Wong Kar Wai: Expect to see “a very different Tony Leung”

Tony Leung and Wong Kar Wai at a press conference at ArtScience Museum. Photo: Zaki Jufri

Last Wednesday, a dashing Tony Leung and a slightly more elusive Wong Kar Wai graced the floors of the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands for a press conference on their latest collaboration ‘The Grandmaster’, starring Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Cheng and Song Hye Kyo.

The Chinese martial arts film follows the life of legendary wing shun master, Ip Man, played by Leung, 50. This is a film of several firsts as it is not only Wong’s first time directing a martial arts film, but is also Leung’s first time playing the lead in one. Alas, it is also Zhang Ziyi’s last appearance in a martial arts film. The widely acclaimed film was a roaring success at the Hong Kong box office, raking in US$2 million in just four days, and US$28 million in seven days at the China box office.

‘The Grandmaster’, which took a total of 10 years to complete, has been a new and challenging experience for the nine-time Hong Kong Film Awards actor: “Yes, the kungfu was physically challenging and demanding,” Leung admits. “The most important aspect of kungfu, however, is really learning how to understand it. Even through all my training, I’ve learnt that it is impossible to portray the role of a martial arts master just from the script and a few months of training.”

The action-packed film came as a surprise for many WKW-purists, who is well-known not just for hiding behind his signature pair of sunglasses, but more so for his multi award-winning, melodramas like ‘In the Mood for Love’ and ‘Chungking Express’. The 54-year-old Hong Kong director explains: “There is something really magical and mysterious about Chinese martial arts. In my younger days, I used to read a lot of martial arts novels and watch many martial arts films starring the legendary Bruce Lee and Jet Li. To me, martial arts is more than just fighting. It is also about the spirit and philosophy behind it. It has been my dream to direct a movie like this.”

‘The Grandmaster’ trailer’

“In making this film, I hope that it would create a new perspective on martial films – that it’s not just about action. I also hope to answer this question: Can Tony Leung fight? I want to create something that is convincing for the audience.”

With regards to Wong’s shift from his more wrought-with-emotion-type films, he explains that the drama and emotions are merely means to an end. “Making a film is an art. What’s more important is learning how to incorporate these emotions into the art of filmmaking.

Even having worked together for 20 years and a total of six different movies, Wong still took a moment to applaud Leung for his hard work and dedication on set: “In the time that has passed, I can see that the various roles Tony took on had some level of difficulty for him – particularly so in this film. Ip Man was an important test for him because this was not a role he has been playing all along. He needed a great deal of spirit to support this feat. To him, it was not only a test of his acting skills but also of his physical abilities. Looking back now, I think what Tony has achieved has surpassed what I had asked for, so I am very happy for him. I hope the audiences who like him will come and watch this film because you will get to see a very different Tony Leung.”

“It was very important to trust Wong,” Leung responded. “When you trust your director, you can focus on your art. I’ve worked with him for so many years now, and this sort of chemistry is very rare.“

Addressing the rumour that the two have been in a tiff as a result from Wong trimming out some of Leung’s most difficult scenes, the Hong Kong actor replies: “I fully trust Kar Wai to edit what gets screened. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a four-hour long movie! He is the director and decides how the story should be told.”

Leung also sustained several injuries on set, including a broken arm, but it did not deter him from giving his best performance possible. He says, “I never thought of giving up. Getting injured is not a big deal. Like a sportsman, it is part and parcel of the job. Like facing obstacles in life, the most important thing is to overcome these difficulties and push through them.”

‘The Grandmaster’ opens in theatres island-wide on 31 January.



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