Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wong Kar-Wai's new film "The Grandmaster" at Landmark Theatres: Aug 23 - Sept 29

Finally in theaters stateside! The much anticipated (and equally delayed) newest from Chinese auteur Wong Kar-Wai, "The Grandmaster" opens this month at the Landmark Theatres. It's release in New York coinciding with the Museum of the Moving Image's Wong Kar-Wai Series spanning his early works, where Wong's particular time-distended environments saturated with the ache of unrequited love first came to the fore, "As Tears Go By" and "Days of Being Wild" to the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more action/noir companion, "Fallen Angels" and the following string of masterpieces, the globetrotting "Happy Together" the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider the greatest single film yet of the new Century, "In the Mood for Love" in all of it's lush, time-abstracted, yearning, romance saturated glory. It should be noted, with Wong's newest what we're getting here in the 'states is a different, Weinstein Distribution created cut, one that loses some 20 minutes of content, as covered by Indiewire. Edits, that I double will improve the non-linear structure of the film, which already in it's 130 minute Chinese cut watches as both protracted in it's indulgence and paradoxically suggestive of the larger, even more epic and inclusive (Chen Chang's 'Razor' Yixiantian is grossly under-explored) film it could have been. This newest and most recent addition to the string of Ip Man biopics to have come out of China in the last three years, finds Wong back in both similar conceptual and narrative territory as his 1994 "Ashes of Time". That film suffering much in the west for multiple, incoherent, unapproved edits that were the predominant home video versions. Only recently corrected by it's 2008 re-release in a director's edit by Wong.

 Which brings us back to "The Grandmaster" and it's sharing of Ashes sense of dreamlike, sprawling, non-chronological narrative meanderings. Mind you, these are often deeply visually poetic and serve the films ambiance, but do little in the way of lending coherence to the ebb and flow. A premise touched on in both Olaf Möller's and Nick James' coverage of the film's western premier at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. This case of narrative rambling obviously being more a question of editing, so surprising then to find this film is the work of his longtime editor, William Chang. Much of the martial arts is otherworldly, as someone who's long since grown to tire of Hong Kong's penchant for wirework and feats of gravity-defying choreography, I found it physical, engaging and often wow-inducing in it's sleigh of hand, glide of feet, intimate impact with the body. This shifting seen throughout the film from the balletic, to the kinetic to the sublime being the focus of Manohla Dargis' "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China" for the New York Times. A handful of the set pieces are phenomenal environs for these extended exhibitions of almost metaphysical prowess, the Golden Temple and the 1940 Japanese occupation train station, being most striking. Zhang Ziyi particularly moves through these scenes with grace and power. It's a shame then that we're not being brought this cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what makes up Wong's cinema, by a cinematographer of the caliber of "2046"'s Lee Ping Bin or that of the height of his art "In the Mod for Love", shot by the masterful Christopher Doyle. What we have in their absence is simply gorgeous, and often immersive in it's lushness, but lacking the expected impact and sensory dynamicism. From Wong Kar-Wai though, this is almost enough.