“The Grandmaster” Arrives in the US
By Sophia Hsu
Acclaimed director Wong Kar Wai brings together again famed Hong Kong actor Tony Leung and international beauty Zhang Ziyi in this beautifully epic film inspired by the life of Ip Man (Mandarin: Ye Wen), the man who brought Wing Chun kung fu to the masses and who would eventually become Bruce Lee’s master. A passion project for Wong Kar Wai, the movie was announced more than ten years before its release enduring production delays, illnesses, and rewrites, which fueled rumors that the movie would never be completed.
After having been released in Asia in January 2013, the Weinstein Company has finally been able to bring “The Grandmaster” presented by Martin Scorsese to the US with a red carpet premiere in New York on August 13. With Harvey Weinstein playing emcee, the evening was star-studded with actors Samuel L. Jackson (“Nick Fury”), Susan Sarandon (“Cloud Atlas”), Kelly Choi (“Top Chef Masters”), Judah Friedlander (“30 Rock”), Chin Han (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), John Hodgman (“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”), Natasha Lyonne (“Orange Is the New Black”), Gaby Hoffman (“Veronica Mars”), and Angela Simmons (Cupcake Wars) in attendance. When asked what drew them to the movie, it was unanimous. All huge fans of Wong Kar Wai, they came in support of the director and stayed for the gorgeous storytelling. Designers Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, and Jason Wu were also in attendance, out on a Tuesday night to support fellow Asians and Asian film in America in addition to being Wong Kar Wai fans.
For those readers unfamiliar with Wong Kar Wai, as Singaporean director of the short film “Not Here” and massive Wong Kar Wai fan herself, Mei Ann Teo, phrased it, “Wong Kar Wai, brought French New Wave to Hong Kong cinema.” Known for his perfectionism, non-linear storytelling, and multiple narrators, Mr. Wong took his time with every scene, every line, and every aesthetic. No detail went unnoticed. No historical fact went unchecked. In a time of civil unrest, invasion, and government upheaval, a cultural tradition managed to survive through the tumultuous times of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945).
I had a chance to sit down with Tony Leung who portrayed Ip Man in the film.
Asian Fusion (AF): With the story of Ip Man saturating film and television, what sets “The Grandmaster” apart from the rest?
Tony Leung (TL): This film focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and the beauty, grace, and cultural history of kung fu. Here, the kung fu is portrayed more as a dance and conversation between characters.
AF: What did you do in preparation for filming?
TL: There was not much that I could do to prepare for the shoot. I prepared myself physically and mentally, training with my sifu Duncan Leung [student of Ip Man], but with Wong, you never know until the day of filming what he’s planning to shoot sometimes.
AF: Are you still practicing kung fu?
TL: No, not at the moment, but I do plan on continuing my training when I wrap up this next film. Kung fu doesn’t just teach self-defense or fighting, but a philosophy on how to live life and guidelines on how to treat people. It was “mind-training” and discipline.
AF: Before the movie, how much did you know about Ip Man’s life?
TL: Living in Hong Kong, there wasn’t a kid growing up who didn’t want to grow up to be like Bruce Lee, so we all knew of Ip Man to a certain extent, but no one really knew anything about his life beyond it being a very difficult one in Hong Kong without his family.
AF: Sparring with Zhang Ziyi, were you worried about hurting your co-star?
TL: For me, it’s really hard to hit anyone, actually. I don’t like violence. I have a lot of respect for women who choose to become martial artists.
Internationally renowned Vietnamese-American mixed martial artist, Cung Le, portrays Tie Xieqi in the film. This was his second time working with legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. When asked about working in the Asian film industry, he respects the “get-it-done” attitude. While the filming experience all boils down to the director, Wong Kar Wai is Cung Le’s favorite by far. While Le has one or two MMA fights left in him, he wants to focus on his film career, representing Asians not as stereotypes like the IT nerd, the FOB (fresh off the boat immigrant), or the thug but characters with depth and development.
Now that Wong Kar Wai has one film with martial arts as the main character under his belt, I asked whether or not he was considering doing another. Mr. Wong grabbed my elbow, let out a chuckle, and whispered in my ear, “I don’t know, yet.” The movie opens nationwide on Friday, August 23, 2013.