April 16th, 2013 • 0 comments
February 11th, 2013 • 0 comments
The 63rd Berlin Film Festival officially opened on the 7th February. Though none of the 19 films that compete for the highest honour Golden Bear prize are Chinese; luckily the Wong Kar-wai directed film ‘The Grandmaster’ is the opening film. Director Wong is the head of the jury and he led American actor Tim Robbins and the rest of the jury to meet the media. In the afternoon he hosted ‘The Grandmaster’ press conference.
Although ‘The Grandmaster’ has been in general release in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for a month and its Mainland box office even exceeded 290 million yuan RMB which is the highest for a Wong Kar-wai film, to Berlin film viewers it is still full of mystery. The premiere’s tickets were hard to come by, the remaining 3 shows also already selling out in 1 hour.
In order to take care of the overseas (especially European) market needs, Wong Kar-wai earlier stayed in the Bangkok editing room to remove 13 minutes from ‘The Grandmaster’s original 130 minutes running time to the less than 2 hour International Version. Reportedly the story structure also was adjusted slightly. “The pace is even more intense and the feeling is even more mature.”
Actually, Wong Kar Wai has a deep relationship with the Berlin Film Festival. ‘Days Of Being Wild’ and ‘Fallen Angels’ both participated in past festivals and won European and American film critics word of mouth. This year he is invited to be the jury chair. On the eve of the opening ceremony Wong Kar-wai led the jury members including actor Tim Robbins, Oscar Winning Danish director Susanne Beir, Venice Silver Lion prize winning Iranian director Shirin Neshat and others to meet the media and kicked off the 11 day long film festival.
Another with a Berlin connection was Zhang Ziyi. Her films ‘The Road Home’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Forever Enthralled’ appeared there. Two days prior, Wong Kar-wai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi completed its Paris promotion and headed to Berlin at night. Zhang Ziyi’s 34th birthday was on the day after the Berlin premiere and four years ago she celebrated her birthday in Berlin.
Tony Leung was ailing when he met up with Zhang Ziyi in Paris, then they walked the red carpet in Berlin. Luckily his mother tagged along, even though he was overseas for this Lunar New Year he would not feel too bad.
February 7th, 2013 • 1 comment
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 • 0 comments
The 63rd Berlin Film Festival opens tonight, with the Wong Kar-wai directed ‘The Grandmaster’ opening the event. Yesterday morning, the film’s leads Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi flew from Paris for Berlin in preparation for the film festival opening.
The film’s international version is 8 minutes shorter than the 130 minute version shown in China and Hong Kong, but Tony Leung’s role in the film has increased. Two major scenes like Leung’s fight with Cung Le and Bruce Lee‘s childhood meeting with Ip Man will appear in the international version. Leung said, “I never thought that my role was less in the Mainland version, so I don’t feel anything too special about the added scenes. Instead I feel some adjustments to the story make it more intense!”
As for the fight scene with Cung Le, Tony Leung remembered it like it was yesterday as he joked that he was already scared off before the shoot. “I already had pressure from working on a fight scene with him. Every time I saw him he would ask if I brought any protective gear, which added to my pressure. As the shoot went on, his martial arts truly were very high quality. He was able to control them at will. Our collaboration was very pleasant.”
The international version is shorter than the version shown in China as director Wong Kar-wai deliberated and finally removed some of Zhao Benshan‘s scenes. Because his role discusses kung fu with metaphors, foreigners might not understand them and therefore he removed these parts.
February 2nd, 2013 • 0 comments
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.
February 1st, 2013 • 0 comments
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.
January 25th, 2013 • 0 comments
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.
January 25th, 2013 • 1 comment
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.
January 22nd, 2013 • 1 comment
‘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.”
January 19th, 2013 • 1 comment