Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Interview with Director and Writers of The Grandmaster

My friend over at Dao of Strategy blog sent me an article which consists of an interview with the director and writer of the modern martial arts classic The Grandmaster , along with a lot of interesting background material about the characters in the movie.

Below is an excerpt, which is the interview. For the whole article, please visit Moonlight Knight.


念念不忘 必有迴響 (Keep remembering, there must be echoes)

Wong Kar-Wai: Keep remembering your original intention, not changing it makes you a hero. You must keep remembering your work, you must focus, only through continuous irrigation can a tree be grown.

The first generation members of the 中華武士會 Chinese Warrior Society intended to strengthen the people and use martial arts to save the country.  The snake soup represents this intention and concept.  They would like to let this intention continue.  宫羽田 Gong Yutian is a great old man, he sees this hope from 葉問 Ip Man, so he admitted to losing to him and said “I pass my fame to you”, hoping him to pass on the torch.

“見自己.見天地.見眾生” (Meet yourself.  Meet the world.  Meet all the living)

[This comes from the Taoist philosophy of "三家相見".  The commentary given by the screenwriters for this dialogue is not easy to understand from the context of the movie.  I prefer the explanation from the martial arts fiction author 喬靖夫 instead.  This translated version is shortened from the original article.]

喬靖夫: This view can be applied to 葉問 Ip Man in the movie.  [Meet yourself: ] Before age 40, he focused on improving his own skills and overcoming his own weaknesses.  [Meet the world: ] After having solid skills, he could meet other masters in different styles of martial arts in the world, such that he could make even further improvement.  [Meet all the living: ] After going to Hong Kong, he opened the school to teach many people.  He became a grandmaster and passed the torch to future generations beyond his own life.  He completed himself, and also completed others.

“所有的相遇,都是久别重逢” All encounters are reunions after a long separation

Screenwriters: This is Taoist philosophy.  It has the notion of three lifetimes [past, present, future].  In the past Chinese has this concept, with farmers saying “work not done in this life needs to be done in the next life”.  This statement can be understood from this context.

Wong Kar-Wai has a different view of this.  He thinks that just like those classic Buddhist scriptures, they may have disappeared for five centuries before reappearing.  Even if good things are gone, it may only be temporary.  If they worth to be preserved, some day they will come back.


金樓 (Golden Building)

Wong Kar-Wai: “風塵之中必有性情中人” (in the prostitution business (?) there must be people who are emotional and act on their instincts (?)) is my intuition.  The brothel 金樓 (Golden Building) in the movie is actually called 共和楼 (Republic Building).  Before 宫羽田 Gong Yutian said he did three things in his life, there was another dialogue which was cut in the movie because it is too long.

He said, “That year I led my group of people wearing fur-lined jacket and removing them on the way, went from North East to 佛山 Foshan.  Only after reaching 金樓 did I know that I’m a country bumpkin.  This place is so golden without a single dust…  But we did not come for prostitutes.  We came here to deliver a bomb.”  This bomb was made by 蔡元培.  Three days after that, it bombed the 州 Guangzhou general 鳳山, beginning the republic.  That’s why it was called the 共和樓 (Republic Building).  It is a brothel, but inside it you find heroes.

Because this section was cut, viewers may not understand why all the kung fu masters are in a brothel.

Screenwriters: in that old society people went there to buy affection, not flesh.

Did 葉問 Ip Man go to North East?  Viewers have discovered a scene showing him wandering outside the home of 宫 family.

Wong Kar-Wai: This is left to viewers to interpret.  You may say he went there, or this is just a dream of Ip Man.
[Note: In spite of this answer, there are deleted scenes showing he did go there.  At the end of the movie, when we see a flashback of 宫若梅 Gong Er in the snow, there is a shadow - he is 葉問 Ip Man.]

Why did all masters go to Hong Kong?

Screenwriters: After 1949, martial arts schools were closed in mainland China.  Martial arts masters were viewed as gangsters.  So they exiled to Hong Kong.  Martial arts schools even occupied a whole street there.

What is the meaning of the ending scene (showing the Buddhist temple)?

The ending scene shows the Buddhist temple where 宫若梅 Gong Er decides to avenge her father.  This is 辽宁义县奉国寺大雄殿 (Daxiong Hall of Fengguo Temple in Yi County of Liaoning Province) built in 1020.  During a war in 1948, a bomb shot through the roof of the temple and was dropped in the hands of the Buddha.  The bomb did not explode, only the right hand was damaged.  In 1961, this temple was classified as a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level, but it did not become a popular tourist spot, so it did not have any renovation.  The camera pans through the lights on the table, echoing one statement in the movie: “light a candle, save a breath”.  Wong Kar-Wai said, “Some day, good things will still be preserved.”


Why 宫若梅 Gong Er had to vow to not marrying and not giving birth?

Screenwriters: This is a special type of vow called 獨行道, given by Eastern warriors.  It shows their high level of commitment.

Why 馬三 Ma San was able to kill his master 宫羽田 Gong Yutian?

Screenwriters: That’s because 宫羽田 Gong Yutian was not as ruthless as 馬三 Ma San. 宫羽田 Gong Yutian merely wanted to take away his martial arts by hurting his muscles, bones or organs.  On the other hand, 馬三 Ma San fought to kill 宫羽田 Gong Yutian.  In the original screenplay 馬三 Ma San is an abandoned child picked up from unmarked burial mounds, contrasting his morals with his master’s.

What do 刀 Blade and 刀鞘 Scabbard mean?

Screenwriters: 宫若梅 Gong Er is a blade hidden by 葉問 Ip Man as a scabbard.  馬三 Ma San is a blade, but his master 宫羽田 Gong Yutian as a scabbard could not hold him.  This blade cut through the scabbard, but at the end the blade itself is also broken.

Why is the military and political background of the characters virtualized in the movie?

Wong Kar-Wai: Although the movie does indeed contain politics, the wold of martial arts is relative to the government.  It has a connection to politics, but they always keep a distance.

4-Hour Cut

Wong Kar-Wai: I think this will take many years, like Ashes of Time Redux (laugh) [Redux is the 2008 version of the 1994 movie 東邪西毒].  The exact meaning of the 4-hour cut is: the film we shot can be edited into 4 hours, such that each character has a complete story.  However, this arrangement would not be the best result.

My original concept was to treat each character as a chapter in a fiction.  When the character is done in one chapter, he/she disappears from the following chapters.  Life is like this.  I thought of having 10 chapters for 10 characters in this movie, but I think the audience will not be used to it.  We do not have the ability to ask the viewers to sacrifice 4 hours to watch this movie, especially when you don’t understand it much.  When we have the opportunity to create a 4-hour movie, those who are willing to watch it please come.

The release of a 4-hour cut is only a rumor.  I was only saying the materials added up to 4 hours.  I feel that the current 130-minute cut is complete, and it says everything I wanted to say in the movie clearly.

1 comment:

Compass Architect said...

Sanjuro is one samurai movie that has used the scabbard concept.

Mutsuta's wife: You're too sharp. That's your trouble. You're like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths.

Sanjûrô Tsubaki: He was exactly like me. A naked sword. He didn't stay in his sheath.

Retrospectively, understanding the psychology of martial arts is more pragmatic than the long reading of its philosophy.