Yes, the normally stoic and calm Tony Leung was so overcome by emotion when he saw the final cut of martial arts epic ‘The Grandmaster’ that he cried. “When I saw the finished piece, I had a moment of extreme emotion, and I cried,” admitted Leung in Mandarin at the Singapore press conference to promote the film with director Wong Kar-wai on Wednesday. “I was overcome by the feeling — it was the fruit of four years of work and challenges.” Challenging would be an understatement — Leung, 50, reportedly broke his hands twice during training during filming, and he even began taking Wing Chun lessons three years beforehand to prepare himself for his role. The cast also had to film through rough weather conditions — toughing it out in China on the coldest winter in ten years and then later through a sweltering summer. The movie’s release was repeatedly delayed, reportedly due to Leung’s injuries and many scenes had to be cut as there was too much footage. But if box office figures are anything to go by, it looks like all that pain and suffering was worth it -‘The Grandmaster’ has grossed about S$2.3 million in Hong Kong and S$60 million in China so far.
Yahoo! Singapore finds out from the Asian cinema dream-team why exactly the film took so long to be made and if rumours about Wong and Leung being at odds are really true.
“I grew up reading martial arts novels as a child and I was always curious – was Chinese Kung Fu really as mystical as it seemed in the stories? Was it only something visually appealing or was it as invincible an art as what I read?” said the Shanghai-born Wong. And so the notorious perfectionist set out on an arduous journey to find his answers, travelling across China to meet modern day pugilists and historians who were experts in the fields of Wing Chun, Baguazhang, Bajiquan, and Xingyiquan martial arts. “I found that it was indeed as mystical and as invincible as my stories — and I hope that this is reflected in the movie,” said Wong. Wong was so moved by his research that he made it a requirement for all his main actors to spend at least a year training under a kung-fu grandmaster in order to develop the “spirit” of a Chinese pugilist.
Discovering the ‘soul’ of martial arts
Veteran method actor Leung not only took on Wong’s challenge but took it a step further, training for three years until he was strong enough to break a wooden board that was a few inches thick with one blow. “You cannot find the true essence of martial arts in a book. You must find it through practice — it is something that will take root in you and grow by itself. After three years of experiencing it, I can start to go beyond the physical aspects of kungfu to find it’s true spirit,” said the intense Leung, who plays the titular character in the story, Ip Man. When asked if he ever thought of giving up when he was injured, Leung, who looked taut and trim in a white shirt and black cardigan, paused to find the right words to express himself. “It (broken hands) was no big deal, you can also injure yourself exercising. What was frustrating was that I had to start all over again. I had reached this level at my training, and then the injury, and I was back at square one. But you just have to figure out how to overcome it.”
Comparisons with Donnie Yen’s Ip Man
However, fans expecting a straight-up, action-packed reboot of Donnie Yen‘s 2008 smash hit “Ip Man” may end up disappointed. Wong’s filming style remains cinematic and highly stylised with plenty of slow-mo cuts — the focus being on the actors and their expressions of inner turmoil. “To play Grandmaster Ip Man, Leung needed not just strength in body but also spirit and mind. He has exceeded my expectations of him as an actor — this movie will show a totally different side to him,” said Wong – high praise from a man of few words. “He(Leung) has attained a very high level of acting – by just moving one muscle, he can completely change the expressions on his face and the feel of his performance.”
Did Leung and Wong fall out?
It seemed like a silly question to ask after Leung and Wong had bantered with and praised each other repeatedly during the press conference, but rumour has it the two fell out after the release of ‘The Grandmaster’ because Wong had cut many of Leung’s scenes, placing the limelight on Chinese actress and co-star Zhang Ziyi instead. Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, who plays Ip Man’s wife, only received six minutes of screentime and has been conspicuously absent from all promotional tours for the movie. Rubbishing the rumours, Leung said that he was not even sure himself how many cuts had been made. “If Wong were to use all the footage, the film would be four to five hours long. Look at me, the product I am is the results of 49 years of experience, and it’s impossible to share everything about me in one breath. The finished product is Wong’s product — I don’t see it as a waste or a pity.”
