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.”
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.
Yesterday, actors Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen and Max Zhang Jun continued to promote the film ‘The Grandmaster’ in Beijing. Today, the team will return to Hong Kong for the premiere. ‘Hero’ director Zhang Yimou who was in Beijing also showed his support for ‘The Grandmaster’ and met with Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Ziyi, and Chen Daoming after the premiere for a brief chat and photos. Tony Leung revealed after the premiere that his heart ached the most over many “missing” scenes.
Yesterday Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen and Zhang Jun all wore sunglasses for their interview, saying that they wanted to salute the director. Wong Kar-wai revealed that the film’s rough cut was 4 hours, and finally he cut it down to a 130 minute version. For the completeness of the story he had to make choices and cut many actors’ scenes.
Tony Leung had the most screen time but also had the most scenes removed. Suffering the most “cuts” from editing, he said that every time after watching Wong Kar-wai’s movies he felt the same way as he questioned where did his scenes go? Every time he had to watch the film two or three more times before he was able to get into it. Then he would think where did Zhang Ziyi and Xiao Shenyang‘s scenes went? Why would scenes that had finished voice work were not included? Leung admitted that he would remember these few years for a lifetime, aside from learning something new he also created a new character. In addition he has been a kung fu fan since childhood, he never imagined that he would study kung fu in his 40s. However he still enjoyed it and thought it was a lot of fun. He said that he has never been so positive and optimistic in a Wong Kar-wai movie, as he was full of positive energy.
In the same manner, Zhang Ziyi said that she thought a scene in which she expressed her inner loneliness was very sad but very powerful would be kept in the film. Her hope finally died when the end credits came up on screen as it was truly removed; however, she understood that with only 2 hours and 10 minutes, Wong Kar-wai indeed had a hard time with the decision. As an actor, she like the audience had no idea what Wong Kar-wai’s completed film would be until the very end.
Zhang Ziyi also appeared on a Chinese Mainland television program. She demonstrated her well practiced Eight Diagram palm and won thunderous applause from the audience. She recalled that she had no complaint despite the trainer’s hellish training. Everyone was concerned with when she was getting married, Zhang Ziyi admitted that she will definitely wed and even revealed that her best dish was egg and tomato.
Wong Kar-wai’s latest film ‘The Grandmaster’ will finally be released after taking 14 years to get to the screen from planning to production. A visibly relaxedTony Leung Chiu-wai attended a press conference in Beijing where he remarked that the three year production period made him thoroughly suffer, and he was somewhat in disbelief that it has already been completed. Zhang Ziyi described the production process as “getting on a pirate ship”, as she decided to never make another kung fu film. Film critics had more praises than criticism, some even described ‘The Grandmaster’ as along the same vein as ‘Ashes Of Time’. When Ip Man removes his changpao and puts on a suit, it’s eerily similar to the character Chow Mo-wan from ‘In the Mood for Love’.
‘The Grandmaster’ will be released in China on the 8th January. Wong Kar-wai led stars Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen and others to the Beijng press conference. Song Hye-Kyo who was rumoured to be upset at Wong Kar-wai’s schedule was notably absent. After watching the film, some film critics wrote that aside from the perfect visuals, the poetic expression of the story was along the same vein as ‘Ashes Of Time’.
The 50-year old Tony Leung talked about the three-year long production. “Ultimately I didn’t start practicing kung fu until I was 47. I broke my arm twice, each time I needed several months to recover and wasted the fruits of my previous training. Wasn’t that very painful?” The earliest released rainy night fight scene was shocking visually, but behind the scenes Leung actually suffered. “After 30 overnight shoots, I told director Wong Kar-wai ‘I am done, I can’t take anymore’; the director said that ‘fine fine fine’, just like that. Finally we shot for another week, after which I thought I had pneumonia. I actually had bronchitis and lay in bed for five days. For half a year I worked at night for a long time. After the wrap I needed to adjust. I went to bed at midnight and got up at 4 or 5AM. I went running before the sun came out. (His wife) Carina Lau Ka-ling asked where I was going, during that period, my body was truly very tired.”
