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
Continue reading: The Grandmaster Review
Could 'The Grandmaster' u-surp some of the bigger names at the Oscars? We think so.
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 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'.
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.
Continue reading: Ashes Of Time Redux Review
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."
Continue reading: Chungking Express Review
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.
Continue reading: My Blueberry Nights Review
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.
Continue reading: Eros Review
Continue reading: Happy Together Review
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).
Continue reading: In the Mood for Love Review
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.
Continue reading: 2046 Review
Continue reading: Ashes Of Time Review