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2013 - The Grandmaster-Comparison of the HK and US versions

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:40 pm    Post subject: 2013 - The Grandmaster-Comparison of the HK and US versions Reply with quote

Warning: these review articles contain spoiler alert Wink :

Kung Foolish: How The American Cut of ‘The Grandmaster’ Ruins a Masterpiece
David Ehrlich August 20, 2013

“Kung fu: two words – one horizontal, one vertical.”

Perfectionist, tinkerer, victim of his opaque sui generis approach to cinematic storytelling – however you slice it, when it comes to the difficulties of getting his vision onto movie screens intact, this isn’t Wong Kar-Wai’s first rodeo. The first time that the prodigiously talented Hong Kong auteur tried his hand at a film with wuxia elements, it took him nearly 14 years to arrive at a definitive cut (“Ashes of Time” was completed in 1994, but the sands didn’t settle until 2008 when Wong produced the slightly shorter “Ashes of Time Redux”). Needless to say, it’s no surprise that his latest and most outwardly ambitious work – a genuine historical epic five years in the making – has emerged into the world with its ink still wet.

“The Grandmaster”, which chronicles the life and times of the legendary Ip Man (master of Wing Chun, mentor to Bruce Lee), debuted in China on January 6, 2013, merely hours after Wong had applied his “final touches” to the long-gestating project. The cut with which Wong introduced the film to the world (henceforth referred to as “The Chinese Cut”), clocked in at approximately 130 minutes, having already been whittled down from a rumored four-hour version. Reviews from the Chinese press were overwhelmingly (if not exclusively) positive, and the film performed extremely well at the box office, its domestic grosses alone ($50 million) enough to compensate for its production budget ($38.6 million). Nevertheless, Wong decided to trim 15 minutes from the film in time for its glamorous international debut at February’s Berlin International Film Festival. In her ultimately positive appraisal of the Berlin cut, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “‘The Grandmaster’ can make you feel woozy, but not always in the best way … We want Wong’s movies to be overwhelming but delicate; supple but sturdy; hypnotic but assured. ‘The Grandmaster’ is trying to be all of those things at once, and it’s perhaps the ‘trying’ that’s tripping it up”.

Indeed, the films of Wong Kar-Wai are as delicate as any of their characters, whose lives are often upended with a brief gesture, beautiful records that are doomed to repeat themselves as the result of a single scratch. From improbable romances to impossible affairs, from the cramped confines of a dingy Argentinian motel room to the cabin of a train that delivers the lonely souls of the future to a mysterious place of no return, Wong’s films don’t progress in acts so much as they travel in orbits, drawing perfect circles around formative moments like a ship that’s anchored in the middle of the sea. If a single wave is out of place – if one character disappears for too long or one detail is made too clear – his movies threaten to become sketches rather than slipstreams, and their magic is lost.

Needless to say, that’s a risk that Harvey Weinstein is willing to take. Largely responsible for making foreign films palatable to American audiences in the 1990s, Weinstein has earned a reputation for drastically altering his acquisitions for their domestic release, and so Wong Kar-Wai fans had reason to be concerned when The Weinstein Company bought “The Grandmaster” at Berlin. Alarm reached fever pitch when TWC revealed that the American cut would only run 108 minutes, but fears were somewhat allayed when it was subsequently revealed that this new iteration of the film – completed in partnership with Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, whose other recent contributions to the cinema have been extraordinary – was closely supervised by Wong Kar-Wai, himself, and featured “additional footage” that had not been included in either of the previous cuts. Broadly comparing the American Cut with the Chinese Cut, Variety noted that “The result is not only simpler than the domestic version (which recalls the grand tradition of Chinese martial-arts novels in its tricky, convoluted structure), but also boasts explanatory intertitles, character identifiers, and a reference to Bruce Lee in the closing credits.” In that same article, Wong justifies the decision by arguing that, unlike his previous films, “‘The Grandmaster’ is very specific. Because (non-Chinese viewers) don’t have much information or knowledge about the background and history, you have to give enough information for them to get into the story.”

