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Five questions with . . . Wong Kar Wai

Posted 11:29am on Sunday, Sep. 01, 2013

Film director Wong Kar Wai

LOS ANGELES Wong Kar Wai swears he’s seen people fly.

The acclaimed Hong Kong director crossed China meeting 100 kung-fu masters as research for The Grandmaster, his new film about Bruce Lee’s teacher, which opened Friday.

He said that during demonstrations, fighters would “get knocked and fly” across a room in the lightweight manner most of us only see in movies.

Wong’s travels were part of a seven-year journey to bring his take on Chinese martial arts legend Ip Man to the screen, during which time others released a series of popular films about the same man. Still, The Grandmaster is Wong’s biggest hit, with his stylized emotional imagery punctuated by crowd-pleasing combat featuring stars Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.

While his films tend toward the poetic, Wong said he’s hoping for a concrete outcome for The Grandmaster, which has earned $55 million worldwide. Wearing his signature dark sunglasses, he sat down to talk about the movie.

1 Why did it take so long for ‘The Grandmaster’ to come together?

It’s very hard to understand Ip Man without knowing or showing the audience the time that he went through and the background of his family. So actually we have to rebuild the whole period. It’s a very expensive film. … [It was] not until seven years ago that the market of China became more and more mature, so we finally found the financing to support this film. Also, we had to do lots of training. Because our actors, they’re very good actors. But they have no training in martial arts. We want to make a hard-core kung fu film. It’s not stunts and CGI tricks.

2 When did you first learn about Ip Man? What was his mythology and impact on you when you were growing up?

I was growing up on a street full of martial arts schools. … So we heard of Ip Man when I was a kid. And he was quite highly respected in the world of martial arts at his time. But he was quite an anonymous figure to general people. It was because of Bruce Lee that he became a legend.

3 How was it seeing the Donnie Yen Ip Man films come out before yours?

They are more like about the action. And they invent stories like Ip Man fighting the Japanese, which is not true, Ip Man fighting with white Westerners, which is not true.

4 How much do you have to pay attention to the Chinese film industry’s censorship? How much does it affect your storytelling?

For a film like The Grandmaster, you don’t have any problems with the film censor departments. … The problem is there’s no ratings system in China. So that means films are supposed to be seen by all ages. So they’re very sensitive to like superstitions and pornography and something related to politics. And other than that, they are very supportive.

5 Does censorship affect the stories you decide to tell as you look forward to your next project?

Yes, of course, you know the rules there. But the thing is, it’s also time for the censor departments to consider applying ratings systems. And I think they’ve been doing research on this, how to apply the system to the Chinese societies. And once we have this ratings system, I think there will be more flexibility for filmmakers.

— Ryan Pearson, The Associated Press

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