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.
February 7th, 2013 • 1 comment
January 16th, 2013 • 0 comments
Wong Kar Wai’s ‘The Grandmaster’, a film that took a decade of preparation and nearly four years of filming, finally opened in China, Hong Kong, and Macau cinemas last week. It has been more than five years since the acclaimed Hong Kong director released his last feature film, ‘My Blueberry Nights’, which starred Norah Jones and Jude Law, and nearly nine years since his last Hong Kong film, ’2046‘.
Film critics originally questioned Wong’s ability in producing kung fu epics, as the director is mainly known for his works on pensive, arthouse films. However, Wong’s $300 million HKD film ended up exceeding expectations. Mainland Chinese moviegoers flooded to the theaters on its January 8 release date. In mainland China, the film grossed 29.8 million RMB on its opening day Tuesday. In Hong Kong, the film earned $1.8 million HKD on its January 10 release date.’ The Grandmaster’ has since grossed more than $225 million HKD in the Greater China box office, succeeding ’2046′s record in 2004.
‘The Grandmaster‘, a biopic of Wing Chun legend Ip Man, centres on the conflicts between Northern and Southern Chinese martial arts. Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Wong’s longtime collaborator, portrays Ip Man. Zhang Ziyi portrays Gong Er, the confidant daughter of Gong Baolin (portrayed by Wang Qingxiang), a baguangzhang master from the Northeast. To protect her family’s honor and to avenge for her father’s death, Gong Er travels to the South to challenge Ip Man’s southern martial arts. Chang Chen co-stars in the film as the special agent, Razor. Song Hye-kyo stars as Ip Man’s wife, Cheung Wing Sing.
‘The Grandmaster’ opened in Hong Kong on January 10 to great ovation and success. Numerous Hong Kong film entertainers have expressed their excitement and appraisal of the film through their Weibo, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Among the most enthusiastic critic was fellow Hong Kong director and competitor, Wong Jing, who chose to challenge ’The Grandmaster’s Hong Kong box office with his gangster film, ‘Young and Dangerous: Reloaded’, which was also released on January 10. Wong Jing wrote, “I am very, very impressed. Since 1988 until now, this is the first time when I felt like I have truly lost.” Chapman To, Leo Ku, ’Ip Man’ director Wilson Yip, and ’You Are the Apple of My Eye’ director, Giddens Ko have all praised the film in their respective social media sites. ‘Love in a Puff’ director, Pang Ho Cheung, wrote, “The Grandmaster in two words? A masterpiece.”
‘The Grandmaster’ will open in Taiwan on January 18 and Singapore on January 31.
January 12th, 2013 • 0 comments
Director Wong Kar Wai, and actors Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, and Max Zhang Jun attended the Hong Kong Kong premiere of ‘The Grandmaster’. Critics compared ‘The Grandmaster’ of resembling Wong Kar-wai’s earlier film ‘In The Mood For Love’. Wong Kar-wai explained that he already had the idea for the film as early as 1989. “The preparation took years because I had to visit seven or eight provinces for martial art masters.” Zhang Ziyi did not conduct any interviews. Song Hye-kyo was in South Korea but sent a video.
Tony Leung did not believe that Song Hye-kyo was upset that her role was reduced to just six minutes screen time. “Wong Kar-wai wouldn’t be at odds with anyone, I too had my scenes cut.” He described after three years in production the final half a month exhausted him thoroughly, as hard as the last 10 minutes of a marathon. As for Donnie Yen stating that he would watch ‘The Grandmaster’, Leung said, “I am not afraid of comparison, I have my own interpretation of the role.”
Ticket sales have been decent as many booked in advance, obviously Wong Kar-wai fans have been waiting for the film for a long time. Tony Leung’s martial art scenes have always been the focus. In the film he fought ferociously, completely relying on editing methods to assist and adjust. As for memorable scenes, they seemed to be Wong Kar-wai’s salute to his own classic films ‘In The Mood For Love’ and Fallen Angels’.
The film is about the life of Wing Chun master Ip Man, but the story actually could not leave Wong Kar-wai’s trademark “romance” out of the equation by depicting Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi’s ambiguous relationship in particular detail. Their duel, spinning in the air and exchanging looks nose to nose was the most memorable; then through their letter exchanges and clothes buttoning to express their feelings, which were already full of poetic artistry.
The martial art fight scenes were the main focus of the movie for which Tony Leung studied Wing Chun. In the first half of the film, his six fight scenes were very convincing without any use of a stunt double. Of course he also relied on camera work and editing methods to assist and adjust, making the film even more intense and brilliant.
Zhang Ziyi and Max Zhang Jun’s fight at the train station looked the part and fought excitingly. Chang Chen fought decently as well but his role was drastically reduced in the film. He and Zhang Ziyi’s emotional scene was also deleted, weakening his character and made him less of an attraction than Zhang Jun.
Korean star Song Hye-Kyo as Mrs. Ip Man was pretty and sexy enough, but the role was too light. With only two lines she did not have much chance to perform, but she made up for it with her eyes and expressions; however she and Leung had intimate scenes. She wiped the unbuttoned Leung and showed off her legs as he bathed her feet.