Leung also described the relationship between him and Wong as being one of “complete trust” and “unspoken chemistry” borne of 20 years of friendship and seven movies together. “We have known each other for 20 years. Although we don’t talk very often, we have a relationship of absolute trust. When you work with someone you trust completely, you only have to focus on yourself,” said Leung. However, he was coy about actress Song’s absence. “I have a lot of empathy for Song. I have shot many movies that are not in my native language and I know how it feels when you don’t understand the language. It’s like you’re deaf and dumb,” he said.
One last thing — Wong would like you to know that no expensive qipaos (Mandarin gowns) were damaged by Zhang Ziyi during the three years of filming. “She (Zhang) is a very cultured lady of impeccable bearing. She would not even sit in between takes so that the dress would not get wrinkled or untidy. I have told the young actors to learn from her,” said Wong with a laugh. “Be aware of your appearance, your behaviour and the impressions you make,” he intoned, tongue in cheek.
Actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai and director Wong Kar-wai earlier promoted ‘The Grandmaster’ in Singapore. Reportedly actress Song Hye-kyo was upset at being left with only one line and was absent from the promotion for the film, Leung expressed sympathy and even asked Wong Kar-wai to treat actors kindly!
Tony Leung and Wong Kar-wai arrived in Singapore with a crew of ten, including Leung’s private security and security guards hired by the film’s production company. During the interview, Leung explained that actors who work with Wong Kar-wai are never certain about their characters. Leung said, “When I made his movies before, I never had a time that I was as certain as this time. I only knew what I was playing. Theirs (other actors’ roles) I didn’t know about. I hope the director would one day ‘treat them kindly’!” Speaking of Song Hye-kyo only having one line in the film, Leung “sympathized”. Wong Kar-wai said, “Not every actor is as mature as Tony!” However he also denied that Song Hye-kyo was upset.
Leung dismissed rumors of tensions and unhappiness with his director over having some of his scenes from the movie cut. “I don’t harbor any unhappiness or ill feelings toward Wong because I respect and understand his decision,” Leung said in response to a question. “The decision is entirely up to him to decide how his story should be told.”
‘The Grandmaster,’ is Leung’s seventh collaboration with Wong and recounts the life story of Chinese martial arts legend Ip Man, famous for having trained Bruce Lee. “I wanted to see a different Tony for this movie and I believe that ‘The Grandmaster’ has proven to be a new challenge for him both physically and emotionally with the amount of time taken to film it,” Wong said in support of Leung. “It is a new way of showcasing the character of Ip Man so it was physically challenging for Tony to undergo training for so many years just to prepare for the role.”
Wong Kar-wai’s movie is full of mystery, but actually he is very mysterious himself. Because he has not removed his sunglasses for years, reporters joked if ‘The Grandmaster’ was a hit would he celebrate by taking off his sunglasses? He made a rare joke and said that he only had one pair of sunglasses and was very faithful. The tender look behind the sunglasses would only be saved for his wife.
‘The Grandmaster’s director Wong Kar-wai and actors Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen earlier attended an audience appreciation event in Beijing to celebrate the box office hit. Later Wong Kar-wai went to Shanghai to attend an audience meeting, sharing the experience with viewers and clarified that the film had no 4-hour version. He joked that if viewers wanted they would have to wait 10 years. On the other hand the Cantonese original sound version will soon be released.
Earlier Wong Kar-wai led Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen and the script consultant Chang Ta Chun to a Beijing cinema for an audience appreciation. The lead actor Tony Leung shared the experience with the audience and said that he particularly liked in the film’s opening when his mentor tied Ip Man’s belt for him. “One belt one breath, from now on live with this one breath. Our production process isn’t easy. Over these four years I completed the film with this one breath. Suddenly I got very emotional, the four years of persistence that everyone gave was not easy either.” A viewer asked Leung, “Did Ip Man fall for Gong Er?” He said, “He admired Gong Er, your best opponent is your confidant. Finding someone who understands you is very rare. He hoped to have a chance to compare, saying that he wanted to see Gong Clan’s 64 hands was only an excuse to go to the Northeast.”
