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Wong Kar-wai on 'The Grandmaster''s Massive Success in China, the American Cut, and His Approach to Action

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire August 21, 2013 at 11:33AM

One of the biggest names in world cinema, Chinese director Wong Kar-wai has largely been MIA since the tepid reaction to his first foray into English-language filmmaking with 2007's Norah Jones starring "My Blueberry Nights." The news that his next project would be the martial arts Ip-man biopic "The Grandmaster," was overshadowed by countless delays and speculation about how the director would handle a film as action-focused as this. Now with a hugely successful Chinese release and Berlin premiere behind it, a new cut of the film is set to debut in the U.S. this Friday via The Weinstein Company.
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Wong Kar-Wai

One of the biggest names in world cinema, Chinese director Wong Kar-wai has largely been MIA since the tepid reaction to his first foray into English-language filmmaking with 2007's Norah Jones-starring "My Blueberry Nights." The news that his next project would be the martial arts Ip-man biopic "The Grandmaster," was overshadowed by countless delays and speculation about how the director would handle a film as action-focused as this. Now with a hugely successful Chinese release and Berlin premiere behind it, a new cut of the film is set to debut in the U.S. this Friday via The Weinstein Company.

READ MORE: Is Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' Really a Martial Arts Movie?

Indiewire called up Kar-wai to discuss the film's massive success in China where it's out-grossed all of his previous works combined, why he re-tailored it for U.S. audiences, and how he approached the fight scenes.

This film's been a long time coming. How good does it feel to finally release it stateside, following its success in China?

Yeah, it’s been a long journey. We had the idea in 1998 and then we had to wait. The film at that point was impossible because of the budget. And we had to wait until 2007 to start on this film. So it was a long wait and a long shoot -- three years. But at the end we really feel happy about it because what we wanted to do was a brand new kung fu film. We wanted to do something original.  

"The Grandmaster"
"The Grandmaster"

Is it a relief to know that it has connected with audiences in China?

What makes me really happy is that now younger generations have more interest in finding the roots of this Chinese martial art. In China, traditional Chinese martial art is not supported by the state. It’s mainly run by individuals or private, so now there's more attention being paid to it. This makes me really happy.

How does the Weinstein approved cut I saw differ from the cuts that played in Berlin and abroad?

Actually we worked together on this version because we have an obligation to release a film within two hours in the United States. And the international version is actually two hours and seven minutes.The structure of the international cut is very delicate.

[For the American cut] I looked at the film, I spoke with Harvey [Weinstein] and Megan [Ellison], and then I started to work on this version. It’s actually a brand new version because there’s so much unseen footage in it. I built this structure; this is also another way to look at the film.

Did you tailor the American cut to simplify it for audiences who are not wholly familiar with Ip Man’s story?

No, actually. The American audience has a long following. They’ve been following kung fu film. I think they are, besides the Chinese audience, the experts in kung fu film. I wanted to make the film more straightforward, because there are things that we don’t need to explain. Basically I wanted to have more fun with Americans audiences here. Because when you look at the film, there are certain scenes that are not in the international version. It’s a homage to the kung fu films of the past.

This article is related to: Wong Kar Wai, Wong Kar-Wai, Wong Kar-wai, The Grandmaster, The Grandmaster, The Weinstein Co., The Weinstein Company, Interviews, Action







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