The film also had many familiar scenes like reflections of Wong Kar-wai’s past work and salutes to them. Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi locking eyes was like ‘Fallen Angel’s Leon Lai-ming and Michelle Reis’ love at first sight; Zhang Ziyi’s heart to heart with a hole in the wall reminded people of ‘In The Mood For Love’ where Tony Leung’s character whispered a secret into a hole in a tree. Leung washing Song Hye-kyo’s feet was just like his massage for Maggie Cheung Man-yuk in ‘In The Mood For Love’. As for Ip Man changing into a suit and applying gel to his hair reminded people of ‘In The Mood For Love’.
Wong Kar Wai as usual invited different guest stars, this time was no exception with Julian Cheung Chi-lam, Berg Ng Ting Yip, Lo Hoi Pang, Xiao Shenyang, action director Yuen Woo-Ping, Zhao Benshan, Tsui Kam Kong, Lo Mang. Tsui Kam Kong appeared in one shot and had no lines; Julian Cheung had no lines but portrayed a Chinese Opera star. Appearing in ‘Ip Man 2′, Lo Mang was the only actor who was able to take part in ‘The Grandmaster’. The challenging master Lo Mang and thug Xiao Shenyang added humor to balance the film’s tension. Veteran actor Lo Hoi Pang’s role was not large but his every move was dramatic.
January 12th, 2013 • 0 comments
December 31st, 2010 • 0 comments
Director Wong Kar-wai and cast members of The Grandmasters appeared at a special press conference held in Beijing on December 28th.
The event was for the 60th anniversary of Sil-Metropole Organisation Ltd, one of the film’s production companies.
Most of the attention went to the cast of The Grandmasters, including Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Song Hye-kyo, Xiao Shenyang and Wang Qingxiang, who rushed from the Guangdong set. The team presented an oil painting poster to the company.
The event showed a promotional reel for The Grandmasters but it did not include any actual footage from the film. Host Zhang Guoli joked that this trailer was mysterious enough, after such a long shoot the trailer had no scenes at all.
Then actors Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Song Hye-Kyo, Zhao Benshan, Xiao Shenyang, Wang Qingxiang appeared on stage.
Speaking of the fight scenes, Tony Leung said that he was not worried as he practiced for a long time. He practiced so much that his arm was broken at the hands of his Wing Chun teacher. Zhang Guoli joked that the scene of Tony Leung’s arm being broken was not preserved, which truly was a regret for Chinese film because it was worth a lot of money. The fight scene in the rain he said was very difficult and took 30 days to shoot. Zhang Guoli joked that it only took 30 days, someone had to thank Wong Kar-wai as normally it might take 3 months.
Zhang Ziyi plays a martial art expert in the film, Zhang Guoli praised her eight diagram palm technique in the snow scene, saying it was very pretty. Zhang Ziyi said that this scene was shot last winter. At the time, the crew joked that this shoot would not be completed as they predicted whether or not they would have to shoot it again next year. Surprisingly they were right. She recalled the 30 degree below zero (Celsius) shooting environment as truly tough.
Chang Chen plays an eight diagram expert in the film. For the film, he trained for two years but the training benefited him a lot and his health improved.
Song Hye-kyo plays Yip Man’s (Tony Leung) wife in the film, but they did not stand together on the stage. She joked that they (she and Tony) were together everyday during filming so they didn’t have to stand together now. Zhang Guoli said that this was understandable to avoid suspicion from Tony Leung’s wife (Carina Lau). This was Song Hye-kyo’s first film shooting in China and she was truly pleased to be able to work with a group of such great actors. She thanked director Wong Kar-wai for his help, because at first she was not too used to his style of directing. Director Wong helped her a lot.
Wong Kar Wai appeared in the end to pose for a group photo with the cast.
Host Zhang Guoli asked Tony Leung to make a kung fu pose but Tony only had his hands in his pockets and played cool. He explained that he was dressed modernly so he posed with his hands in his pockets in front of the poster.
The actors finally sang a birthday song to celebrate Sil-Metropole’s 60th year, but they looked somewhat embarrassed.
After two days promoting The Grandmasters in Beijing, Tony Leung returned to Hong Kong. Reporters asked him about the filming schedule and he revealed that he will return to the Mainland later to continue the shoot. He has been shooting more than 10 hours a day, most likely with no time off during the new year. He thinks they will finish around the Lunar New Year (February).
Tony was in good spirits and full of smiles. He said, “Maybe it’s because of this Grandmaster hair cut.” His earlier injury has now basically healed, but during action scenes he would be even more cautious as he did not want to be injured again.
According to news in Hong Kong, initially the investors wanted ‘The Grandmasters’ to be released in the Lunar New Year period (early February), but now they are saying that the film will be in Chinese theaters during Easter.
Translation of the text in the trailer:
“Their valor is transmitted by men of chivalry, accurately recorded by the brushes of history that begin to flow into myriads of seas, and due to the dao, the fortunes of their affection are long, and the elements once a generation bear witness to the masters.”