Leung admitted that at first he was somewhat in disbelief that the film has wrapped. “On the day of the wrap I thought I would be especially excited, when the director said ‘Leung Chiu-wai’s final shot’. After the shoot I wasn’t too happy, maybe I felt that later I still had work like voice work and promotions. I was somewhat in disbelief still. In my experience, we could have had two wrap banquets and still go back to shoot. Three days later I could receive a call, ‘A scene could actually be even better, come back and fix it’, the possibility still exists.” He said that after returning to Hong Kong and settling for four or five days, he was much more relaxed. “Actually the pressure was tremendous all along, I was very tensed. Wong Kar-wai on the set was very relaxed, he was never in a hurry. We were the ones who were.” Donnie Yen’s ‘Ip Man’ will soon make its third installment. ‘The Grandmaster’ was often made fun of as taking too long to make. Leung said, “When you have fried chicken you still have to wait! The two movies are different. We shot for so long because we needed such a long time to be able to achieve it, so I don’t have anything to say.” He said that he needed to rest and would not make a movie for now.
Zhang Ziyi plays an Eight Diagram palm master in the film. She said that two nights ago after watching the film in its completed form for the first time she did not sleep all night. “Due to health and character consideration, I decided from now on I would not make another kung fu film. I am older, during training this time I realized I had many old wounds. My body was in a state of overload.” Zhang Ziyi joked that the production process was like “getting on a pirate ship”. “After three years of training and being with the character, I sensed the character’s troubled fate”.
Wong Kar-wai was often asked why it took so long. He said, “With such good actors supporting me, if I have the time I am willing to keep shooting. Although I was reluctant to part with it, everyone has to see it. ‘The Grandmaster’ displays the beauty of the Chinese people.”
Max Zhang Jun plays the character Ma San in the film and has an intense fight scene with Zhang Ziyi at a train station. Those who have seen the film have said that it’s the highlight of the movie. Zhang Jun said, “The pressure was enormous on this film, the fighting was real unlike before. Every school and every style were very clear cut.”
Wong Kar-wai was known for taking his time to be concise. Back then when he spent five years to complete ‘2046’ it was already classic, no one expected that ‘The Grandmaster’ would take 14 years from from planning to official release. At first Wong Kar-wai and Jeff Lau Chun-wai discussed ‘The Grandmaster’ story, in 2001 the script was officially registered, in 2003 the film announced its official production. For ten years most of the time only the buzz of the production could be heard. In 2008 Raymond Wong made ‘Ip Man’ with Donnie Yen, leading to a “twin incident”.
‘Ip Man’ was released and became a hit, even following the momentum with a sequel. However Wong Kar-wai insisted on completing his research before beginning production and asked Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen to study martial arts. In July 2009, Leung suffered a bone crack while sparring, during the shoot he even had a fracture. The film began shooting three years ago, with the rainy night fight scene in the trailer taking 30 nights, giving Leung bronchitis and made him sick for five days after the shoot. The film even had two wrap banquets, in the end Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi and others were called back to continue additional shoots. Thus before the film is released, Leung still does not believe it truly has wrapped up production.
Playing Ip Man’s wife in the film is Korean star Song Hye-Kyo who is currently working on a Korean television series in Korea and thus was absent. However she still sent a video for the premiere.
In the video she apologized for being unable to attend the premiere and revealed that she was a fan of Director Wong. She said, “Spending three years to work on ‘The Grandmaster’ with Director Wong Kar-wai has been a very happy period of time for me. It includes working with excellent actors, I have learned a lot, gained valuable experience. I have always been the director’s fan. Although my character this time isn’t a key role, being able to participate in the director’s film is already a honour for me.”
‘The Grandmasters‘ is set to be released in Hong Kong on January 10. After photos of Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen were unveiled, the film released some images of actress Song Hye-kyo in costume as well as one with her on-screen husband Ip Man, played by Tony Leung. Song Hye-Kyo’s portrayal of Ip Man’s wife broke through her usual sweet and cute roles. She wore a traditional Chinese dress, a mixture of classic and sexy. This Chinese dress was art director William Chang Suk-ping’s design and Song Hye-kyo was rather pleased with her costume look. “Wearing a qipao made me feel uneasy at first,” the actress was quoted as saying about the traditional body-hugging Chinese dress. “But gradually I realized its beauty.” She had to stay in shape for it. She also talked about working with Tony Leung. “He was charming and spoke with his eyes,” she said. “I almost melted.” In one scene she in particular sensed the might of Tony’s eyes. The electricity on the set was stronger than in the film several hundred times!
‘The Grandmasters’ took several years to make. Song Hye-kyo was rumoured to be upset that the production dragged on and on. Reportedly, director Wong Kar-wai had increased Zhang Ziyi’s screen time and reduced Song Hye-Kyo’s; thus she will not attend the Berlin Film Festival opening. The company said that it has not received any news.