Chang Chen was asked about his character Yi Xiantian who only had three scenes in the film. His encounter on the train with Zhang Ziyi even led to questions. Zhang Ziyi graciously admitted, “My Gong Er and Yi Xiantian were in love, but the director determined why it didn’t appear. I especially hoped to see my reunion with Yi Xiantian in Hong Kong.” Chang Chen revealed that Yi Xiantian’s White Rose barber shop and Gong Er’s clinic were on the same street. They ran into each other in a Muslim noddle shop in Hong Kong.
Later Wong Kar-wai said in Shanghai how ‘The Grandmaster’ became the Berlin Film Festival’s opening film. “Film and martial art are the same, without any differentiation between the East and the West. I believe the audience of the entire world will be able to see the beauty of Chinese martial art films and the beauty of Chinese people. I hope foreigners will be able to see the valuable presence of Chinese people, that introverted calmness.” He denied that the film had a 4-hour version. “That was a misunderstanding, anyone who wants to see it will have to wait 10 years. The Cantonese original sound version will be released very soon. Film lovers will be able to experience it again.”
Portraying Ip Man in ‘The Grandmaster’ Tony Leung jokingly moaned, “I have been training under a Wing Chun master for the past 3 years, yet the scenes I have can’t beat Zhang Ziyi.” Although director Wong Kar-wai had set out to make a biopic about Ip Man, ‘The Grandmaster’ grew into a sprawling account of Chinese martial arts. In the opening scene, Tony Leung fought off 10 of his adversaries in a rainy scene, showcasing Wong Kar-wai’s signature martial arts aesthetics. In another scene, Leung and Zhang Ziyi were dueling at the Golden House; the awe-inspiring exchange proved the hard work both actors had put in throughout their training.
In ‘The Grandmaster’, Tony Leung hardly has many spoken lines, which prompted wife, Carina Lau to nickname him as “The Silent Ghost” after watching his performance. Director Wong Kar-wai explained, “Initially I gave Tony many lines, but I deleted them in the end because Ip Man is a man of few words. Without saying a word, he is able to command the room.” On the contrary, Zhang Ziyi had some of the best lines in the film. At the same time, her internal struggle between her admiration for Leung’s Ip Man and her impulse for exacting revenge for her father proved to be a well-received performance.
Under Wong Kar-wai’s heavy-handed editing, Chang Chen, Song Hye-kyo, and Julian Cheung Chi-lam have little screen time in ‘The Grandmaster’, despite extended filming. Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, trained for three years under a Baji master for his role; however, he ended up appearing in only three scenes in the film. Chang said, “I know Wong Kar-wai’s style, so I have expected this.” South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, who has been noticeably absent from the film’s promotional events, plays Ip Man’s wife has one line in the entire film, “Is it that cold in Foshan?”, while Julian Cheung only appears for a few seconds.
‘The Grandmaster’ marks Tony Leung’s seventh collaboration with Wong Kar-wai. Since 1990, Leung has appeared in Wong Kar-wai’s movies such as ‘Days of Being Wild’, ‘Ashes of Time’, ‘Chungking Express’, ‘Happy Together’, ‘In the Mood for Love’ and ‘2046′. Will there be an eighth time? Leung declined to comment, likely due to the laborious filming conditions of ‘The Grandmaster’ and physical exertion for his role.
‘The Grandmaster’ was the top film in mainland Chinese box offices, earning 162 million RMB in its opening weekend.
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.
The 10 -year production ‘The Grandmaster’ was finally released earlier this week in China. Lead actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai and lead actress Zhang Ziyi were willing to sacrifice their time and lose several jobs to shoot this film from beginning to end. In 2010, it was rumored Korean actress Song Hye Kyo “fussed” and was unwilling to take up extra time to re-shoot some scenes. After spending a year shooting, she only had 6 minutes of screen time in the 130 minute film, with lead actress Zhang Ziyi occupying 100 minutes!
