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The Grandmaster Review


Leave it to Hong Kong maestro Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love) to reinvent both the historical biopic and Chinese kung fu action movie in one fell swoop. This is a staggeringly beautiful movie, designed and shot with precision and sensitivity to show both the action and the drama in telling detail. The story of one of the most iconic martial artists in Chinese history, the film is lush and involving even as it's also somewhat overly complicated and hard to engage with.

It starts in 1936, when northern master Gong (Wang Qingxiang) travels to the south to investigate reports about Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), who just might be the future of kung fu. Intrigued, he offers Ip the chance to become the grandmaster. But Gong's daughter Er (Zhang Ziyi) feels like this is an insult to her family. Then in 1938 Japan invades, and Ip refuses to collaborate with the enemy, which separates him from his wife (Song Hye-kyo) and children. Although Gong's heir Ma San (Zhang Jin) does make a deal with the Japanese, which strongly offends Er's intensely held code of honour. More than a decade later Ip tracks down Er again in Hong Kong; she's working as a doctor while Ip is teaching martial arts. His newest student is the young Bruce Lee.

This story is told through a series of epic hand-to-hand battles, each of which is choreographed in a specific style suitable to the combatants. These details may not be clear to unschooled audience members, but the way Wong shoots and edits the scenes is seriously striking. With lush photography by Oscar-nominated Philippe Le Sourd, the fight scenes have astounding detail, often slow-motion close-ups that make each encounter refreshingly lucid. They're also never overwrought, designed to show the skill of the fighters rather than the usual blood and death. And while Leung gives the film a strikingly cool centre, it's Zhang Ziyi who breathes real passion into the story, lighting up the screen even when she's standing silent and still

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Why Wong Kar Wai's 'The Grandmaster' Could Storm The Oscars [Trailer]

Wong Kar Wai Harvey Weinstein Tony Leung Martin Scorsese Samuel L Jackson

Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster? Chances are, you haven't heard of it. As the Academy were preparing to decorate Ben Affleck and his Argo team in January, the acclaimed Chinese filmmaker was about to kick off the Berlin Film Festival with his latest martial arts movie.

Set in China at the time of the Japanese invasion in 1930s, The Grandmaster stars Wai's regular muse Tony Leung Chiu Wai as the kung-fu master and Zhang Ziyi as his rival. The highly stylized and visually spectacular picture is a story of "honor, principle, betrayal and forbidden love."

It spans the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China's last dynasty - a complex period of time rich for filmmakers to tap into. Wai filmed on location, and the snow-swept landscapes of Northeast China, juxtaposed with the subtropical south makes one of the most stunning films of the year.

Continue reading: Why Wong Kar Wai's 'The Grandmaster' Could Storm The Oscars [Trailer]

The Grandmaster - Press Conference

Wong Kar Wai - The Grandmaster - Press Conference Berlin Germany Thursday 7th February 2013

The Grandmaster - Photocall

Wong Kar Wai - The Grandmaster - Photocall Berlin Germany Thursday 7th February 2013

Wong Kar Wai
Tony Leung Chiu, Zang Ziyi and Wong Kar Wai

Hotly Tipped Martial Arts Epic 'The Grandmaster' Kicks Off Berlin Film Festival

Wong Kar Wai Tony Leung Chiu Wai Ziyi Zhang

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival kicks off on Thursday (January 8, 2013) with the premiere of Wong Kar Wai's epic martial arts movie The Grandmaster, set in China at the time of the Japanese invasion in 1930s. Starring Wai's regular muse Tony Leung Chiu Wai as the kung-fu master and Zhang Ziyi as his rival, the stylized picture is a story of "honor, principle, betrayal and forbidden love," according to Reuters.

Wong, who is also president of the jury at the film festival this year, said he wanted to get beneath the surface of martial arts with the movie, "Grandmaster' is a film about kung fu. It tells you more than the skill. It tells you more about these people, martial artists, the world of martial arts. What is their code of honor? What is their value? What is their philosophy?" The original idea for the movie was first announced over a decade ago and it took the filmmaker a rather laborious four years to make, including rigorous training for both Leung and Zhang. "There is a spiritual side of kung fu and that side cannot be learned from books or by fact-finding," said Leung, 50, "It grows spontaneously. So that's why I had to practice four years. You can only achieve that thing through practice."

