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'The Grandmaster': A Punched-Up Kung-Fu Saga
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A Kung Fu That Maims and Romances
Wong Kar-wai on His New Film, ‘The Grandmaster’

The director Wong Kar-wai, left, says his new film, “The Grandmaster,” is rooted in the traditional manner of kung fu artistry, adding another chapter to the diverse history of martial arts movies. Top right, Feng Hsu in “Touch of Zen” (1969); bottom right, Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” (1973).

Published: August 16, 2013

Wong Kar-wai was recounting his research for “The Grandmaster,” the tale of the kung fu innovator who trained Bruce Lee. As he described crisscrossing the mainland to talk to aging martial artists, he could have been setting the scene for a movie.

“I went to a town in the middle of China. Winter, 5 o’clock in the morning, a train station, snowing,” Mr. Wong recalled. “I find a grandmaster. And he’s training with around 30 students.”

With his 10th feature — his first original one since 2007 — Mr. Wong mines the generation-spanning heritage of martial arts cinema. “The Grandmaster” traces the rise of Ip Man (Tony Leung) in phases from the 1930s to the 1950s. Portrayed as a late bloomer, this fighter has his mettle tested by a revered northern master, Gong Baosen; by the upheaval of Japanese occupation; and in a fresh hand-to-hand twist on Wong-esque lovers’ torment, by Gong Baosen’s daughter, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi).

It may seem like a departure for the director of lush mood pieces like “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express.” But “The Grandmaster,” which opens on Friday, isn’t Mr. Wong’s first martial arts film (that would be 1994’s “Ashes of Time”), nor does it dispense with his obsession with romantic longing. And in fact his interest in the genre dates to his boyhood, growing up on a street filled with martial arts schools that were forbidden territory for a curious child. As he explained in an interview about his history with kung fu films, he has in a way been watching and wondering ever since.

Though the new film has played in China, abroad and in festivals, the version being released in the United States is a shorter cut. The American edit, with his approval, adds explanatory titles, character names and some different footage and hews to a more linear chronology. The highlights remain, like an almost phantasmagorical fight that takes place inches away from a roaring train in winter.

Reviewing the version that played at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, Variety called it “one of the most propulsive yet ethereal realizations of authentic martial arts.” The Hollywood Reporter noted that amid “some of the most dazzling fights ever seen on screen,” Mr. Wong seems “preoccupied with the introspective verbal exchanges between his battle-hardened warriors.”

A box office success in China, “The Grandmaster” represents a step back into the limelight for Mr. Wong after his maligned American road movie from 2007, “My Blueberry Nights.” In between came the 2008 release of “Ashes of Time Redux,” a reworking of his 1994 attempt at a martial arts film, which originally received mixed reviews. “Redux” now seems like a needed creative exercise, and its loose, colorfully stylized adaptation of a serialized wuxia novel signaled that any Wong treatment of the martial arts will always bear his singular imprint. (As he said at a preview of “The Grandmaster” at the Museum of the Moving Image: “I can’t change overnight. I’m still that person.”)

Mr. Wong’s first exposure to the martial arts tradition came through novels of the sort that Mr. Leung’s character works on in “In the Mood for Love.” But movies took over soon enough. As he remembered the films that made an early impact, he zeroed in on the very real physical impacts of the 1970 Shaw Brothers film “The Chinese Boxer.” In the brutal story, a kung fu student must avenge the killing of his teacher by Japanese karate masters, and hardens his fists in order to wale on his enemies.

“It’s the first time that you feel all these punches actually hurt,” Mr. Wong said by phone from Hong Kong. “Today people have forgotten about this film. But it broke records in Hong Kong. It’s very violent, and very modern in a way.”

After working with the celebrated stunt coordinator Yuen Woo-ping on “The Grandmaster,” Mr. Wong took care to cite past choreographers who gave martial arts cinema its heft. One giant died recently: Lau Kar-leung, whose “Challenge of the Masters” (1976) and “Legendary Weapons of China” (1982) he singled out as extraordinary demonstrations of fighting styles like hung ga. (Mr. Lau’s nephew plays one of Ip Man’s challengers.) The work of Sammo Hung in “The Prodigal Son” (1981) also caught his attention.

Mr. Wong’s earliest memory of watching Ip Man’s most famous pupil, Bruce Lee, is still vivid.

“I still remember the first time, thinking, ‘What is this?’ From now on, that’s a kung fu film,” he recalled. “With the other films before, the kung fu masters are very mature, very traditional. Bruce Lee was very modern, young, straightforward. He still has this charisma. This charisma is his confidence.”

Still, “The Grandmaster” represents an effort to get back to the historical heart of kung fu and its schools; in Mr. Wong’s view, it’s a return to the legacy of kung fu, spotlighting the wing chun school of fighting, among others. Especially with the character of Gong Baosen, he also sought to re-emphasize “the manner, the formalities of these martial artists.”

Aliza Ma, an assistant film curator at the Museum of the Moving Image who helped organize a Wong retrospective under way there, wrote in an e-mail that the director “marries a historical-realist agenda with a certain sense of mythopoeticism that surpasses the previously established contrasting subgenres of martial arts cinema.”

Mr. Wong pointed out a trend toward fantasy in martial arts cinema of the last 20 years. While King Hu’s “A Touch of Zen” (1969) was already an established classic of the wuxia genre, “The Shaolin Temple” (1982), starring Jet Li, was a milestone in the fantastical strand. He likened its eye-catching techniques to the modern tradition in China of treating martial arts as a competitive sport. In films that followed “Shaolin Temple,” he said, “it becomes just show, it loses the essence of one major aspect: kung fu is also a weapon.”

Just as the punches and kicks of wing chun deliver stinging blows, the lasting ache of romance in “The Grandmaster” leaves its mark. At a preview of the film in July, Mr. Wong recalled with a chuckle that he had heard the film characterized as a sui generis combination: “Doctor Zhivago” meets kung fu.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 6:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zhang Ziyi Gives ‘The Grandmaster’ a Kung Fu Kick

August 16, 2013, 7:45 AM

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi visited the WSJ to discuss her latest film, “The Grandmaster,” directed by Wong Kar-wai and co-starring Tony Leung.

In “The Grandmaster,” Zhang, 34 years old, plays Gong Er, the daughter of a kung fu grandmaster. Gong Er breaks with tradition and as a young female, trains in the Bagua style of kung fu, including the “64 Hands” fighting technique.

Zhang, like Leung and the other actors in the film, performed her own fight scenes, and had trained in kung fu for six months before the start of shooting. Compared with her previous martial-arts films (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The House of Flying Daggers” and “Hero”), this was a whole different level of training.

“I think that was just a nightmare,” Zhang said with a laugh, having worked with different kung fu masters. “For me it was like boot camp. You had to spend four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon.”

Her epic kung fu battles in the film are more than just punches and kicks. When Gong Er meets Ip Man (Leung), the wing chun grandmaster and eventual teacher to Bruce Lee, they begin as kung fu opponents but end with deep respect and admiration for one another.

“I call this love at first fight,” Zhang said.

In the interview, Zhang described Wong Kar-wai’s attention to detail, how the film trained her mind as well as body, and Gong Er’s empowering message to women.

