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.