Although Song Hye Kyo had little screen time and declined to participate in the promotions, lead actor Tony Leung still praised her professionalism despite having a language barrier with the crew and basically gave a lot of ‘face’. Leung said: “I totally understand her situation. In the past, I went to Taiwan to shoot Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film not knowing any Mandarin. At the time, I felt as if I was mute and couldn’t speak. But, Song Hye Kyo was very professional, she was able to portray the elegant woman, she’s a very rare actress.” Wong Kar-wai’s production style is ‘patient work makes a good product’, and may not necessarily understand every artist. Leung works very closely with the director, asked if he tutored Song Hye Kyo? He laughed: “She’s very professional, it was not necessary.”
Tony Leung also praised Zhang Ziyi, he said: “I admire her. I don’t need to say much about her acting, but she trained her Kung Fu well. It’s amazing. I had a few action scenes with her, because we had to accommodate several things, I couldn’t hit her lightly. That night we were shooting the scene 50 times, so absolutely there was accidental hitting and stepping involved, I know she was in real pain due to her old injuries, but she held it all in. I really admire her, very rare!”
Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi and other actors continue to promote their film ‘The Grandmaster’ nonstop. Leung promoted the film in Guangzhou with Ip Man’s oldest son Ip Chun and Max Zhang Jun. Critics praised Leung for having a grand master aura. He humbly said that now at this age he would not lose his head over compliments but would appreciate everyone’s support very much. He has already used his greatest strength as an actor to perform. Leung even said that he believed he had to watch the film until the 9th time before he would be done, because he watched the first time for what scenes were removed, the second time for his own expressions, the third time or other actors’ performance, the fourth time for the story structure, the fifth time for costumes and sets, the sixth to the ninth time he would finally consider in depth what director Wong Kar-wai wanted to say. He revealed that the most regrettable decision was not being able to provide his voice for the Mandarin version, he even joked that if life had no regret it lacked joy as well.
Tony Leung said, “Once Stephen Chow Sing-chi said, ‘Let me tell you what Wing Chun is.’ I said, ‘I know.’ He said, “We are friends, I know you are studying this, I just want to help. After you hear what I say if it’s useful use it, if not then whatever.'”
Zhang Ziyi went to Beijing cinemas for close distance exchanges with the audience. She even turned into “Master Gong Er” and practiced the Eight Trigram palm with the audience. Would actors blame directors who work slowly like Wong Kar Wai? Zhang Ziyi said that the energy that he put in would definitely be more than that of the actors. Thus she loved Wong Kar-wai for giving a lot from body and soul; she even revealed that she will work on a John Woo directed film soon.
Wong Jing (director of Young And Dangerous: Reloaded which was defeated at the box office by ‘The Grandmaster’) earlier online took a jab at Wong Kar-wai for spending so much time and money on ‘The Grandmaster’, but after watching the film yesterday he finally praised Wong Kar-wai online.
Yesterday morning Wong Jing wrote, “I realize that people who dislike ‘The Grandmaster’ really don’t understand what his intention is. Do you think Wong Kar-wai can’t make the entire film as exciting and entertaining as the battle in the rain and Ziyi eradicating Zhang Jun at the train station? However that would be no different from WilsonYip Wai-shun’s ‘Ip Man’, he must use all of Wong Kar-wai’s style to make this film well in order for it to be a real success! I admire that you are able to withstand countless pressure to make the movie like this. From 1988 to now, this is the first time that I completely concede.”
Two days after being released in Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai’s ‘The Grandmaster’ accumulated HK$2.82 million at the box office (excluding late shows). With stronger and stronger momentum it pulls away from the same week release, Wong Jing’s‘ Young And Dangerous: Reloaded’; the latter grossing only HK$860,000 over two days.
Wong Kar-wai initially cut ‘The Grandmaster’ into a 4 hour version. Due to running time restrictions he cut it down to the current release of 130 minutes; many scenes were “missing”. A newly-released production special showed glimpses of some of the deleted scenes. Tony Leung personally explained Ip Man and talked about his kung fu training.