Here’s the bad news: If you’ve only seen the American Cut of “The Grandmaster”, you haven’t seen “The Grandmaster”. While Wong Kar-Wai is living proof that the first cut of a movie that escapes onto cinema screens should not be implicitly regarded as a definitive or holy object, “The Grandmaster” tragically illustrates how refinements can shear away what made a movie so special in the first place. While Wong is rather transparent about how the American cut is a concession to cultural ignorance rather than an artistic statement, he’s profoundly mistaken in thinking that such a concession was required in the first place, and may be too close to the material to recognize that the American cut is insanely reductive and, at the same time, also harder to understand than the original.

The Chinese Cut coherently splits its focus between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi as the beautiful daughter of a revered rival), devoting itself to the distance between them and the varying extent to which they fight to maintain the historical virtues of their respective fighting styles, and resolving into an appropriately fragmented portrait of time outpacing tradition. The Chinese Cut uses the brunt of its 130 minutes to hauntingly illustrate how the only histories that we can own are the ones intimately shared between people, the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) serving only to underscore how history is human.

The American Cut says nuts to that, ditching Ip Man’s romance with Gong Er and instead attempting to distill Ip Man’s life – his tragedies and his revered legacy – into a device for shoveling a path through history, its edits so completely obfuscating purpose in the name of action that the action soon loses all meaning. The resulting film is a horror show of ribbons, a cut that confuses itself into thinking that naming people with instructive on-screen text is somehow more informative than showing us who they are.

The curious thing is that, at least for me, the woeful American cut was actually a revelatory experience. I revere Wong Kar-Wai and was familiar with Ip Man, but my first encounter with the Chinese Cut was nevertheless a destabilizing one, its woozy rhythms somewhat difficult to reconcile with the director’s uncharacteristically chronological narrative. Watching the butchered American cut wasn’t an immediately pleasant experience, but it made me eager to revisit the longer edition, and upon doing so I quickly found that the 108-minute version illuminated a path into the heart of the original, functioning like a codex of sorts for a film that’s most exquisite pleasures require a viewer to properly contextualize them. Where Wong and Weinstein got it wrong was in thinking that the context was a historical one, when in fact a working knowledge of the war is less essential to appreciating the film than an understanding of how it could transform two people and the way of life that compelled them to each other.

Here is a comprehensive rundown of the differences between the Chinese Cut and the American Cut. I’ve done my best to make sure that this is as accurate as possible, but please understand that I have only seen the truncated cut once, and am less likely to remember “the additional footage” than I am that which was removed from the movie.

ADDED: The first change you’ll notice is that the American Cut is front-loaded with a long series of title cards which explain who Ip Man is and what’s happening in Foshan. In the Chinese Cut, this information is elegantly embedded across the first 30 minutes of the film, the exposition given to characters who it will help to remember when they appear later. While some title cards remain in the Chinese Cut (mostly reserved for depicting correspondence letters between Ip Man and Gong Er), every major character in the American Cut is introduced with on-screen text.

ADDED: The opening passages are replete with new explanatory voiceover, which would fit into Wong’s aesthetic if the narration wasn’t so literal. These new voiceovers continue throughout the film.

MOVED: In the Chinese Cut, an adolescent Ip Man receives a sash from his master immediately after the title card. The master explains what the sash represents, and Ip Man’s voiceover informs us of Wing Chun’s rich history, and how the sash represents an unbroken tradition. In the American Cut, this is presented as the penultimate scene in the film, and Ip Man’s voiceover is about the money he had to pay for the honor.

REMOVED: Ip Man takes his wife to the opera. They hold hands and smile at each other.

REMOVED: Ip Man’s wife washes his bare chest. Later, he returns the favor by washing her legs. When Ip Man is told that he’ll have to fight to represent the Southern schools, his wife tells him that she’ll “take the kids to my mother, less for you to worry about. When a man reaches 40, he needs to be sure of things.”

REMOVED: A short bit where Ip’s master cleans out his ears.

REMOVED: More conferring amongst the Southern schools about who will represent them against the sneering Ma Sun. All told, the American Cut tries to streamline itself into a tournament film.

REMOVED: A long, uninterrupted scene between Gong Er’s father and his brother about ambition. They cook snake stew and throw new wood into a fire while discussing Ip’s greatness, the not so subtle subtext being that tradition can only endure by being passed down. Their conversation provides clearer context for the upcoming “cake fight,” as the limits of the master’s vision are better established.