Watch the video, then check back in for more with Zhang Ziyi, Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung on “The Grandmaster.”
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 7:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung and Wong Kar-wai talk 'The Grandmaster'

August 15, 2013

On Tuesday evening into the early hours of Wednesday morning, was on the scene for the New York premiere of Wong Kar-wai's latest film "The Grandmaster" presented by Martin Scorsese, The Weinstein Company, DeLeon Tequila and Dolby. The film's stars Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, and director Wong Kar-wai all walked the red carpet, in addition to executive producers Harvey Weinstein and Megan Ellison.

On the red carpet Ms. Zhang, who is one of the most famous actresses in Asia, looked stunning in a J. Mendel dress. The New York fashion community came out strong to support her. She warmly embraced Jason Wu on the red carpet. And Designer Vivienne Tam, who brought Angela Simmons as her guest, raved about Zhang's style. "She's just always very sophisticated and very elegant and she's always representing the Chinese Ying and Yang. Inside is very strong, but very feminine...she has great style," Tam told Actor Chin Han, who can next be seen in "Captain America," was proud to attend the premiere. "I'm just here to lend my support to all the Asian actors in this film: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi. Tony Leung I met actually about 16 years ago, so it's just really great to see him in a martial arts movie. And also for Wong Kar-wai to actually cross genres and to do something like that. I'm thrilled and very excited to see it." Samuel L. Jackson also made an appearance the premiere and party. He posed with Zhang, Leung and Wai on the carpet.

The film is an epic action feature inspired by the life and times of the legendary Kung fu master, Ip Man. The story spans the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty, a time chaos, division and war that was also the golden age of Chinese martial arts. Filmed in a range of stunning locations that include the snow-swept landscapes of Northeast China and the subtropical South, "The Grandmaster" features virtuoso performances by some of the greatest stars of contemporary Asian cinema, including Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang. The film was re-edited and the sound was remastered by Dolby for American audiences.

Zhang Ziyi is incredible in the film. She plays Gong Er, the daughter of an esteemed Kung Fu master who vows to continue his legacy.

Q: What does this film mean to you.

Ziyi: Well, it will be my last martial arts film and that means a lot.

Q: Why?

Ziyi: Because...maybe after you watch the movie you'll know why I made such an important decision. I've done a few action movies and I've learned so much of the history of martial arts. This time when I finished shooting this movie...I felt that for me, it's just so hard to surpass this...everything, you know? The martial arts part, the acting, the character is so complicated and very deep. I just want to leave all the best memories to this movie. That's why.

Q: And what are some of the teachings that you learned? What is the biggest thing that you've learned about doing martial arts?

Ziyi: I think it teaches you strongly about how to have a very strong perseverance....not only for your physical bodies, it's for your brain and how to be strong and not give up easy.

Q: So tell me what was it like collaborating with Wong Kar-wai?

Ziyi: In the beginning it wasn't that easy. This movie was my second time to work with him. I got relaxed a little bit and because we're longtime friends and we've known each other quite well, so we understand each other. So everything just relies on trust.

Q: What was it like working with Tony?

Ziyi: He's the best. I'm hoping I have another chance to work with him. There's a scene, a fighting scene, it was very difficult and intricate, but only because we have this great working relationship it was made easier.

Q: What did you love about the story?

Ziyi: In this movie it has action and romance. There's forbidden love and also there's a struggle... a power struggle.

Q: And what are you going to be working on after this film?

Ziyi: I'm shooting John Woo's new movie...It's the Chinese version of "Titanic." So I have to spend a lot of time in the water.

Wong Kar-wai is a legendary filmmaker who brought the story of Ip Man to screen.

Q: What inspired you to do this story?

Kar-wai: I always wanted to make a film - a Kung fu film, but I always wanted to find an angle and I think the story of Ip Man actually is something that I wanted to do. It's not because he's a great master, he's a trainer, he's the one who trained Bruce Lee. But also his life story because he's not just a typical fighter. He's someone that is a grandmaster. What we call him, a grandmaster, is not only the skill, but also his idea, vision, and also his generosity to share his skill with other people.

Q: Can you speak a little bit about the cast and getting Zhang Ziyi and Tony and why they were perfect?

Kar-wai: Well, they're amazing because without them, this film would not be possible. And just imagine for this film because in the last ten years we've seen so many Kung fu films with CGI, with wires. And sometimes we thought well it's Chinese Kung fu; it's just a show or something? So I wanted this film to be hardcore and so all the stunts have to be done by themselves. And if Bruce Lee didn't need special effects, so does our grandmaster.

Tony Leung, who is one of the most sought-after actors in Asia, was superb as "The Grandmaster." He trained for years to perfect the intricate King fu sequences.

What was the greatest challenge of playing this character?

Leung: I would say the most challenging aspect is how to display the grandmaster's confidence and his vision towards Kung fu. Of course we need to do the physical training and I read a great deal to improve my knowledge of Kung fu. One can certainly mimic the physical action. But what is difficult to capture is his state of mind. Once I know his mental state, I can approach the character

What do you admire about Wong Kar-wai?

Leung: I feel I am quite similar to Wong Kar-wai. We share the same passion for cinema and we are both perfectionists. I think it is difficult to find another person so similar. When we work together, it is easy for me to grasp his thinking.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?

Leung: My fight scene with Ziyi in the Gold Pavilion! It was a very romantic scene with a lot of balletic movement. I thought I was shooting a drama not action.

Additional notables who were spotted at the premiere included Yigal Azrouel, Marc Bouwer, JC Chandor, Kelly Choi, Kelsey Chow, Judah Friedlander, Cuba Gooding Jr., Julia Hafstrom, Chin Han, John Hodgman, Gaby Hoffmann, Samuel L. Jackson, Evan Jonigkeit, Nanette Lepore, Humberto Leon, Phillip Lim, Natasha Lyonne, Bennett Miller, Maxwell Osborne, Lou Reed, Nick Sandow, Susan Sarandon, Angela Simmons, Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Finn Wittrock, and Jason Wu. The party continued at Forty Four at Royalton, where guests snacked on spring rolls and sipped on DeLeon Tequila Cocktails like Hong Kong Garden and The Grandmaster.

Filmed over the course of 22 months in a range of stunning locations that include the snow-swept landscapes of Northeast China and the subtropical South, the actors underwent several years of rigorous and extremely challenging kung fu training for their roles in the film. Years of research before production and a virtual battalion of martial arts trainers on set ensured that "The Grandmaster" portrays both the Chinese martial arts and the world of the martial artists with unprecedented authenticity, with fight scenes choreographed by renowned action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping ("The Matrix," "Kill Bill," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.") "Wong Kar Wai has turned martial arts into a modern dance. Every movement hit with precision, every emotion drenched with underlying honor. "The Grandmaster," arranged with both elegance and fury, left me mesmerized," Martin Scorsese said in a statement when he announced that he would be presenting the film nationally. "Marty has always been a great inspiration," said Wong Kar Wai. "We are so thankful for his support of the film."