The Grandmaster will screen to a star-studded audience in Berlin, including Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Nicolas Cage, Jude Law and Catherine Deneuve. It's main competition at this year's festival comes in the form of Damon's 'Promised Land', Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects' and Iranian drama 'Closed Curtain'.

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Ashes Of Time Redux Review

Six months after he went all gooey over America in My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar-Wai returns packing a re-tooled cut of his indecipherable 1994 martial-arts whatsit Ashes of Time, now provocatively titled Ashes of Time Redux. The missing link between the buzzed buffoonery of the Chinese filmmaker's first two films and the intoxicating hysteria of Chungking Express and Fallen Angels now finds itself aligned more with the latter stylized works of an auteur rather than the baby steps of a confused film school graduate.

Not much clearer for the digital colorization, edits, and a new score by Yo Yo Ma, the rushing surge of the film's narrative strands might remain perplexing unless you're equipped with the film's press notes. Focused mainly on the hazy remembrances of Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), Kar-Wai facilitates a whirling, desert-set phantasma where swordsmen brood like Goethe when they aren't doing battle with thieves... and their women are simultaneously incapable of forgetting or remembering their lovers.

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Chungking Express Review

If Happy Together and In the Mood for Love are director Wong Kar Wai's Hong Kong art house ballads, Chungking Express is his smash-hit pop song -- light and fun with a hint of truth. While the two former films explore relationships to their innermost depths, Express flirts with the nostalgic grief and forlorn desperation in finding and losing love through its individual characters. But what it lacks in thematic depth it makes up for in charisma and honesty.

Chungking Express offers two parallel stories of love and loss brought together by a dine-and-dash eatery. In the first half of the film, a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro) stops in at the local greasy food dive while pining over his lost love. And in the second half, a beat street cop (Tony Leung) stops in while also pining over his lost love. Although Kaneshiro's desperation and tragic romanticism sparks our interest in the first story of the film, it's the second story that really captures our attention. The power of that second story line comes from Faye Wong, who invades the screen (and Tony Leung's) apartment with childish charm and an obsession with the Mama's and Papa's "California Dreaming."

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My Blueberry Nights Review

It's always a tightrope when foreign filmmakers, particularly those from the Hong Kong market, come to American shores to ply their trade. Though it doesn't appear that Wong Kar Wai is going to be setting up shop permanently in Hollywood (nobody's going to be after him to direct the next Die Hard installment), My Blueberry Nights marks his first English-language film, with an entirely American and British cast. It shows that the director is not just a foreign-language specialty, his gifts are quite apparent even when the veil of mystery is lifted for English-speaking audiences once the subtitles are gone. However, My Blueberry Nights also shows that for all Wong's rightly vaunted abilities and passionate sense of cinema, there are some glaringly obvious rough patches in his approach, brought into sharp relief by transplanting the action from the teeming streets of Hong Kong to the wide open spaces of America, where his instincts for actors seem less sure.

An odd road movie of sorts that spends most of its time hanging around in diners, bars, and casinos (and precious little of it on the road), My Blueberry Nights will be noted in many quarters for it being the feature film-acting debut of jazz chanteuse Norah Jones. To put it briefly: No actress is she. Playing a lovelorn young woman named Elizabeth, she first shows up in a Brooklyn diner run by Jeremy, a charming Manchester immigrant played with the expected lighthearted dash by Jude Law. In the middle of a breakup, Elizabeth moons about the café, eating the excellent pie (best in the city!) and chatting with Jeremy, winning his heart even as hers is breaking over somebody else. Then Elizabeth ups and skips out, landing next in Memphis, where she waitresses at a café and a bar, telling everyone she's working two jobs to save up for a car.