REMOVED: Gong Er argues with her father about Ip Man being allowed to fight him. The master says “If the old never let go, when will the young get their chance?” He implores Gong Er to appreciate the situation from a broader perspective, words that will inform every scene of either cut. While this scene may have seemed like a logical thing to delete once the decision was made to significantly reduce Gong Er’s role in the American Cut, her father’s words have enormous thematic resonance that cannot be compensated for elsewhere.

ALTERED: Before the fight in the brothel, Gong Er’s father alludes to her engagement, and reasons that she’s not fit for kung fu because she’s going to be a wife. In the American Cut, he instead discusses her plans to become a doctor.

REMOVED: After her father’s defeat in the cake fight, Gong Er leaves a letter for Ip Man in which she vows to restore her family’s honor and make her mark.

ALTERED: Rather than overlay text against a black title card, the Chinese Cut layers it over a beautiful shot of a rickshaw being pulled through a puddle, the ripples elegantly hinting at the constant unrest of time.

REMOVED: Talk about Gong Er booking a palace for a banquet, the four taboos of kung fu, and how the villainous Ma Sun believes himself to be the true heir to the school of kung fu lead by Gong Er’s father. Gong Er invites Ip Man to the banquet, and the gesture with which he accepts her invitation anticipates the moment in which he later receives a cigarette from a stranger. Gong Er tells Ip Man: “Three days ago my father sat here. Now, it’s about us.” All of this sets up the burgeoning romance between Ip Man and Gong Er, which in the American Cut is reduced to a single shot of Zhang Ziyi twirling over Tony Leung, their mouths almost touching. In the American Cut, Gong Er simply peaces out of Foshan after her father loses the fight. These omissions completely disempower the moment in which Ip Man rests his hand on his wife’s shoulder during their photo shoot. A moment intended to read as an internalized expression of betrayal and seismic generational change instead reads like… a guy putting his hand on his wife’s shoulder.

REMOVED: A shot of Japanese troops motionless in the brothel.

ALTERED: Ip Man’s speech about refusing to collaborate with the Japanese is much shorter in the American Cut, despite the fact that the American Cut has a greater focus on the ethics of collaboration.

REMOVED: A subsequent scene where Ip Man is offered leftovers for dinner because he and his family are hungry.

REMOVED: Ip Man takes the pegs out of his training pole and hacks it apart.

ADDED: To the best of my memory, I believe that the American Cut includes a moment in which Ip Man tries on the jacket from which he removes the pivotal button.

REMOVED: An entire location involving a train raided by Japanese troops. Gong Er is riding along when a mysterious man with a pocket blade (Chang Chen as “The Razor” Yixiantian) sits down beside her. He is bleeding profusely, obviously the result of an altercation with the Japanese troops, but Gong Er uses her clothing to hide the stranger’s wounds. There’s a tense moment when a Japanese soldier demands to see their IDs, but the troops are called away just in the nick of time.

MOVED: Ma Sun’s collusion with the Japanese is used to anchor the film’s climax in the American Cut, but in the Chinese Cut it’s revealed about an hour in.

MOVED: The climactic train station fight between Gong Er and Ma Sun is suddenly introduced (with precious little context) in the American Cut, whereas in the Chinese Cut Gong Er wrestles for the better part of an hour with the idea of whether or not she should submit to vengeance and fight him. Her confidant states “I agree that Ma Sun has to die. It’s a massive crime to betray one’s teacher.” These amount to some of the most drastic changes, as much of the film’s prevailing ethos is discussed between Gong Er and her allies while she decides how to handle Ma Sun. These scenes are sprinkled across the movie’s middle portions.

REMOVED: Everything involving Gong Er’s marriage, including a wonderful Wong Kar-Wai touchstone in which she whispers her most personal secrets into a hole in a wall.

REDUCED: When Ip Man arrives in Hong Kong, he gives a speech about all of the kinds of people he refuses to teach. This is not included in the American Cut. Also omitted is a bit following the fight in which Ip Man’s students prepare a bed for their new master.

ADDED: When Ip Man goes to visit Gong Er at her clinic, there’s a pointless scene in which he first negotiates with her male secretary.

REMOVED: A scene in which a man visits The Razor with murderous intentions, and – following a short fight scene – begs to be The Razor’s disciple.

ALTERED: In the American Cut, voiceover tells us that Gong Er was addicted to opium (we see her sitting at her desk). In the Chinese Cut, over the same shot, the voiceover says that she was either addicted to opium or kung fu.

