up so much debate and discussion about the city and what the martial arts masters’ roles were in its history. A lot of people were looking up information about the things we mentioned in the film, whether it’s the martial arts schools, which were set up there after the war, or other things we touched on in the story. This allows [Hong Kong] audiences to acknowledge, yet again, that we came from this very special place, and where the city’s vibrancy and core spirit stem from — that it’s a place that we should be really proud of.
The 63rd Berlin Film Festival opens tonight, with the Wong Kar-wai directed ‘The Grandmaster’ opening the event. Yesterday morning, the film’s leads Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi flew from Paris for Berlin in preparation for the film festival opening.
The film’s international version is 8 minutes shorter than the 130 minute version shown in China and Hong Kong, but Tony Leung’s role in the film has increased. Two major scenes like Leung’s fight with Cung Le and Bruce Lee‘s childhood meeting with Ip Man will appear in the international version. Leung said, “I never thought that my role was less in the Mainland version, so I don’t feel anything too special about the added scenes. Instead I feel some adjustments to the story make it more intense!”
As for the fight scene with Cung Le, Tony Leung remembered it like it was yesterday as he joked that he was already scared off before the shoot. “I already had pressure from working on a fight scene with him. Every time I saw him he would ask if I brought any protective gear, which added to my pressure. As the shoot went on, his martial arts truly were very high quality. He was able to control them at will. Our collaboration was very pleasant.”
The international version is shorter than the version shown in China as director Wong Kar-wai deliberated and finally removed some of Zhao Benshan‘s scenes. Because his role discusses kung fu with metaphors, foreigners might not understand them and therefore he removed these parts.
Supported by Hong Kong University’s Culture and Humanities Fund, a dialogue session for the film ‘The Grandmaster’ was held at the Hong Kong University on January 31. The session was attended by actor Tony Leung, stunt coordinator Yuen Woo Ping, and martial artist Lau Kar Yung. Over one thousand tickets were given out to HKU students a few days prior to the session. All tickets were passed out in two hours. The waiting list for the session also exceeded 600 people.
At the session, Tony Leung openly talked about his filming experience on the set of ‘The Grandmaster’. Tony remarked that although it had a tough three-year engagement, he did not regret the experience. Art house director, Wong Kar-wai, never really made movies for money, but ‘The Grandmaster’ has now become his most commercially successful film in the box office. The film’s distributors are urging Wong to film a sequel, in which Wong is considering.
Leung is a longtime collaborator of Wong, but upon hearing that Wong may be working on a sequel, he immediately shook his head. Wong and Leung were earlier rumored to have had a falling out due to a disagreement on the film’s script and filming style. Leung insisted that he and Wong still get along really well; nonetheless, he expressed that he will not film ‘The Grandmaster’ sequel if it is to be made. The 50-year-old actor explained, “I want to try new things. I like staying fresh. If I do the same things over and over again, it won’t be fun.”
As ‘The Grandmaster’ took over three years to film, many actors in the film, including Tony Leung and female lead Zhang Ziyi, had complained about the harsh struggles in working on the film. Song Hye Kyo was also reportedly upset with Wong’s lurching and dragging filming ways, and declined to participate in the film’s promotions.
Yesterday, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Yuen Woo-Ping, and Lau Ka Yung attended the Hong Kong University’s “Who Is The Grandmaster film forum”. The 1000 seats were filled in two hours, with 600 people waiting outside. When Tony Leung appeared the crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation.
Tony Leung attended an university forum for the first time. When asked whether the film will have a sequel due to good word of mouth he said, “No, I am not afraid of three more years in production. Time isn’t a problem, I just want to try something else to have a sense of freshness.” Reportedly the Berlin Film Festival screening will be an extended version, Leung asked director Wong Kar-wai to confirm this. He said that another version would not be fair to the audience, he might edit out some scenes that foreigners would not understand. He would not demand to add back his removed scenes as he thought that as it is now the movie is rather entertaining.
Reportedly Tony Leung was upset at the size of the role and he was at odds with Wong Kar-wai. Leung laughed and said, “Hahaha, you are killing me, am I this type of person? I have been friends with Wong Kar-wai for so many years that I wouldn’t mind. I am 50 years old, I have everything, what else do I want? Instead I have to learn to give, to do charity work on my free time, help those who aren’t as fortunate. I took two years off before, life was brilliant. When I woke up I would drink with friends until I fell asleep. With sustenance and responsibility, life would healthier.” After promoting the film in South Korea and the U.S., he will take two months off before deciding on his charity work. He was willing to do charity work with his wife Carina Lau Ka-ling as well.
Action director Yuen Woo-Ping praised Leung’s kung fu film prowess. He should not be compared to Donnie Yen, as their styles and specialties were different. Was Donnie Yen better? He said, “Tony is great too, they are great in different ways. Tony’s action sense is great, he is just being humble.”
After the two hour forum ended, they went to Mongkok for an audience appreciation and celebrated with a lion dance.