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Interview: Wong Kar-Wai Talks Kung Fu, The Different 'The Grandmaster' Cuts & His Favorite Directors

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist August 22, 2013 at 3:22PM

It's been six long years since a new Wong Kar-Wai movie graced cinema screens. The notoriously patient director behind "Chungking Express" and "In the Mood for Love" is back with "The Grandmaster," the biographical tale of Ip Man (also known as Yip Man), a true life historical figure (played in the film by the always brilliant Tony Leung) and martial arts wizard who would go on to train some kid called Bruce Lee. Harkening back to the director's earlier films, while adding a new level of expert technical precision, "The Grandmaster" is for any fan of kung fu or a devotee of Kar-Wai's work. It's in turns epic and gorgeous, a movie that demands to be seen, just for its visual opulence, and then discussed at length afterwards. We got a chance to do just that with Wong himself, who talked about the film's somewhat tortured production, why he decided to tell this story, what's different between this version and the international cut, what it was like working with Megan Ellison and who his favorite modern filmmakers are.
Bruce Lee

Was there ever a thought of perhaps putting more Bruce Lee into the movie? Since that's I think where at least Western audiences know the Ip Man story.
We all know, a lot of people follow Chinese martial arts through Bruce Lee. And why Bruce Lee is so iconic and so attractive [is] because not only is he a very good fighter, also he's very modern, charismatic, but most of all he's very civilized, he's well educated, he explored about his ideas and his philosophy about his gifts. In a way when you look at other books and interviews that are done by Bruce Lee you can see a lot of his inspiration is actually coming from Yip Man, the man who trained him. So when you look at the story of Yip Man it's very interesting because this guy hadn't done this kind of work before and he belonged to a certain class that is very different from our idea of a martial arts fighter. He's not a fighter, he took it as an art, so in a way, we can see, through Yip Man, where Bruce Lee got the idea.

Now was the love story an actual part of Ip Man's story?
Oh, no. That part of the film actually is fiction.

Do you have anything planned next?
There is nothing at this point, because I'm still in jet lag from 1930 to now.

Are there any types of movies you'd like to make that you haven't made yet?
I don't know. There are so many different options, at this point I think I'd need a break.

"In the Mood for Love" was originally supposed to be two different films — the other one was called "Beijing Summer." What was that about? Is that something you would ever return to?
No. I think that the reason we wanted to do that film is because it's before the handover, and we visit Beijing six months before the handover and we see there is a clock countdown at Tiananmen Square. So I think it would be interesting to make a film based on two Hong Kong couples working in Beijing, and have the story go against this chapter. And now the time is gone and I think we have to put it aside. Sometimes, it's really about the timing.

Christopher Nolan

Yeah, do you watch contemporary cinema? Do you have favourite filmmakers who are working now?
Yes, of course. Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese of course and Quentin Tarantino, I think they are great filmmakers.

And what about their films inspire you?
I think each of them has their own world, it's like they are seeing things from a very specific angle, which gives you, something fascinating. 

I wanted to ask what it was like working with Megan Ellison?
She's the most hardworking producer I have ever seen.

And she let you shoot for 22 months over 3 years.
Yes she did. She's great, also she's very young, but she's very committed to the film.

"The Grandmaster" opens in select cinemas this Friday. 

This article is related to: Wong Kar-wai, The Grandmaster, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Interviews, Interviews

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