"The Grandmaster" will open in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto on August 23rd and nationwide on August 30th.
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"The Grandmaster" at Comic-Con 2013
by Jana Monji
July 26, 2013

With any convention, there are parties and San Diego Comic-Con is no different. Invited to three parties, I attended one and a third. The last party was the most elegant and a reception for the latest addition to the Yip Man legend, Wong Kar Wai's "The Grandmaster" (一代宗師)

While I still like a good dance party (even with a crowd devoid of line of dance notions), my Wednesday night Psych-O devotion left me fast asleep when I should have attended the first MTV party at Petco Park on Thursday. The Joss Whedon-only fan panel on Friday, forced me to leave my husband and dogs at the Petco Yappy Hour. At least I have photos of a Wookie walking my collies and a caricature drawn of my collies by slave Princess Leia.

wookie dog walker
The Wong Kar Wai reception at Katsuya was an exclusive event, more well attended than the midnight showing of "The Grandmaster" later that evening. Meeting my old high school friend at Reading Cinema for the screening, I learned that the SDCC Wolverine panel turned out to be Hugh Jackman introducing a preview fan screening of the full movie for a capacity crowd. While that movie screening was exclusively for Comic-Con badge holders, "The Grandmaster" was open to the public.

The title refers to Yip Man (also Ip Man) and was the subject of controversy. While Wong's movie was still in development, director Wilson Yip's 2008 "Ip Man" was moving ahead starring Donnie Yen and the working title of "Grandmaster Ip Man." Wong felt the titles were too similar and the title of Yip's movie was changed. Wilson Yip's film was eventually released as "Ip Man" and followed up with "Ip Man 2." The supposed trilogy remains unfinished as Yen stepped down from the role. "Ip Man" won the 2009 Gold Horse Award and the Hong Kong Film Best Film and Best Action Choreography awards.

Currently available on Netflix for instant streaming, "Ip Man" is loosely based on Ip Man's life during the Sino-Japanese War. Filmed in subdued colors and a feeling of expansiveness the movie stars (Donnie Yen). The 2010 sequel, "Ip Man 2" picks up Yip Man as he teaches the martial arts in Hong Kong. "The Grandmaster" compresses the time period covered by these two movies into one movie and doesn't depict the sadistic cruelty of the Japanese Imperial Army like "Ip Man."

Since the movie "2008 Ip Man" there have been many projects on the life of this martial arts grandmaster. Yip Man (1893-1972) was born to a wealthy family in Foshan, Guangdong and learned the martial art of Wing Chun. During the Sino-Japanese war, his family lost all their wealth. By the time he had moved from his native Foshan to Hong Kong, he was poor, with nothing but his ability at martial arts to support him. His most notable student was Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee is introduced as a young boy in "Ip Man 2" but doesn't appear at all in Wong Kar Wai's "The Grandmaster."

Wong Kar Wai's movie emphasizes Yip Man's (Tony Leung) relationship with two women: his wife Cheung Wing-sing and the daughter of Gong Yutian, Gong Er. The martial arts groups are divided by geography into North and South. Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) has proclaimed one of his disciples Ma San (Zhang Jin) as his heir for the North, but Southern martial arts masters push Yip Man to be their champion. Yip Man is declared the winner, but Gong Er fights to preserve her family's honor.

Gong Er wins, but the challenge for a re-match remains open. Just as Yip Man decides to accept the challenge, buying a winter coat to journey north, the second Sino-Japanese War breaks out (1937-1945). During the war, Ma San collaborates with the Japanese and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) becomes determined to avenge this betrayal of both her father and his martial arts school.

Gong Er and Yip Man will meet again in Hong Kong where Gong Er's situation is explained in a flashback that jarringly disturbs the continuity. Gong Er explains how she exacted her vengeance for both her father and China.

Wong Kar Wai's movie shows the action in claustrophobic, tight shots and minimal high-flying wire work or CGI. China might be a large country, but the world of martial arts is small. The editing is well-paced and gorgeously filmed in saturated colors with cinematography by Philippe Le Sound. The first fight scene takes place in the cluttered streets under a heavy downpour, using water to emphasize the lyrical actions. Other scenes show a brothel as the meeting place for martial arts masters, eventually contrasting the severity of Gong Er's hair and dress with the well-made up more richly attired courtesan prostitutes.

Wong Kar Wai's movie also leans heavily on the music of Shigeru Umebayashi, Nathaniel Méchaly and Italian composer Stefano Lentini to move the action forward and set up a war-like atmosphere.

The overall effect of the fight editing and the music is lush impressionism, and Wong Kar Wai favors beauty over realism. Zhang Ziyi's Gong Er suffers emotionally without contorting her face into expressions of anguish. Her opium addiction which leads to her death doesn't mar the beauty of her mask-like face. Yet Wong Kar Wai adds plenty of substance to his stylish rendition of the Yip Man legend. Thematically, the movie sets up a parallel between loyalty toward family and country to loyalty to one's martial arts masters. The martial arts school of 64 hands dies in order to preserve family honor and Yip Man refuses to allow his style of kung fu to become a "circus act" when he first opens up a school in Hong Kong.

In a telephone interview, Wong Kar Wai commented that in comparison with Wilson Yip's "Ip Man" his movie "tells you more about the essence of Chinese martial arts. It is not only about the philosophy. You can not understand Yip Man without knowing the background, the wisdom and rituals of China in that time, the golden period of martial arts."

Wong felt that there are so many kung fu films and he thought it would be interesting to make a film to tell the story of the grandmaster, the man who trained Bruce Lee. According to Wong, Ip Man looked like a teacher and not an martial arts hero. He wanted an actor to convey an atypical man, who belonged to a certain class and had a Western education. That's why he felt Tony Leung was ideal. Yet while Donny Yeh has a martial arts background Leung does not. According to Wong, Leung trained for 18 months prior to shooting the film and continued to train during the year the movie was filmed.

As a result, the action scenes rely heavily on the editing and Yip Man's internal struggles are more prominently featured than his fists. For SDCC, reception and screening attendees received a special comic book about the movie.

In Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese with English subtitles, "The Grandmaster" won the Shanghai Film Critics award for Film of Merit. The movie opened in January in China and was the opening film for the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013. "The Grandmaster" opens in the U.S. on August 23.
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grandmaster Comic Released Free to Web
By: Russ Burlingame on August 15, 2013

A comic book tie-in to the upcoming film The Grandmaster, which was made available as a convention exclusive at San Diego Comic Con International last month, has been released online as a free download.

The Weinstein Company have teamed up with former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt, along with artists Chris Evenhuis, PH Marcondes, Keison, and Chee and VICE, to create a really cool web comic based on the film.

You can check out the comic, released in conjunction with promotion for Wong Kar Wai’s new film, here. A trailer for the film is embedded below.

The Grandmaster opens in NY, LA and Toronto on August 23rd, and nationwide on 800 screens on August 30th.

Download it here:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you so much, Sandy, for all these nice articles Very Happy .
I am surprised that I missed quite a few of them. Embarassed . It seems we are going to be busy for a while Wink .
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ziyi Zhang opens up about starring in 'The Grandmaster' — Director Wong Kar Wai's tale of Wing Chun teacher Ip Man

The 'Crouching Tiger' Beijing beauty found herself in the dead of winter in the Northern Chinese city of Tieli, where director Wong Kar Wai filmed parts of the martial arts epic.


Published: Sunday, August 18, 2013, 2:27 AM
Updated: Sunday, August 18, 2013, 2:27 AM

Read more:

If Ziyi Zhang looks especially agitated during a climactic kung fu fight sequence set in a train station during a swirling blizzard in “The Grandmaster,” she wasn’t entirely acting.

