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.
Renowned auteur and director Wong Kar-wai revealed that he changed the title for his latest martial arts epic, ‘The Grandmaster’, from ‘The Grandmasters’ after his son asked him why. “My son asked me why my film is titled ‘The Grandmasters’ when it was originally called ‘Grandmaster Ip Man’, then ‘The Grandmaster’. He said ‘wasn’t I making a film about Yip Man?’, so I got to thinking that although my film was about the many grandmasters Ip Man meets, ultimately, it is about a state of mind,” said Wong during his visit to Singapore with actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai recently. The 54-year-old went on to add, “There can be many grandmasters, but not all of them truly deserve the title of THE grandmaster.”
Meanwhile, the title was changed from ‘Grandmaster Ip Man’ to ‘The Grandmaster’ after it was discovered that Wong’s film and another Ip Man film were being made at around the same time. As its title suggests, the film which stars Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi is inspired by the life of Ip Man (Ye Wen), who mentored the legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee. However, Wong stated that his film will illustrate that there is more to martial arts than violence. “The stories of martial arts films consist only of fighting, but actually all the martial arts styles showcased are well-founded.”
‘The Grandmaster’ will see a wide release in Singapore on 31 January 2013.
Wong Kar Wai’s anticipated film, ‘The Grandmaster’, is now finally playing in theaters. The martial arts movie is a yet another biopic of the Wing Chun master, Ip Man, and is the fourth Ip Man feature film to be released in the last six years. ‘The Grandmaster’, however, is unrelated to Wilson Yip’s highly successful Ip Man trilogy, the series that started the current Ip Man and Wing Chun trend. In fact, Wong’s idea to make a biopic for the legendary martial artist was conceived more than a decade ago, when he was working on his 1997 film, ‘Happy Together’.
Known for his slow-paced art films, Wong’s productions never coincided well with mainstream cinema. His announcement on ‘The Grandmaster’ project pricked up ears, but despite past skepticism on Wong’s ability to do action cinematography, ‘The Grandmaster’ has been a box office success, and has become Wong’s highest grossing film of his career.
Wong is now an internationally acclaimed and award-winning director, but there is no such thing as overnight success. Although Wong was immediately propelled to stardom after the release of his debut feature film, ‘As Tears Go By’, in 1988, the long-awaited stardom took many years of blood, sweat, and tears.
Born in Shanghai, Wong and his family emigrated to Hong Kong when he was five years old. His family was not wealthy. Wong’s father was a sailor, and rarely had the opportunity to stay at home with his wife and son. Soon afterwards, Wong’s father found a job as a hotel manager in Malaysia, leaving Wong and his mother behind in Hong Kong. At the time, Wong’s mother used to bring him to the theaters every day to watch movies, which allegedly contributed to his interest in filmmaking.
Wong graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1980, majoring in graphic design. After his graduation, Wong briefly worked as a sales clerk in a clothing store. In 1981, Wong auditioned for TVB’s scriptwriting class, where he met his wife Chan Yi Kan, a variety program producer for the television station.
Wong struggled as a scriptwriter during his days with TVB. Chan then encouraged Wong to leave the station to focus on directing and writing his own films. After Chan’s many long meetings with various film distributors and investors, Wong’s debut film, ‘As Tears Go By’, was finally released in 1988 by In-Gear Film Production. Chan also produced the film. ‘As Tears Go By’ was a critical and box office success. Grossing over $11 million HKD in the Hong Kong box office, the film received ten nominations at the 8th Hong Kong Film Awards, and won two awards.
Wong’s second film in 1990, ‘Days of Being Wild’, was an even greater critical success, receiving nine HKFA nominations and winning five, including Best Picture, Best Director for Wong, and Best Actor for Leslie Cheung. However, it was Wong’s 2000 film, ‘In the Mood for Love’ that shot Wong to international acclaim.
Wong, Chan, and their 16-year-old son currently reside in a million-dollar house in Repulse Bay. The low-key director is often seen eating in outdoor restaurants around the neighborhood. Wong’s son physically resembles a young Tony Leung, which may be a reason as to why Wong frequently collaborates with the actor.
After two weeks of release, ‘The Grandmaster’ has already earned 252 million RMB. The great care in which Wong Kar-wai took with each frame of the film, the props detail, and the action choreography were evident, resulting in a film of great visual beauty and precision.
‘The Grandmaster’ will be the opening film at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, which will take place in February. Wong denied earlier rumors that there will be a four-hour director’s cut of The Grandmaster, but acknowledged he is currently editing a different international edition containing slightly different content from the mainland Chinese version.
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.