In Tony Leung’s eyes Ip Man was mild mannered and elegant, he did not resemble a kung fu person; he rose and fell and in the end he was able to calmly be himself. Wong Kar-wai hoped that Leung’s Ip Man performance would be a mix of Ip Man and Bruce Lee. He tried to combine them for the effect. Leung said that Ip Man enjoyed kung fu as much as Bruce Lee but normally he was so mild mannered that no one knew he could fight. He said that Bruce Lee was his childhood idol. When he was 7 or 8 he was already a kung fu fan. Because his family was poor and felt that he would get into fights after learning kung fu, he was not permitted to learn.
When he explored the character, he thought that the character’s appearance could be expressed through technique. Yet if he did not understand the inside of the character he had no way to express its aura, which was not something that could be achieved over night; this his long term training was necessary. “The first the fracture was only a hairline, the second time it was already cracked like shark teeth!” Because he did not want to hinder the progress, Leung originally wanted surgery but the doctor did not suggest it. He could only tell Wong Kar-wai to wait 4 months for him; thus Wong Kar-wai could only head to the Northeast of China and shoot the Zhang Ziyi train station duel first, but he ran into the coldest winter in history. Zhang Ziyi had to shoot in 30 degrees below zero.
Wong Kar-wai revealed that Tony Leung was reluctant. After recovering for about three weeks he headed to the Northeast to look for him and said that he could work on dramatic scenes. In the film Ip Man said that if life had four seasons, his before age 40 was all spring. Turning 50 this year Leung said, “Now is still spring for me. Because I have been very lucky to run into very excellent film people to work with. Making this film has changed my view on life. In the future I will choose to be optimistic because the character of Ip Man is different from my characters in recent years. My recent characters are all depressed, but this time he is very positive and optimistic. Now I like to happy and joyous, I feel the world has hope. Thus after ‘The Silent War’ I wanted to make some happy and warm movies.”
In the production special the removed scenes included Tony Leung and Song Hye-Kyo’s sweet romantic couple scene, Ip Man sweetly smiling with his wife in his arms. When the Japanese military arrived, they got into a struggle and she slapped him. In the released version of the film, Chang Chen’s exciting duel with Leung at the end of the film was removed. His appearance with a razor to fight Leung was also unveiled.
Leung in one scene washed his wife’s (played by Song Hye-kyo)’s feet. He said, “I was forced to, Wong Kar-wai asked me to choose between bathing my wife or washing her feet. I could only choose washing her feet.”
The production special even uncovered that Ip Man once visited Master Gong Er in the Northeast. Leung in the drifting snow passed through the plum blossom courtyard, where they encountered each other again. Leung said he did not mind so many scenes and dialogue being cut because ‘The Grandmaster’ was Wong Kar-wai’s film. The director shot so much that cutting was necessary. Chang Chen agreed with Leung and said that he did not mind.
The featurette also revealed Julian Cheung Chi-lam as two characters, not only as a Chinese Opera actor but also Zhang Ziyi’s fiance. In this scene he only made an appearance in a flash.
Although the film received good response, Leung never thought about winning Best Actor with this film again because that was not his goal for making the film.
‘The Grandmaster’s single day opening box office was HK$1.32 million. The film had many memorable scenes. In order to bring to life the Northern and Southern martial arts world, the film was shot on location in Northeast China and Guangdong. Playing the Northern Eight Diagram palm master Zhang Ziyi shot many major scenes in the Northeast. Zhang Ziyi and Max Zhang Jun who played her elder shot a shocking fight sequence at the train station. The aesthetic atmosphere of her practicing Eight Diagram palm in the drifting snow was also a bright spot in the film. However behind the elegance, Zhang Ziyi had to tolerate the Northeast temperature of 30 degrees below zero. Later she still lamented, “I am not willing to experience it again.”
On the other hand, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Chang Chen earlier appeared on Cable Entertainment Station and said that the kung fu training was very tough. Leung said, “The hardest was persisting. Because I had to fight everyday, of course I thought about quitting. This was normal.” He also revealed that when they started filming he fought very well because he had a knack for it. However he humbly said, “Actually I have learned to get lazy and adjust with positioning, but I practiced too. If I didn’t it didn’t work.” Chang Chen said, “From the beginning I kept practicing, the process was very dull. I couldn’t find any joy, by the third year I finally had some feeling and started feeling it was not tough. Finally now practicing is a part of my life.”