The 34-year-old Beijing beauty found herself in the dead of winter in the Northern Chinese city of Tieli, where director Wong Kar Wai (“In the Mood for Love”) decided to exile his cast and crew to film parts of the visually stunning martial arts epic that opens Friday.

“He could have gone to any place he wanted, but he chose the coldest place possible, really,” Zhang told the News. “Every night, we have to work in minus -30 degrees and my hands and my feet were very numb.

“When you’re doing the action, I had to pretend I’m okay. But the truth is I wasn’t okay. After each take, I had to run back to this little space with a small heater, just shaking there.

“And from the corner of my eyes, I see director Wong Kar Wai sitting there comfortably, wearing three layers of down coat and a fleece scarf,” she adds, laughing.

Had Zhang accepted some of the scripts flowing out of Hollywood when she became an international sensation after 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” she might’ve found herself sitting in a warm trailer on the set of an American romantic comedy instead. But the dancer-turned-actress opted to retreat into superstardom in her native country.

“Not because I don’t want to do anything in America or Hollywood, I think only because the roles were not good enough,” says Zhang. “I don’t want to show people that I can only do action.

“For me, I want to do real characters. (The scripts were) not that bad, just not rich to my standard.”

Frostbite be damned, there’s no place she’d rather have spent almost three years working on a movie that may even eclipse “Crouching Tiger” and 2002’s “Hero” as the most ambitious martial arts movie ever produced.

The film follows the trajectory of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the real life Wing Chun master who would ultimately teach Bruce Lee, but it’s Zhang’s doomed Gong Er who steals the movie.

“Ziyi possesses the same iconic spirit and repertoire that Greta Garbo brought to classic Hollywood,” says the director. “This film would not have been the same without her.”

For an iconic spirit, Zhang is surprisingly low-key — maybe because of her decidedly un-showbiz background. Her dad is an accountant — who bought 100 copies of her first magazine cover to give to everyone he knew — and her mother is a teacher.
Ultimately, she says, she’d like to settle down, start a family and take a break from acting. But in the meantime, she says she hasn’t lost her passion for movies — even if her celebrity means she can no longer shop in a supermarket in Beijing for fear of being mobbed.

“In my normal life, I don’t even know how to put on eyebrows,” says the Maybelline cover girl. “My makeup artist says I know how to put on lipstick, but that’s the only thing I know how to do.”


August 19, 2013, 10:30 AM

Zhang Ziyi Prepares for U.S. Release of ‘The Grandmaster’

By Barbara Chai

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi visited the WSJ to discuss her latest film, “The Grandmaster,” directed by Wong Kar-wai and co-starring Tony Leung.

In “The Grandmaster,” Ms. Zhang, 34 years old, plays Gong Er, the daughter of a kung fu grandmaster. Gong Er breaks with tradition and as a young female, trains in the Bagua style of kung fu, including the “64 Hands” fighting technique.

Ms. Zhang, like Mr. Leung and the other actors in the film, performed her own fight scenes, and had trained in kung fu for six months before the start of shooting. Compared with her previous martial-arts films (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The House of Flying Daggers” and “Hero”), this was a whole different level of training.

The film, which was shown in China and Hong Kong earlier this year, opens in the U.S. on Aug. 23.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Exclusive: The Final Poster for The Grandmaster
We've got the last one-sheet for the martial arts movie.

by Jim Vejvoda

August 19, 2013

IGN's stoked to debut for you today the final one-sheet for The Grandmaster, director Wong Kar Wai's highly anticipated film inspired by the life and times of the legendary kung fu master, Ip Man.

The story spans the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty, a time of chaos, division and war that was also the golden age of Chinese martial arts. The movie stars Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, and Chang Chen, and features fight scenes choreographed by renowned action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

The Weinstein Co. will release The Grandmaster in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto on August 23 and nationwide on August 30.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2013 6:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grandmaster presented in Dolby Atmos

19 August, 2013 | By Wendy Mitchell

Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster is being mixed in Dolby Atmos for its US release.

The Weinstein Company releases it theatrically on 800 screens in the US on Aug 23.

“The Grandmaster is a Chinese kung fu story that is not only about physical fighting,” the director said, “but also about such intangibles as chi, the mind, and the spirit, which are never easy concepts to express. I have been extremely impressed by the powerful enhancements to storytelling that Dolby Atmos makes possible. The Grandmaster in Dolby Atmos will use sound to transport audiences right into the film action.”

The US version of The Grandmaster was mixed in Dolby Atmos by Kantana Sound Studio in Bangkok, Thailand, the first mixing studio equipped with Dolby Atmos in Southeast Asia. Traithep Wongpaiboon, Senior Vice President, Kantana Sound Studio, added: “Dolby Atmos is the most powerful sound technology we have ever used. With Dolby Atmos, the sound moves around and above the audiences, creating a soundfield so realistic that film audiences feel as if they are in the center of the action.”

“We are delighted that internationally renowned director Wong Kar Wai chose to mix his latest picture in Dolby Atmos for the US release,” said Mike Chao, Managing Director, Greater China, Dolby Laboratories. “Dolby Atmos brings a natural lifelike audio experience to movie theatres, giving filmmakers creative freedom to place and move sounds anywhere in the auditorium, including overhead, for added realism and impact.”

The Jet Tone production stars Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tony Leung Interview For Wong Kar Wai’s ‘The Grandmaster’

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, ‘The Grandmaster’ is an epic action feature inspired by the life and times of the legendary kung fu master, Ip Man. The story spans the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty, a time of chaos, division and war that was also the golden age of Chinese martial arts. Filmed in a range of stunning locations that include the snow-swept landscapes of Northeast China and the subtropical South, ‘The Grandmaster’ is lead by Tony Leung as Ip Man. The film also stars Zhang Zi Yi, Chang Chen, Cung Le, Bruce Leung Siu-lung and Wang Qingxiang. Set for a August 23rd bow in the US, ‘The Grandmaster’ was released in Hong Kong and Mainland China and a number of countries in Asia earlier this year. Fingers crossed there’s a UK release date announcement shortly.

Q & A (Questions & Answers):

Q: While you trained extensively for this role physically, what mental preparation did you do for it and what was your impression of Ip Man?

Tony Leung: My first impression about Ip Man is that he didn’t look like the kung fu man, he looks like a scholar, with his look being very refined and graceful. In the film I tried to – because the director asked me to combine the Bruce Lee character into Ip Man – I tried to portray my ideal Ip Man. I tried to blend in the Bruce Lee character into the Ip Man character. In the beginning the director gave me a lot of books about the northern masters, but only a few things about Ip Man. He did a lot of research himself, of course. But he wanted me to read more about Bruce Lee. The character would be a kind of blend of Ip Man and Bruce Lee. I’ve collaborated with Wong Kar Wai for over ten years. We have a strong mutual trust. The movie doesn’t aim to be a documentary; we wanted to create a kind of ideal, “perfect” Ip Man.