ADDED: While some brief glimpses of this can be found in the Chinese Cut, the American Cut restores an entire sequence in which Gong Er grows up and trains in the snow-covered lawn behind her father’s house. It’s introduced as one of the final scenes in the American Cut, despite the fact that her character is barely in the film. The scene may have been far more valuable in the Chinese Cut, where Gong Er serves as a co-lead.

REMOVED: A devastating scene in which Ip Man collects the ashes of Gong Er’s hair.

REMOVED: Ip Man uses his finger to trace the words “My heart will carry me back to you” on his wife’s hand, but history only moves forward down one road.

ADDED: A number of fawning shots of the little kid who grows up to be Bruce Lee. The words “Bruce Lee” are never spoken in the voiceover, but the American Cut announces his presence with the film’s most dramatic title card. In the Chinese Cut, the identity of Ip Man’s youngest student is only casually hinted at.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grandmaster Review
Posted by Jeremy Wilson on 09.08.2013

A Tale of Two Versions.

Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Written by: Wong Kar-wai, Zou Jingzhi & Xu Haofeng
Based on a story by: Wong Kar-wai

Ip Man: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Gong Er: Zhang Ziyi
Cheung Wing-sing: Song Hye-kyo
"The Razor" Yixiantian: Chang Chen
Ding Lianshan: Zhao Benshan
Gong Yutian: Wang Qingxiang
Ma San: Zhang Jin
Chan Wah-shun: Yuen Woo-ping
Sanjiangshui: Xiaoshenyang
Tiexieqi: Cung Le
Jiang: Shang Tielong
Uncle Deng: Lo Hoi-pang

Rated PG-13 for violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language.
Running Time: U.S. Version: 108 minutes; Chinese Version: 130 minutes

Kung fu: two words – one horizontal, one vertical.

If we take that creed and place it in a broader context, then it isn't a great stretch to say that one version of The Grandmaster, the newest film from legendary auteur Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, 2046) – and one only – will be left standing at the end of all this. Unfortunately for Harvey Weinstein it won't be the American version in theaters currently. That version is an occasionally stirring, still beautiful bastardization of a work far more interesting, coherent and powerful. The theatrical version shown in Hong Kong and China – all 130 minutes of it – flirts with near-perfection and the status of being yet another masterpiece for a man regarded by many as one of the world's greatest living filmmakers. The version shown to you and I? That film is a frustrating, incoherent, dumbed-down shell. You can see something truly grand and special in its pieces, but the whole never really reveals itself. Wong Kar-wai knows how to make movies. Harvey Weinstein knows how to win Oscars.

That may sound like a harsh assessment, but in all the years I've watched and cared about movies, I've rarely seen a film this fundamentally changed by someone for commercial (or other) reasons, especially from someone the stature of Wong Kar-wai. We're not simply talking about the difference between a theatrical version versus an extended “Director's Cut”, so often sold as a DVD or Blu-ray special feature. Perhaps the more apt comparison would be something along the lines of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or Terry Gilliam's Brazil, films that came to define the 1980s and have become recognized as science fiction masterpieces, but have had to fight tooth and nail (and multiple studio executives) to get to a definitive edition, both having multiple endings and alterations that fundamentally would have changed the meaning of each film. The Grandmaster may not be science fiction, but Wong Kar-wai has never trafficked in simple genre conventions, easy answers or happy endings...things found all too often in mainstream American movies.

So it's unsurprising that The Weinstein Company would struggle with how to sell a movie to an audience not intimately familiar with the Hong Kong filmmaker or his signature, renowned romanticized style. Their answer? Much as how FilmDistrict marketed Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, they sold it as something it wasn't. Drive was as much a Fast and Furious-style car chase movie as The Grandmaster is a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style, Ip Man or Jackie Chan martial arts movie. Sure, there's kung fu and exquisitely shot and choreographed fight scenes in The Grandmaster, but at its core, the film resembles the director's previous martial arts film Ashes of Time as well as most of his other work. It is a melancholy, elegiac tale of love lost, time outpacing tradition and the ways that history is ultimately defined and remembered by the shared experiences between human beings. The Grandmaster is a beautiful, entrancing work of art. Well, “The Chinese Cut” is at least. The American version? Not so much.

