Wong Kar-Wai at the Academy

Last Monday on July 22, I attended Academy’s official event “An Academy Salute to Wong Kar Wai,” featuring a dialogue between writer-director Matthew Weiner and Wong about Wong’s filming career and his recent film “The Grandmaster,” which will be released by the Weinstein Company later this month. The dialogue had some awkward moments, and I didn’t know whether Wong intentionally tried to dodge some of the questions or the questions were simply raised inappropriately. To the audience’s surprise, at the end of the dialogue, Wong introduced actress Zhang Ziyi and writer Zou Jingzhi, who were in the audience. It provided some much needed lively air before the screening started.

Academy's Salute to Writer-Director Wong Kar-Wai, featuring a dialogue with Wong and North American the premiere of his "The Grandmaster"

Academy’s Salute to Writer-Director Wong Kar-Wai, featuring a dialogue with Wong and North American premiere of “The Grandmaster.”

I am a fan of Wong’s “Chungking Express” (1994), “Happy Together” (1997) and “In the Mood for Love” (2000), but to be honest, I found “The Grandmaster” mediocre and lackluster. It didn’t do justice to Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, the two great talents from Hong Kong and mainland China. The following day, I had a FB chat with a friend of mine about the film, and here are some of my casual comments:

From left to right: Event host Matt Weiner (creator of the AMC television drama series "Mad Men" and writer and producer of the HBO drama series "The Sopranos"), actress Ziyi Zhang, writer-director Wong Kar Wai, writer Zou Jingzhi and then Academy President Hawk Koch.

From left to right: Event host Matt Weiner (creator of the AMC television drama series “Mad Men” and writer-producer of the HBO drama series “The Sopranos”), actress Ziyi Zhang, writer-director Wong Kar Wai, writer Zou Jingzhi and then Academy President Hawk Koch.

Disliked Wong’s film, too many close-ups… The only memorable scene is the fighting at the train station, and the film will be remembered only for that scene.

Leung was not his usual self. Somehow I was bothered by his perpetual focus on the body parts, the hands, the feet, the faces, the eyes. For some reason, I feel the close-ups in Wong’s other films are more attached to the place, such as the narrow lane in HK, the foreign land in “Happy Together,” etc. Here those close-ups have no attachment to the place at all. Even the space is fragmented, and could be anywhere. This is probably the reason as to why those “historical footage” and information seem to come from nowhere: Nostalgic about the 1950s’ HK? Hardly so. A statement about the collaboration with the Japanese army? Did’t get it.

Wong mentioned that train station scene during the talk and apologized to Zhang Ziyi for keeping her in the cold small town for two months mainly for that sequence (what a luxury!). Seems he was also very proud of that scene. In China, the film was not particularly liked for another reason: the decision to have the two cross-talk comedians (Zhao Benshan and Xiao Shenyang) included in the film, who have little big-screen experience and symbolize low-taste laughter. Wong’s overture to the mainland market?

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2 Responses to Wong Kar-Wai at the Academy

  1. Hans Hege says:

    Dear Shaoyi, thank you for approving my opinion on this. I had really great expectations, after two quite boring SciFi & Blueberry love stories. So, a postdramatic approach on a historical figure? Who if not Wong could master it? But sadly he fails on multiple levels. Ip Man does not have a reasonable goal or conflict. Ok, he gets the mission to spread wing tsun and falls in love to another woman. These are two pretty good obstacles a character can work on. But Wong does not handle them, he seems not even interested. There is no struggle in building up schools or whatever could be told on the historical level. And the war blocks out the love story, even on the narrative itself. The Grandmaster’s (it is singular in German distribution) best part is Gong’s revenge story where Ip Man is absent!
    On top of a near to zero plot the cinematography is kind of self-referential. On this level Wong is trusting too much on his acquired skills and crafts everybody knows he is capable of.
    While watching I realized a strange amount of blurs in multiple takes. Was it on purpose? Last meeting between Ip and Gong it seems the opium has already put a soft focus on her while Ip remains crystal clear. Anyway I do miss Chris Doyle working with Wong.

    • shaoyis says:

      Thank you for your insights, Hans! I also noticed the blurs, and meant to ask him but there was no Q & A after the screening. Maybe it is a technical problem due to the absence of Chris Doyle? Or simply because it might be shot digitally?

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