My impression of Ip Man is that he was very gentle, civilized, a deepthinker and a gentleman. When he fought, he became someone else, fierce, almost animalistic. I thought this was a fascinating blend. A man who, as the son of a wealthy family, the son of a landowner had everything until the age of forty. Then he experienced a huge fall in his fortunes, and much trauma; and yet, in the end, he was still standing. That really fascinated me. And so with the director’s research into Ip Man and mine into Bruce Lee, and through our teamwork, we produced an ideal vision of Ip Man. He’s very positive. I’ve never played such a positive character in any Wong Kar Wai film.

Q: What do you mean by “positive”…..?

Tony Leung: He was extremely optimistic. Otherwise, how could he still be standing at the end of everything he went through? I heard my Wing Chun master[Duncan Leung talk about Ip Man as he was when he first got to Hong Kong. It was like he had gone from heaven to hell. He had nothing at all. His home, his wealth, his family, they were all gone. His two daughters died. My master told me Ip Man didn’t even have a blanket with which to cover himself when he first got to Hong Kong. He had to borrow one from a disciple, who then needed to take it back. But he remained the sort of person who faced life with a smile on his face. I felt that this was true positivity. I believe that kung fu informed and inspired his approach to life.

With Bruce Lee, on the other hand, it was the opposite: life informed and inspired his kung fu. Bruce Lee studied philosophy, Daoism. In fact, Ip Man and Bruce Lee took different routes to the same destination. In his writings, Bruce Lee often spoke of Ip Man, calling him one of the greats of the kung fu world. Ip Man inspired him to understand that kung fu wasn’t just physical training or a means of self-defense but a form of mental cultivation and a way of life. Only by learning kung fu myself did I really come to really understand this. The training helped me to achieve more authenticity in the way I would fight on screen. At the same time, it helped me to get into character in a way just reading about it couldn’t do. So I could see why the director asked me to undertake such a long and rigorous process of physical training, during which I broke my arm twice (laughs).

Q: Studying Bruce Lee, what did you learn from him?

Tony Leung: I learnt a lot from Bruce Lee, I studied not just his movies but his books about his thinking of kung fu and his philosophy. It impressed me a lot (laughs), and I’m still trying to figure it out through training – and that’s why I’m still learning and practicing in kung fu. Not just for the technique, but to try to workout the spiritual side of kung fu – and that is very interesting to me.

Q: Before you began this process, what was your thinking or attitude towards kung fu?

Tony Leung: I was a fan of Bruce Lee as a kid. I saw his films when I was seven or eight. But in the 60s we were taught that there were only two types of people who learned kung fu: policemen and gangsters (laughs). It seemed to be about fighting, brawling, or performing. It was only after taking on this role that I really fathomed what kung fu is about. It was a tough four years but a really satisfying time as well. I want to show young people – and their parents as well – what kung fu really is about, the true spirit of it. The lessons of hard work, discipline, and mind training apply to life. Ideally, you got to a level that’s like zen: you want to harmonize with your opponent. He is not your enemy, no more than your environment is your enemy. The goal is not victory but to open your own mind. The more I studied kung fu, the more fascinated I became.

Q: It’s like something Master Gong says to his daughter. He criticizes her for only caring about victory.

Tony Leung: Yes. It’s true, and it’s why this tradition has continued over 4,000 years. It’s not just about fighting. If it was that simple, anyone could be a grandmaster. You know, making this film was a blast. I’ve never made such a film with Wong Kar Wai before! I’m always playing these dark, repressed characters. But this is such a positive, optimistic role. It was very enjoyable. Of course, there’s this part where the war comes, and I lose everything…

Q: You cry….

Tony Leung: Exactly (laughs). And I’m crying out of frustration as well as loss. But in the end – Ip Man is still standing, not because of how he fights but because of how he lives. It’s so interesting. The only thing I knew about Ip Man before this was that he was Bruce Lee’s teacher. I knew he was extraordinary, but didn’t understand why or how. But learning Wing Chun, becoming a disciple myself and then being able to portray a character who was a combination of this great man and Bruce Lee – I feel really happy about it. It felt like a kind of karmic connection. Now that I’m over 50, I’m not that keen on acting in very heavy dramas anymore. I’d rather play characters with a lighter attitude towards life. I felt so lucky to be able to play such a positive character – I felt so lucky on every level to be doing this. But I didn’t know how I was going to play Ip Man before we started filming. I was just doing my Wing Chun training. The first three years, we just worked on the fight scenes. For a year or two, it was all fighting. We didn’t shoot any of the other scenes. I didn’t even have a clue what the story was about! It was only in the last six months of filming that I began to shoot dramatic scenes.

Q: That’s such an interesting way to make a film….

Tony Leung: It was crazy! But that’s what Wong Kar Wai is like. It really is fun. Every time I make a film with him it’s an adventure. I usually don’t watch the rushes when I work with him. So I’m in the dark about the story, and don’t know what the other characters are doing. I don’t want to know. I fear I’ll start imposing my own ideas on the process. It’s got to be Wong Kar Wai’s film. My job is to help him fulfill his vision, and I think the film is stunning. The process takes time. The more time you have, the more you’re able to enter the character. Its not just an action movie, I think it is a movie about the culture of Chinese kung fu as well as the Chinese culture. It is also about a lost martial arts world, the beauty of the martial arts world.

Q: After all that training, when you were doing those big fight scenes, like the one in the rain, what was it like in your head? Were you in a state of excitement? A state of calm? How did you feel?

Tony Leung: Under a lot of pressure! I could never relax. I was really nervous about hurting people. My master said, “Don’t think of them as people. Think of them as punching bags.” I couldn’t do that. No way.

Q: So in the film’s fight scenes, they’re landing serious blows?

Tony Leung: Yes. They didn’t want to film the kung fu scenes in the usual way. They wanted it to be authentic. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cross that bridge. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not being able to let go like that. On the other hand, my character wasn’t fighting to kill people. For him, it was a kind of game. So there was no need to hit that hard. But I was really tested during these scenes, it was hard for me. I said to Wong Kar Wai that of all the fight scenes, the one in the rain was the toughest – from every angle. We shot it for 30 successive nights. All night every night. From about 7 pm, we were soaked but couldn’t change clothes till we wrapped the following morning. By midnight, I’d be shivering with cold. It was like that every night. I began to take cold medicines. I felt myself getting sicker and sicker. When we finished up on the scene, I was laid up for five days. I was taking medicines and living on rice porridge. I thought I had pneumonia. I was coughing and coughing, I couldn’t stop. It turned out to be bronchitis. That was the hardest thing about the filming. Also, we were fighting in water that was up to here (points to above his ankle) but Ah Suk (William Chang) is so exacting about the costumes: we had to wear cloth-soled shoes. But they were so slippery. So there we were, fighting in the rain, with slippery shoes… the training doesn’t prepare you for conditions like that! It got so cold.

Q: How did you find it working with Zhang Ziyi?

Tony Leung: Zhang Ziyi is a very talented and hard working actress. It’s very tough for guys like me (laughs), after a few years of training I still feel that it’s very difficult to master the action scenes. But she can handle that so great, and after watching the movie she’s done such a brilliant job – I can see a lot of layers in her character and the evolution of her character from a young girl to a mature woman. I think she’s fantastic.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grandmaster
By Leland Montgomery
Published at 3:29 PM on August 20, 2013

Set in the early 1930s, Wong Kar Wai’s new film, The Grandmaster depicts the collapse of the Kung Fu community during the second Sino-Japanese war. This decline is witnessed from the perspective of Yip Man, a renowned martial arts master whose fate is ultimately intertwined with the fate of that same community.

