Cinema legends talk craft, exchange kudos
Scorsese, Wong explore mutual influences, more
Following a special screening of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster at New York’s Lighthouse International Theater this week, film legend Martin Scorsese hosted a discussion with the Chinese director about the process of realizing a three-year production that required stars Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung to train in hand-to-hand combat for two years.
“It’s a great honor to be here with my hero, and he’s very gracious to join us in light of his terrible schedule,” Wong said of Scorsese, who is currently promoting The Wolf of Wall Street.
He admitted that The Grandmaster, which is an ode to Bruce Lee’s mentor Ip Man, was deeply inspired by action sequences in Scorsese’s 1980 film Raging Bull, pointing to Scorsese’s use of nothing more than the movement of his actors captured on camera. He recounted showing the sequences to his action choreographer, Yuen Woo-ping, the man responsible for martial arts classics including Drunken Master and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
“I’m an analog guy,” Wong said to Scorsese. “I looked at your secrets in Raging Bull because it’s one of the best action sequences made in the history of cinema. It’s a cinematic tour, a cinematic journey.”
Scorsese, who lent the film his Martin Scorsese Presents brand and is credited as a producer, was visibly flattered by Wong’s admission. He called The Grandmaster “an extraordinary achievement”, expressing admiration for Wong’s work.
“I always say about Wong Kar Wai’s films: There’s just something about it, where it can only be a film,” he said. “It’s the essence of cinema.”
The Chinese director was also inspired by Scorsese’s habit of playing music during shooting, he said. During various fight scenes in The Grandmaster he played two tracks from the spaghetti Western film Once Upon a Time in America in homage to the Italian film director Sergio Leone and the composer Ennio Morricone, both songs of which he was eventually able to procure for the film.
“I learned from you,” Wong said. “I think it’s the most efficient way. I think the music on set gives a sense of the rhythm for the camera for the blocking and for the movement of actors. I fall in love with the music.”
The two directors traded anecdotes about falling in love with songs during the filming of other pictures, only to be forced to find substitutes as a result of high licensing fees.
Scorsese asked Wong about an interview with Tony Leung in which the actor said he had told Wong during filming that he thought he might die. “And you said, ‘We must go on,’” Scorsese recounted with laughter.
Both Zhang and Leung, who broke his arm twice during filming, dedicated themselves to the task, Wong said. The actors trained with kung fu masters, who also consulted during filming. True to the plot of the movie, which pits different schools of kung fu against each other, every single move was carefully included to represent the tradition of each school, he said.
“Normally when you’re shooting a scene, the actors look to the director afterward, but on our set all the masters from different schools were standing behind us,” he said. “After every take, the actors would not look at us but at them for their OK. Sometimes the masters would say, ‘No, if they are really that good, they wouldn’t have to fight for three minutes. One punch would be enough, so fast you wouldn’t even see it.’ And I said, ‘Well, that doesn’t really work for a movie.’”
The two took questions from audience members, one of whom expressed excitement at having the opportunity to see both of them in person: “I am so honored to be with you guys,” she said. “Who needs film school?”
Chinese director Wong Kar Wai speaks with Martin Scorsese, film icon and Wong’s role model, after a screening of TheGrandmaster in New York Wednesday.