Reflections on Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster
(Chang Chen as The Razor)
Prior to seeing the film, I watched this interview with WKW about the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C8kximOX48
My two takeaways from the interview: WKW wrote Ip Man as Tony Leung and the theme of hope in the film.
Not to diminish Tony Leung’s acting, but aside from the physical training required for his role, he was in very familiar acting territory (charming, introspective, and smirking), which is fine by me because typical Tony Leung acting is still good acting. My point is that this is not your typical “Ip Man action” film and unfortunately that’s how the Weinsteins marketed it.
If you think of the film as a modern wuxia film, then the film makes sense. It seems to follow the wuxia trope: journey of a man going through trials in the jiang hu/gong wu/martial arts world and coming out the victor, and the code of xia (something along the lines of Confucian code of honor, like how medieval knights had a chivalric code) is very much part of the landscape in the film.
The world of jiang hu (and to a larger extent China) is going through turbulent changes occurring around them (ineffective/corrupt government, civil upheaval, western ideas encroaching on eastern ideas, new versus old/tradition) in the first half of the 20th century that threatens their way of life. How does a grandmaster act within the confines of the code of xia in times of turmoil and to what extent can that be upheld?
The abundance of different grandmasters featured in the film served to show martial arts as a way of life. Martial arts is not just a means, but an end. Each grandmaster discuss/display their style of martial arts and each one is very much the embodiment of their respective style. In the ending clip, when Ip Man asks “what’s your style?” it’s like him asking “what’s your way of life?” Ip Man’s “way of life”: the horizontal vertical motto (Living by this way of life, through the ups and downs of his life, Ip Man chooses to fight and be “vertical”)
When Gong Er met Ip Man for the last time, she said something along the lines of “the road to becoming a grandmaster is being, knowing, and doing.” The film title in both Chn/Eng is The Grandmaster, not Ip Man or The Grandmasters because it’s not simply a film about a man or the various styles of martial arts, but WKW took liberties with Ip Man’s biography and featured various other grandmasters to convey the path to becoming a grandmaster.
The last scenes where the film jumps back to a young Ip Man getting initiated and then shows a young Bruce Lee* is the path of a grandmaster coming full circle: the student becomes the master and the master then teaches the student.
Therefore, the film is about the path to becoming a grandmaster when the jiang hu world is suffering from growing pains in the 20th century.
NOTE: This is based on the American cut of the film, so I’m not sure how this holds up with the other versions.
* Since Bruce Lee’s name and life is copyrighted by his widow, it’s not explicitly stated that the young child is the young Bruce Lee, but it is implied.
Much Ado About Nothing, or Joss Whedon’s occupational therapy post-Avengers film
Witty repartee, broad humor, and quirky characters abound in Whedon’s modern adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy, which is what a Shakespeare comedy is supposed to be, right? So…yeah, Whedon and Shakespearean comedy make a great combination. [thumps up]
I felt like I was invited to Whedon’s house to watch him and his friends do Shakespeare, which sounds exactly like how the film got made given that it was filmed in his house and that most of the cast were from his previous works. The film was, for me, nostalgic: I grew up watching Buffy and Angel, so I definitely got a kick out of seeing the familiar faces of the leads: Yay! Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, who was also the voice of Huntress in Justice League Unlimited.
I saw parts of the Kenneth Branagh version on TV the week after I saw this film, and I noticed that the role of Conrade was a male. Given what I had already seen from Whedon’s version of Don John and Conrade, I’d be remissed to not point out the homoerotic nature(subtext) of their opening scenes together (i.e. Conrade massaging a glistening Don John), which I found hilarious since the Don John in Branagh’s version was played by none other than pre-Speed Keanu Reeves.
Also, the music in the film reminded me of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which would have fitted nicely with the film’s overall musical tone.
Sidenote: Wong Kar Wai did a similar move back in the 1990s when he filmed Chungking Express on the fly during/after(?) Ashes of Time, which is arguably the film he is best known for today. Unlike WKW, Whedon will likely be remembered for his TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and the Avengers film(s) than this, but who knows. I just hope he includes James Marsters (aka Spike), if he does another Shakespeare adaptation.
"You can’t have Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as your favorite composers: They simply define what music is!"
Michael Tilson Thomas
This is my favorite scene from Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love: Akiko is sitting in the back of the taxi as she listens to her voice messages left by her grandmother, and under her quiet resolve, her heart aches as each message is played out.
Reflections on Like Someone In Love (2012)
[This is an edited excerpt from what I wrote a few months ago]
The course of actions that take place [in the film] move very naturally and in the span of less than 24 hours, scenes slowly unravel. Time goes by and the characters think none of it, but small actions here and there build to an abrupt climax at the end.
It’s interesting to point out the play in the dissonance between the visual and audio of the film: It’s what said and not said. It’s what seen and not seen. It’s what heard and not heard. Any scenes posing harm and violence are off-focused, or not seen at all and the audience only sees the aftermath of what has occurred. What we’re shown is seemingly harmless and banal, but what we hear is sad and troubling.
I like how things are never what they seem to be and that no character in the film should be taken lightly. (updated 09.2013/orig. 03.2013)
After a while, you become inflexible…Ever since we were little, people had been pushing us, expecting us to succeed. And we met their expectations, because we were bright enough to. But your maturity level can’t keep pace, and one day you find there’s no going back. At least as far as morals go.
Somehow I was able to overcome it…
…I’m not saying my personality changed or anything. I was a very practical person, and I still am…In college I learned there were lots of realities in the world. It’s a huge world, there are lots of different values co-existing, and there’s no need to always be the top student. And then I went out into the world."
Haruki Murakami, “A Folklore For My Generation”, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
"You should have your dream…if you put those feelings into words they will turn into lies…Cast off mere words. Words turn into stone."
Haruki Murakami, “thailand”, after the quake