Though The Grandmaster may be Wong’s most commercially successful movie, it lacks the distinctive, masterful use of form that has helped make his past works so poignant and moving. In past works, Wong has mined his medium for techniques to better help his audiences understand his characters. In Happy Together, Wong pivots between color and black-and-white. This change reflects the mood of his protagonist, Lai Yiu-fai, and serves as a visual representation of Lai Yiu-fai’s mood and outlook. The result is a more intimate look inside Lai Yiu-fai’s perspective. This makes us, as an audience, care more about him.

In In the Mood For Love, Wong rarely lets the audience see any characters besides Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan. We care about Chow and Chan partly because Wong keeps their respective spouses hidden from view. The focus on Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan helps convey their isolation. Even though they are constantly surrounded by other people, these people are mostly faceless and nameless.

While The Grandmaster is a nonlinear narrative, Wong doesn’t play with form like he does in these other films. The result is is less emotionally powerful film that lacks the subconscious cues of Wong’s earlier films.

Grandmaster marks a divergence of theme, as well. Chunking Express, one of Wong’s earliest films, film depicts the lives of residents living in Hong Kong’s Chunking Mansions, a crowded urban project. Despite living in such a high-density housing development, the principal characters of Chunking Express are constantly searching for and failing to find companionship.

This paradox of lonely people constantly surrounded by others is a major theme in many of Wong’s work, including Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood For Love and 2046.

This subject of loneliness is absent in The Grandmaster. Though Gong Yutian’s daughter, Gong Er forsakes her chance at having a family or getting married, her loneliness isn’t the subject of the film.

Ultimately, the problem with the The Grandmaster lies not so much in how it abandons the traditional themes of the filmmaker, but rather in the length of time it spans. With so much calendar to cover, there’s little time to focus on story. Instead of being shown who Yip Man or Gong Er were as people, the audience gets a rushed succession of plot points.

Wong’s other films are incredibly intimate, and that intimacy gives his movies emotional resonance. In Chungking Express, Faye breaks in to Cop 663’s apartment to redecorate. She wants to cheer him up after a bad break up. The fact that Faye would break into a friend’s apartment in order to make someone feel better tells us, the audience, she’s quirky and weird and sweet. It also makes us care about her. The things Faye finds in the Cop’s apartment-a bunch of large stuffed animals, dirty cups, lots of fish-tell us something about the cop, which in turn makes us care about him.

The Grandmaster has so much plot, it’s hard to be emotionally invested in any of the characters. We’re told that Yip Man’s daughters die in the great famine following the Japanese invasion. However, since they were only shown to the audience in quick flashes, their deaths don’t elicit much, if any, emotional response from the viewer. Similarly, the side characters are so numerous and one dimensional, it’s easy to forget who they are.

Despite its problems, The Grandmaster is more poetic than other recent Kung Fu movies. When Yip Man declares his intention to succeed Gong Yutian in the South, he is put through a series of tests before he battles Yutian. Instead of the same hashed out Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style of fighting that has plagued other films (RZA’s The Man With the Iron Fists, for example), Yip Man’s fights are quiet and meditative. When Yip Man finally faces Yuitan, the two engage in a philosophical battle instead of a physical one.

The Grandmaster has garnered a lot of attention and grossed a great deal of money, but, though beautiful, it seems out of place in Wong’s body of work. The distinction is not necessarily a positive one. Let’s hope the commercial success of Wong’s latest does not indicate a permanent departure from his exploration of the themes that have, up until now, defined his past.

Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writer: Kar Wai Wong (story); Kar Wai Wong, Jingzhi Zou, Haofeng Xu (screenplay)
Starring: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Cung Le, Hye-Kyo Song
Release Date: Aug. 23, 2013
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tony Leung, in the Mood for Kung Fu

August 19, 2013, 7:30 p.m. ET

Like many boys growing up in Hong Kong, Tony Leung was a fan of Bruce Lee from a young age.

But it wasn't until he played the kung fu master's teacher that he understood the man—or kung fu, for that matter.

In "The Grandmaster," opening in New York on Friday, Mr. Leung plays Ip Man, the martial-arts master who taught a core group of disciples, including Lee. Ip Man, who was raised in Southern China but later moved to Hong Kong, isn't as well-known as Lee stateside, but he too has been immortalized in film, most notably by Donnie Yen in 2008's "Ip Man."

Tony Leung takes on the role of Ip Man in 'The Grandmaster.'

To create an original interpretation, Mr. Leung took a tip from "Grandmaster" director and longtime collaborator Wong Kar-wai (this is their seventh film together): Blend the master teacher with the master student.

"When you look at the books of Bruce Lee or his letters and interviews, a lot of his inspiration came from Ip Man," Mr. Wong said. "I think it's a very good approach to show the audience where the inspiration came from. Who made Bruce Lee who he was?"

As a result, Mr. Leung studied not only Ip Man's martial-arts technique—suffering a broken arm twice during training—he also read Lee's extensive writings. "It helped me not to just have the look of a grandmaster, but have the state of mind and the soul of the grandmaster," he said.

Though no stranger to demanding roles (he played a cuckolded man drawn toward a neighbor in "In the Mood for Love," then a political agent entangled with a spy in Ang Lee's NC-17-rated "Lust, Caution"), Mr. Leung had plenty of time to prepare for "Grandmaster." He began kung fu training over a year before production, and shooting stretched out over three years.

He spoke with the Journal about staying in character over that period, nonviolent action scenes and how a sickly-looking Mr. Wong helped him press on. Excerpts from the conversation:

Q & A (Questions & Answers):

Q: You were familiar with Bruce Lee before filming, but how much did you know about kung fu?

A: I thought kung fu was just a fighting technique, but after I finished this movie, I know it's not just a self-defense method but also a lot of philosophy. A mind-cultivation practice. You can apply it to life. During the transformation of kung fu, it was greatly influenced by Taoism and Zen. What attracts me at the end is not the techniques. I was attracted by the mind training. It's very much like meditation.

Q: Were you spiritual before this?

A: I'm Buddhist, so I meditate sometimes. I find there's a lot of similarity between Taoism and Buddhism. But the spiritual side of kung fu cannot be learned just by reading books. You cannot learn it by fact-finding and instruction.

Q: You were in character as Ip Man for about four years. How was it?

A: I started almost 1.5 years before shooting. This was the most enjoyable work with Wong Kar-wai, because before, I never had any information about my character. This time, it's based on a real character, and Kar-wai did a lot of research.

Q: You have a few epic battle scenes, but other times it looks like we're watching you execute choreography.

A: I didn't feel any violence in the movie after I did all the action scenes. This guy is not trying to kill people [laughs]. He just enjoys the art.

Q: So Ip Man is different.

A: He didn't look like a kung fu man. He looked like a scholar—very refined, very erudite and graceful. I know he lived a very difficult life, but you can still see the dignity in his eyes. I was wondering, how can a guy live life like that? I think kung fu really inspired him.

Q: Was it difficult to leave the character after playing him for four years?

