When kung fu meets cou­ture

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STYLE -

ALABOUR of love. That’s what one gath­ers from watch­ing Wong Kar Wai’s The Grand­mas­ter.

I made time to watch this mar­tial arts epic, as the Academy Awards is around the cor­ner. The Grand­mas­ter is nom­i­nated for Cos­tume De­sign, and yours truly was cu­ri­ous to see how an Asian film landed in this cat­e­gory, pit­ted against Amer­i­can Hus­tle, The Great Gatsby, The In­vis­i­ble Woman and 12 Years A Slave. (Why it didn’t re­ceive a nod for For­eign Lan­guage Film is be­yond me.)

I pre­dict that Amer­i­can Hus­tle – which has gained se­ri­ous mo­men­tum in the awards cir­cuit of late – will sashay away with the tro­phy. Still, I have my fin­gers crossed for The Grand­mas­ter’s cos­tume de­signer Wil­liam Chang Suk-Ping and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Philippe Le Sourd; the lat­ter is nom­i­nated in the Cine­matog­ra­phy cat­e­gory (along with Grav­ity, In­side Llewyn Davis, Ne­braska and Pris­on­ers).

At Tai­wan’s Golden Horse Film Awards last Novem­ber, The Grand­mas­ter claimed five awards, four in craft cat­e­gories, and one for Zhang Ziyi as Best Leading Ac­tress.

Be­sides be­ing an award win­ner, the film stars A-lis­ters Zhang and Tony Le­ung Chiu-Wai. There­fore, I’m dumb­founded that it was never re­leased in Malaysian cin­e­mas last year. I mean, c’mon, how many mo lei tau (non­sen­si­cal) come­dies from Hong Kong must we be sub­jected to?

Still, not ev­ery­one would ap­pre­ci­ate The Grand­mas­ter’s lush, lan­guid pace. But fans of Wong would love, love this. As a movie critic points out, Wong “crafts movies you live and breathe in un­til they’re ab­sorbed into your sys­tem. In short, his movies are the stuff that dreams are made of.”

This is a film­maker who makes melan­choly se­duc­tive; I re­mem­ber his other mas­ter­piece In The Mood For Love (which was, thank­fully, shown here on the big screen in 2000) which left cin­ema-go­ers breath­less, awed yet heart­bro­ken.

It took Wong six long years to make The Grand­mas­ter, and you can tell this from his painstak­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail in ev­ery frame. It tells the story of two decades in the life of Ip Man (played by Le­ung), the kung fu mas­ter who spe­cialised in the school of Wing Chun (the same style he went on to teach Bruce Lee).

Just as fashionistas ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Mag­gie Cheung’s cheongsams in In The Mood; they’d swoon over The Grand­mas­ter’s run­way-ready wardrobe.

Le­ung’s char­ac­ter makes his first ap­pear­ance in a fight se­quence, in a dark al­ley. As heavy rain falls, he takes on dozens of street­fight­ers, wear­ing a white wide-brimmed hat.

Punches are thrown and bod­ies fly all over the place ... in slow mo­tion. Through­out the brawl, Le­ung (an ac­tor who never seems to age) is un­flap­pable. He doesn’t break a sweat and doesn’t even lose his stylish hat.

The viewer is then trans­ported to a brothel, where the cour­te­sans are garbed in fig­ure-hug­ging qi­paos and ex­quis­ite jew­ellery. Their make-up and hair are flaw­less.

In the movie’s best fight se- quence, set in a train sta­tion dur­ing a snow­storm, Zhang wears a lovely fur coat. Her char­ac­ter Gong Er – out to avenge her fa­ther’s mur­der – coughs up blood on the coat af­ter the bat­tle. Zhang is lu­mi­nous; I was never re­ally a fan, but she won me over. In fact, by the end of the movie, I was (com­i­cally) try­ing to ape her “64 Hands” fight­ing tech­nique.

The ac­tion se­quences are chore­ographed like po­etry in mo­tion by Yuen Wo Ping (of The Ma­trix, Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon and Kill Bill fame).

Wong re­port­edly in­sisted that Le­ung and Zhang per­form their own fight­ing. Hence, no stunt dou­bles were used.

The fight­ing scenes were so elab­o­rate that they would take weeks to film; the afore­men­tioned open­ing set­piece took a month.

Last but not least, there’s the di­a­logue. In typ­i­cal Wong style, it’s laced with poignancy.

“To say there are no re­grets in life is to fool yourself,” muses Gong Er. “Imag­ine how bor­ing life would be with­out re­grets.”

Sigh. Swoon. Please watch this.

Wil­liam wishes that real life is like a Wong Kar Wai movie, where ev­ery­one wears fab­u­lous clothes and moves in slow mo­tion. But not where the pro­tag­o­nist dies a tragic death, ob­vi­ously. Send your feed­back to star2@thes­tar.com.my.

Fab­u­lous fighters: Tony Le­ung Chiu-Wai and Zhang Ziyi in a scene from The Grand­mas­ter. They are sur­rounded by cour­te­sans, garbed in ex­quis­ite ap­parel.

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