The basic story is the same for both: Ip Man is drafted to challenge the Northern Grandmaster Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) who has announced his retirement and is looking to pass the torch to a new generation of martial artists. Having previously named Ma San (Zhang Jin) his direct successor at a ceremony in the North, the legend of Ip Man has already reached him. When Ip Man defeats the elder Grandmaster in a battle of wits rather than skill, his daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) vows revenge on Ip Man and struggles seeing her father bested and the family name – previously undefeated – threatened. Ip Man and Gong Er than have their own battle, this time of skill, as it becomes obvious that these are not only equal fighters, but two more of Wong Kar-wai's star-crossed lovers. When Gong Er wins (on something of a technicality), the two exchange letters as Ip Man promises to travel north with his family to see her again and so that he can once again see “the 64 hands”, a Gong family style that only she has been entrusted with (over the obvious hothead Ma San).

Unfortunately, historical circumstances get in the way as the Japanese invade China and Ip Man's home city of Foshan, shattering his rather content existence and taking the lives of some of his family. As Ip Man travels to Hong Kong to teach, Gong Er returns home to learn that not only has Ma San betrayed her father and their clan, but is also conspiring with the Japanese puppet government. Against the wishes of elders and her father, she vows never to teach, marry or have children in order to take the path of vengeance against Ma San. Over a decade after last meeting in Foshan, Ip Man finally reconnects with Gong Er, wanting a rematch and implying she should resurrect her family's martial arts school. She declines, as a flashback to 10 years earlier shows us the brutal fight between Gong Er and Ma San on a train station where her vengeance was quenched, but at a steep price. Gong Er sticks to her vows, her health rapidly deteriorating as a result of the injuries inflicted by Ma San and the film ends with Ip Man forced to stay in Hong Kong after Gong Er's death and the closure of the border with China, never to see his family again as he goes on to become of the most famous and influential martial artists in the world. The 64 Hands and Gong family legacy fades into history, taken to the grave by Gone Er.

The version of The Grandmaster shown in China and Hong Kong is 130-minute-long sweeping historical epic that divides its time between both the legendary Ip Man and his Northern rival Gong Er as they struggle to hold on to the traditions and virtues of their respective regional fighting styles as well as with the distance (both literal and figurative) between them, keeping them apart and charting their fates. He struggles as he watches history change around him, almost helpless as he loses everything but his skill at martial arts; she struggles as a woman in a man's world, unable to turn away from vengeance, giving up everything – including her martial arts – in order to exact it and take back her family's name and honor. Both are equally important to the film's balance and themes, yet neither is “right” in the end.

The American version says “uh, no thanks” to that and distills it into a forced biopic structure, practically cutting Gong Er's character and screen time in half – lessening the romance between the two in the process – and all but eliminating the influence of the Second Sino-Japanese War (which turns the already enigmatic “Razor” character – a Nationalist fighter who Gong Er covers for in one scene exclusively found in the Chinese version – into an almost completely mystifying and random figure), choosing instead to focus on what it thinks American audiences want to see: action, action, action! Cutting 22 minutes and moving scenes around all over the place, what was originally a beautiful, touching, elegiac arthouse movie, has now been transformed into an Ip Man-themed episode of “This is Your Life” with neat, but empty stylized fight scenes. It is such a compromised version that I can safely say the following: the American version of The Grandmaster is one of the worst things Wong Kar-wai has ever had his name attached to; the Chinese/Hong Kong version of The Grandmaster is one of the best. That's the gulf we're talking and that is why it is so important to differentiate and understand the differences between the two.

Either realizing that their alterations make the context of the film's events and action more confusing, or simply believing that American audiences needed their hands held for a foreign film with subtitles, Weinstein and Wong's answer is to insert even more intertitles and character identifiers into the film. This means that rarely does 10 minutes go by without a title card or the movie explicitly telling you who a newly introduced character is via on-screen text. The original Chinese Cut has a few of them in order to better bridge the gaps in time that such a historical epic such as this covers, as well as during a sequence in which Ip Man and Gong Er exchange letters. The American additions not only feel redundant and insulting, but because there are such awkward jumps and introductions – especially because the impact of the Second Sino-Japanese War is reduced – it actually makes things more incoherent. The American version unfortunately believes that telling you things is a fine substitute for actually showing you, despite countless examples (and reasons) to the contrary.