A: At the end I really wanted to stop, physically and emotionally. Almost a month before the end, I used to say to Kar-wai on the set, "I cannot do it anymore. I have no more energy." But he looked worse than me. He looked so pale and so sick! I had to go on.

Q: After all this, are you still a Bruce Lee fan?

A: Now I admire him more, not just as a kung fu great but as a thinker. He's still inspiring me.

Q: How so?

A: I learned all my knowledge from him, to think like a grandmaster. Learning kung fu was always my dream, and I never had a chance because I was not allowed to learn kung fu when I was a kid. My parents thought was there are only two kinds of people who practiced kung fu: policemen and gangsters. Sometimes in life, if you miss that chance, you will never want to learn kung fu again. I never thought I would learn it after 40-something years.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wong Kar Wai's 'The Grandmaster': an exile story told through Kung Fu

By Eric Kelsey

BEVERLEY HILLS, Calif | Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:29pm EDT

Aug 20 (Reuters) - It was a black-and-white home movie of an old man, diminutive and cancer-stricken, performing Chinese martial arts techniques in a Hong Kong apartment that spurred director Wong Kar Wai to make his latest film, the Kung Fu epic "The Grandmaster."

Wong, best known as an auteur of pensive and brooding urban dramas "Chungking Express" and "In the Mood for Love," said he was deeply puzzled by the intentions behind the homemade film of Kung Fu master Ip Man, made days before his death in 1972.

"I keep asking myself why he wanted to do it and much later I realized that there's a saying in Chinese martial arts that's like 'to keep the fire burning,'" Wong, 57, told Reuters.

"So what I think he intended to do is to do this: he wanted to preserve his technique so it can be shared and taught to future generations," the director added.

"The Grandmaster," in U.S. theaters on Friday, is Wong's attempt at sharing that legacy, telling the story of Ip - the trainer of Kung Fu film icon Bruce Lee - as a man whose calling as one of China's martial arts masters was taken from him by the upheaval of World War 2.

Starring longtime Wong collaborator Tony Leung as Ip, the film is divided into three parts that span the Kung Fu master's adulthood in 1930s southern China and his exile in Hong Kong following the Chinese revolution in 1949.

The story of Ip, who was born in Foshan, China, in 1893, has also experienced a revival in recent years with a 2008 biopic and a TV miniseries broadcast earlier this year in Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries.

But Wong said he wanted to differentiate his film, which was released in parts of Asia and Europe earlier this year, from others by conveying technical authenticity, specifically the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu.

"I wanted to make a film about Chinese martial arts in a different way, to tell you more about what is the value of Chinese martial arts," he said, adding that Leung twice broke his arm while training for the role.

Other Chinese martial arts in "The Grandmaster" include Baji and Xinjyi, each characterized by swift and powerful handwork.


What defines "The Grandmaster" are Wong's trademark themes of frustrated love and exile, his plot-less and episodic storytelling, and sumptuous cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd.

The film, Wong's first attempt at a martial arts movie after 1994's box-office flop "Ashes of Time," also writes in a fictional love story between Ip and Gong Er, the daughter of a Kung Fu grandmaster played by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi.

"It's so physical and there's an animal quality in it," Wong said about the first sparring match between Ip and Gong, after which Gong pursues him by exchanging letters.

"During that part (the fight), it's like two beautiful animals fighting each other. I think that tells a bit more about this relationship than just a normal romantic story," he said.

Both of the characters are uprooted by the Japanese invasion of China, which began in 1937, and end up reuniting in Hong Kong as refugees in the 1950s, their families in China now dead.

"Gong Er is in a way a symbol of a time that he (Ip) wants to go back to. It's almost like a lost paradise," Wong said.

Their reunion in Hong Kong, to which Wong moved from Shanghai at age 5, punctuates the film's legacy theme amid its masses of dislocated people.

"Hong Kong is a place for all these immigrants after the war," Wong said. "They're coming from all parts of China: north and south, and they come in all walks of life: businessmen, martial artists, intellectuals, politicians."

Wong said he is able to feel this sense of exile handed down from past generations and how they struggled to adapt while also trying to preserve their former life.

"And this film, actually, we trace back even more to see what is the time before Hong Kong, where they came from, what is their life. And you can feel this sense of loss when you compare these two periods," the director said. (Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Ken Wills)
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grandmaster May Be Streamlined, But It's Still a Wong Kar-Wai Movie

By Stephanie Zacharek Wednesday, Aug 21 2013

Plenty of film critics and Asian cinema aficionados care deeply that The Grandmaster, Wong Kar-wai's pointillist biopic of martial arts master Ip Man and the director's first picture in six years, will be released in the States only in a 108-minute version. The cut released in China earlier this year was 130 minutes; a 122-minute version played the Berlin Film Festival last February. In interviews, Wong hasn't come off as particularly perturbed that the Weinstein Company, which is releasing the picture here, asked him for a more streamlined version. "I took it as a challenge," he told the Wall Street Journal. "Instead of doing a short version, I wanted to do a new version. I wanted to tell the story in a different way."

Maybe we should take Wong at his word. The 108-minute Grandmaster may not be the shimmering golden epic he originally intended, but it's fleet and silvery in its own right. I saw the 122-minute version in Berlin and was mostly underwhelmed, though I found the lead performances—by Zhang Ziyi and especially Tony Leung—magnetic in the old-Hollywood way. I was also attempting to process a somewhat complicated story, largely unfamiliar to most westerners (and certainly to me), jet-lagged and going on three hours of sleep. If that's not the worst way to look at a picture by one of your favorite living directors, I don't know what is.

But those of us who have repeatedly watched at least some of Wong's films know how much even the same cut can shift in the light of multiple viewings. Even those that may seem stilted as you're watching them—like the 2007 romance My Blueberry Nights, which disappointed many Wong fans—may reassemble themselves in your mind after the fact, like some magic flower that refuses to open when you're staring right at it, preferring to save some of its colors for later.

The 108-minute Grandmaster is like that; it doesn't give away its secrets all at once. In the late 1930s, an aging martial arts master from northern China, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), treks south to find the best fighter. He's already heard about one standout: Ip Man (Leung) is a low-key champion who moves as if there's very little difference between fighting and breathing. In the opening sequence, he takes on a wily opponent in a steady rain. At first the two fighters appear to engage more with the air and the crystal water droplets falling around them than with each other—they slice away, with knife-like precision, seemingly at nothing. Until, that is, they really get cracking, coming at one another from either side of a rickshaw that splinters and collapses between them like a grasshopper cage made of balsa wood.

Ip Man emerges victorious—even his white Panama hat survives both the fight and the rain. Later, Gong Yutian pits him against a series of opponents, including a woman opera singer who advances on tiny bound feet that resemble embroidered deer's hooves. The only person who can throw him off his game is Gong Yutian's daughter, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), who has learned some of her father's most intricate fighting secrets but, because she's a woman, can't assume his mantle after his retirement. She's going to become a doctor instead, but not before she engages Ip Man in an episode of feral and near-faint-inducing erotic sparring.

That, of course, is the sort of thing Wong does best. He roughly sketches out the story of the real Ip Man—who was Bruce Lee's teacher—but takes plenty of liberties, particularly in the romance department. The unrequited love between Ip Man and the fictional Gong Er is just a slender arc of the movie, but it's a potent one. The two are separated through much of the story, which makes their reconnections that much more tender. Wong can turn a plain coat button into a symbol of chaste and enduring love.