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Eros Review

A triptych of short films, all on the subject of eroticism, sounds tantalizing, so it's too bad none of the shorts contained in Eros actually hits its mark. This despite the fact they were separately made by three of the most renowned directors of the past 40 years: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. What they manage in their individual shorts in Eros are but minor variations on themes and aesthetics already well explored in their own full-length films.

Wong Kar Wai's bluntly titled "The Hand" and set in his recurring milieu of early '60s Hong Kong, follows Zhang (Chang Chen), a humble tailor's apprentice, over his years-long infatuation with a beautiful socialite-turned-prostitute, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Kar Wai's treatment is aesthetically fussy, in keeping with his well-known style, but dramatically bland. There simply isn't much at stake here as the timorous Zhang must be content with the, ahem, hand jobs (see title) he receives all too rarely from the object of his infatuation. Now, hand job scenes (even in non-porno cinema) can be extremely erotic because of what they offer and what they only tease at (for a convincer, see the relevant scene in Michael Heneke's otherwise awful The Piano Teacher. Wow!). In any case, the segment's manually operated pseudo-erotica provide the only spike in an otherwise indolent story that never substantially conveys its central concern: Zhang's steady sexual awakening and his unshakeable devotion to an unavailable woman. Still, Kar Wai's fabulously crafted sound and imagery are both par for the course for this director and his world-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.

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Happy Together Review

Wong Kar Wai is up to his old tricks -- using various film stocks and camera speeds, using in-and-out-of-focus shots, mixing color and black-and-white -- only this time he's not enhancing the grittiness of his tale, he's hiding its defects. Happy Together is at first an interesting look at an extremely dysfunctional relationship between two Hong Kong men now living in Argentina (no idea what inspired that one...), but its histrionics eventually grow wearisome. The study of contrasting lives and lifestyles is hardly unique save for its inexplicably original setting. Terribly conceited and almost unbearably padded.

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In the Mood for Love Review

Wong Kar Wai has long been a rock 'n' roll Marcel Proust for the art house crowd, shaking things up with his hip, funky meditations on sentimental love and loss connected with the passage of time. Best known by American audiences for his cinematic tangos Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together, Wong stakes out more traditional, straight-laced territory with his excruciating new melodrama, In the Mood for Love.

Wong's fan base may be most surprised at the stillness of this new entry. Putting aside the hyperkinetic blurry visuals of his earlier works, Wong favors careful compositions and warmer lighting. If this film were in black and white, it might be confused for early Bresson. Wong shoots entire scenes of Love in static, pristine minute-long takes emphasizing the distant spatial relationships between a handsome young man, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung, Hard Boiled) and a beautiful young woman, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung, Irma Vep).

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2046 Review

Picking up where In the Mood for Love dropped off, but also mixing in elements of (or at least nods to) just about all of his other films, Wong Kar Wai's 2046 has most of the same positives, as well as the negatives, common to his work, meaning it's frustrating, elliptical, occasionally quite shallow, and utterly smashing to behold in all its nervy glory.

This time, Tony Leung's Chow Mo-Wan is far from the repressed creature that he played in Love, eternally suffering for the married beauty living in his apartment building. Mo-Wan is now going through all the highs and lows of numerous affairs in 1960s Hong Kong, playing out almost an entire history of love within the space of one film. The title comes from the number of the apartment next to his, wherein reside a number of women with whom we will see him become entangled over the course of the film. 2046 is also the name of a science fiction serial he scribbles down (part of the dues he pays as a struggling hack writer), scenes of which we see acted out, watching its hero endure an eternal train ride away from the mysterious place called 2046, where everybody goes to reclaim lost memories and never returns from; except him.

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Ashes Of Time Review

Between the lousy DVD quality (dig the big gray bar that covers the bottom half of the screen -- that's where the subtitles go!) and the baffling story line (ancient China, guy living in the desert, magic wine, dual identities, and horse thieves!), the average viewer isn't going to exactly thrill to Ashes of Time's charms. As mood music, the movie's got its share of beautiful, tragic, and poetic moments. As an entertainment experience, the detractors who find the movie to be on the dull side have a point or two.

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