Wong Kar-Wai's Journey to THE GRANDMASTER
It was in Argentina, in 1996, when he was filming Happy Together
(which won Wong Best Director at Cannes in 1997), that Wong Kar Wai
took the first step on his journey to THE GRANDMASTER. The director was
passing a newspaper kiosk when he noticed a magazine with a picture
of Bruce Lee on the cover. Wong Kar Wai was struck by the fact that
two decades after his death, Bruce Lee was still a global icon.
"I grew up watching Bruce Lee's films," says Wong. "I loved
them." His first thought was to make a film about Bruce Lee. But the
more he learned about Lee's teacher, Ip Man, the more fascinated he
became. A cultured, educated man from a good family in the
southern town of Foshan, Ip Man ended up in exile in Hong Kong,
where he became the leading exponent of the martial arts form
known as Wing Chun. Among his disciples was Bruce Lee.
Ip Man, Wong Kar Wai discovered, had been one of many kung
fu masters from the mainland who had ended up in Hong Kong in the
1950s, and who opened rival martial arts schools there. Some streets
had more kung fu schools than you could count. Rivalries were intense,
and mutual challenges constant and fierce. Wong Kar Wai's original
idea for THE GRANDMASTER was to tell the story of one master and one
street. But the more he learned, the more he came to see how one
street embodied the story of an entire era. He realized that the world
he wanted to evoke on film was that of the martial world of the
Republican Era (1911-49), the golden age of Chinese kung fu, together
with its rivalries, tragedies and esoteric mysteries.
He delved deeply into research, collecting historic photos, books
and documents, and keeping journals and notebooks full of clippings
and notes. He embarked on an arduous journey over three years
(documented in the film THE ROAD TO THE GRANDMASTER, Jet Tone
Films) that took him to nine cities in China and Taiwan under the
guidance of Chinese national Wushu (martial arts) coach, Wu Bin. Wu
was the teacher of Jet Li, the greatest martial arts superstar since Bruce
Wong Kar Wai was fascinated by the fact that so many of Hong
Kong's kung fu masters had come from the north, in particular the
Japanese-occupied Northeast, where the Japanese established their
puppet state of Manchukuo in the 1930s. Before successive upheavals
sent them into permanent exile in Hong Kong, many of these masters
had been involved in Wushu exchanges with the Southern masters.
On the road, Wong interviewed a number of great martial arts
masters, who shared with him not just their philosophy and their art, but 9
many secrets and previously untold tales of the martial arts world.
Wong Kar Wai realized he was being handed a precious cultural
heritage, much of which was in danger of being forgotten. He grew
determined to showcase this heritage, in particular the schools of Wing
Chun, Bagua, Xingyi and Baji, in his film. THE GRANDMASTER would be
epic -- and utterly authentic.
As a testament to the eternal power of kung fu and martial arts
in the psyche of the Chinese people, the online, Chinese-language
version of the documentary THE ROAD TO THE GRANDMASTER had
received over 10 million hits even before THE GRANDMASTER's release
in China in January 2013.
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