He and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd are also alive to the charisma of the actors. Zhang is as luminous as a moonbeam; sweeping through the air in her fight scenes, she looks as weightless as one, too. And Leung, who has long been a kind of platonic muse for Wong, has the kind of face cinema was invented for. Even when he seems to be doing nothing, you can see the ghosts of tension, relief, or yearning in his eyes and the planes of his brow—instead of opening up, he begins by concealing. A good Tony Leung performance is like a secret whispered in your ear and yours alone.

Longing, homesickness, preservation of a disappearing past: Wong tries to wedge a lot into 108 minutes, including a shorthand study of how the Chinese suffered at the hands of the Japanese. This isn't the most gracefully shaped of his films, more an off-balance gourd than a symmetrical vase. But an imperfect Wong Kar-wai movie is still a Wong Kar-wai movie. His obsessiveness about romantic details, his devotion to the pursuit of beauty (both the gilt and the unvarnished kind), his sensitivity in depicting close-to-the-vest suffering: All of those are present in this Grandmaster. Maybe 108 minutes is too short. But that only means that somewhere out there, there's more Grandmaster to love.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 8:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 11:30 PM UTC

“The Grandmaster”: A moody, dreamy martial-arts epic
After five years and three versions, Wong Kar-wai's gorgeous martial-arts epic "The Grandmaster" is finally here

By Andrew O'Hehir

Where do we start with Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” a moody, mannered and often spectacular martial-arts epic that’s been five years in the making (and many more since its conception) and now exists in at least three different versions? First of all, fans of the great Hong Kong auteur who brought us “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love” largely won’t be disappointed. The bizarre Norah Jones misfire of “My Blueberry Nights” target=”_blank” six years ago – ultimately not a terrible film, but also not a very good one – has been consigned to the memory hole, and “The Grandmaster” brings Wong back to a gorgeous, heavily stylized Chinese period piece wrapped in nostalgia and melancholy, along with the glorious visages of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi as lovers sundered by fate.

Now, as for the question of whether “The Grandmaster” is a great martial-arts movie, or a potential crossover hit in the tradition of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – still, by far, the highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time – or the one about how well it tells the story of Ip Man (aka Yip Man), the legendary martial artist who became Bruce Lee’s teacher, let’s just say those are complicated. There’s gorgeous fight choreography by the masterful Yuen Woo-ping, the godfather of Hong Kong kung-fu cinema, and while Leung and Zhang are actors rather than trained martial artists, they’ve got plenty of experience in the genre, including starring together in “Crouching Tiger” 13 years ago.

But for Wong, the film’s action sequences really aren’t the point, or not in the same way as in ordinary martial-arts movies. They’re plot devices or punctuation marks, or tools for extending the essentially poetic and aesthetic manner of “The Grandmaster” into physical space. Martial-arts cinema has always had a lot in common with ballet, and this film almost erases the distinction by deliberately smashing the genre’s veneer of masculinity. Of the three most important fights in “The Grandmaster,” only one ends in conventional fashion, with a dastardly villain lying battered and broken on the ground. In two of the three, the victor is a woman – the unflappable Gong Er (Zhang), heir to an esoteric North China martial-arts tradition. One is an intensely romantic pas de deux, which ends with Gong Er and Ip Man (Leung) barely avoiding a passionate kiss. In the philosophical and generational standoff between Ip and Gong Er’s father, the venerable Northern kung-fu master Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), which serves as the movie’s philosophical centerpiece, there’s no physical violence at all.

As for the murky issue of the man behind the legend, Wong and his team of writers stick more closely to the actual biography of Ip Man (played here by Leung) than do the action-packed, overtly propagandistic and almost entirely mythological Donnie Yen movies “Ip Man” and “Ip Man 2.” But there’s no meaningful sense in which “The Grandmaster” could be called realistic. It takes place in a Wong-specific dream-China, the China of thousands of movies shot on Hong Kong soundstages, rendered even more abstract. Ip’s South China home city of Foshan is divided between rainy streetscapes and the ornate and decadent interiors of a brothel (whose fixtures and furniture keep being destroyed in kung-fu throwdowns), while Gong Er’s homeland in the north is a permanently snow-covered steppe, just waiting for Genghis Khan and the Mongols to come riding through.

While we know that the story of Ip Man’s rise to prominence, his almost-romance with Gong Er and the global spread of his Wing Chun martial-arts style covers the tumultuous 20th century in China, the Japanese invasion of the 1930s appears only as background, and other seismic historical events are never mentioned at all. The real Ip Man was a policeman in pre-revolutionary China who moved to the British territory of Hong Kong in 1949 (later to teach an American-born teenager named Bruce Lee) because he was an officer in Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang and a fierce opponent of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. For obvious reasons, it’s better not to bring any of that up today. Instead, “The Grandmaster” spins out a piecemeal history of Ip’s semi-amicable duel with Gong Yutian, and the prideful, long-distance, unresolved romance that then blooms between Ip and Gong Er, guardian of her father’s legacy.

Since I haven’t seen the 130-minute cut of “The Grandmaster” that opened in China last winter, or the slightly shorter international version that premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, I can’t discuss whether the recut version being released in the United States by the Weinstein Co., which is shorter still and features some new explanatory titles and narration, is a travesty. David Ehrlich of certainly thinks so, but to make things still more confusing, some of the scenes he describes as deleted from the American cut were actually in the film I just saw in New York. It’s always delightful to leap to the conclusion that Harvey Weinstein has picked a miraculous flower and crushed it in his blackened, Sauron-like fist, but it’s also important to remember that Wong is a compulsive, Henry James-like tinkerer who seemingly never arrives at a final version of his films. (As Ehrlich notes, Wong released a new edit of his 1994 “Ashes of Time” 14 years after its initial release.)

All indications are that the 108-minute American release of “The Grandmaster” is Wong’s work just as much as the earlier versions are. (The Chinese cut is available from Amazon on import DVD and Blu-ray, and no one who knows Wong’s work will be surprised if the rumored four-hour version appears one day as well.) If the storytelling is a mess it’s his mess, and anyway that’s never been where the appeal of his movies lies. As shot by Philippe Le Sourd (who has taken over for Wong’s longtime cinematographer Christopher Doyle), “The Grandmaster” is a series of masterfully composed tableaux and set-pieces, some of which happen to be fight scenes. It’s about Leung’s supremely contained performance as a man who loses everything except his sense of mission, and Zhang, who is if possible more beautiful than ever, playing a tragic heroine who gives up everything except her family’s honor. At one point Gong Er observes that people who claim they have no regrets are not facing the truth, an aphorism that might describe Wong’s approach to love, cinema and life.

In the end, I’m inclined to believe that “The Grandmaster” isn’t a movie about Ip Man or martial arts at all. Maybe it’s about the psychic traumas of China in the 20th century, and maybe it’s about gloriously irrelevant pictures of people drinking tea and dying of loneliness. It’s certainly not Wong’s greatest work; it may be a masterpiece that evades the mass audience or a beautiful failure with moments of greatness. All I know is that I got lost in it, and that I would still have loved it if it were twice as long with half the action.

“The Grandmaster” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, with nationwide release to begin Aug. 30.
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