Dir Wong Kar-wai, China, 2012. The Grandmaster is released in cinemas on January 8.
Saying that the film is ‘hotly anticipated’ is perhaps understating the expectation surrounding Wong Kar-wai’s latest work. Not only has the film’s release been delayed by post-production tinkering to rival Terrence Malick but, following 2007’s My Blueberry Nights debacle, all eyes are on whether The Grandmaster signals a return to form.
Its premise is certainly far removed from the Jude Law/Norah Jones cake-eating New York romance, though little has been revealed of the inner workings of the plot, crafted by Wong himself, so far. We know it is an action drama based on the life story of the Wing Chun martial arts grandmaster, Yip (Ip) Man, who trained Bruce Lee. Kung fu biopics aren’t Wong’s usual territory (though he touched on the genre in 1994’s Ashes of Time; a dreamy fight film), but judging from early footage The Grandmaster is more adrenalin-fuelled than his other works. Some Wong hallmarks remain, though: thoughtful camerawork that refracts the most delicate of details into the sublime (raindrops feature heavily in the trailer), masterful use of colour and light (it’s hard to find more pleasing cinematography than the lustrous palette of In The Mood For Love), abstract pacing and provocative, moody soundtracks.
It doesn’t feel like a Wong Kar-wai film without Tony Leung. In The Grandmaster he plays Ip Man himself in the pair’s seventh collaboration (the last one was 2004’s 2046). So far it has been an ill-fated casting. During pre-production, Leung was in training when his instructor kicked him and broke a bone in his left forearm.
There are brighter hopes for the film itself. Shot largely on home turf and in Cantonese, we’re eager to see whether, from this more familiar footing, The Grandmaster can validate Wong’s reputation as one of Asian cinema’s premier auteurs.