This is especially heinous when you remember that this is a Wong Kar-wai film. A man whose movies have been all about subtlety; a touch here, a glance there, simple-seeming but deep moments coming to define characters and entire movies. Wong Kar-wai films are powerful experiences because they are able to heart-wrenchingly show and reflect characters, experiences and interactions in an elliptical manner, even in just a fleeting moment, without going down a more linear, Hollywood progression (meet cute, courtship, misunderstanding, resolution, happy ending).'s David Ehrlich beautifully puts it this way: “The films of Wong Kar-wai are as delicate as any of their characters, whose lives are often upended with a brief gesture, beautiful records that are doomed to repeat themselves as the result of a single scratch...Wong’s films don’t progress in acts so much as they travel in orbits, drawing perfect circles around formative moments like a ship that’s anchored in the middle of the sea. If a single wave is out of place – if one character disappears for too long or one detail is made too clear – his movies threaten to become sketches rather than slipstreams, and their magic is lost.”

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates what is most wrong about The Weinstein Cut of The Grandmaster. Wong Kar-wai has all but admitted that the concessions are essentially due to cultural ignorance, but he and Weinstein (and I mostly blame “Harvey Scissorhands”) are mistaken to think that American audiences need the explicit contextual help. Wong Kar-wai films are all about smooth, graceful, almost hypnotic experiences; patience is naturally required to fully fall under their spell and understand each film's subtextual nuances. The shorter cut is less interested in nuance and patience, instead hacking and piecing its way to each action set piece. There is such a lack of grace and coherence to the whole affair that the action scenes are simply that, lacking almost any true emotional resonance behind them. For most audiences and true fans of the director, it is an almost unbearable series of frustrations, as the film constantly reminds you that a “true” and “fuller” version exists – not because we know it does beforehand, but because the film is so awkward and jolting that you can't believe a filmmaker of the quality of Wong Kar-wai would intend it this way. In the end, the U.S. Version of The Grandmaster feels like a mystifying martial arts tournament film, when in fact, it is almost the complete opposite.

Perhaps most galling of all is TWC's belief that the only way The Grandmaster would be palatable to American audiences was if the central character was sold as a hero (although that is not the film's point) and if we absolutely knew that this was the man who taught Bruce Lee. Not only are scenes explicitly added to the end of the film explaining this (and showing a young Lee learning from Ip Man in Hong Kong), but much of the marketing has revolved around this (as you can see at the very beginning of the trailer below). Never mind that Bruce Lee has exactly zero involvement or significance to the movie itself. In fact, there is only the briefest and subtlest of intimations at the end of the Chinese Cut in regards to Lee. Also, the insinuation that Ip Man is “right” and that he's the hero of the film, is a fundamental change between the two versions. The true core of the film is less that than it is history’s inevitability – not as a sign modernity or of progress toward a man becoming a legend – but in constantly looking back to what he still has at the expense of all that he's lost. That is the Ip Man of The Grandmaster. Just don't tell that to Harvey Weinstein.

Both versions of the film do retain the majority of the absolutely gorgeous fight sequences, especially those between the principal players. The very first images that open the film involve Ip Man fighting over a dozen opponents in the rain, thus establishing (for those who don't know the story already) that this man is a total badass. Much of these fights are somewhat reminiscent of the fights found in Ashes of Time, although Wong uses natural elements (rain, snow, wing, steam), close-ups of faces, hands and feet as well as slow-mo and step print effects to show both the intricacies of the choreography (coordinated by renowned Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who will direct Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: The Green Destiny) and the usual sensual, dance-like interplay at work in almost any Wong Kar-wai film. Just check out the faces of Ip Man and Gong Er as they get this close to touching during their fight in the Gold Pavilion in the first half of the film. However, arguably the standout of these fight sequences is the climatic fight between Gong Er and Ma San on a train platform in the snow and steam. It holds more impact in the Chinese cut because of how the film structures itself, since we see Gong Er told not to take vengeance by the clan's elders and her ultimate decision to take Buddhist vows, before the fight. It's a clearer context for the fight, and not simply the rushed randomness found in the American cut. However, in both versions, the actual stand-alone set piece is absolutely breathtaking.

The performances are fantastic as well, as Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi are tremendous both in the film's high-paced fight scenes (Leung reportedly trained and practiced 4 hours a day for a year in preparation), but also in the film's many silent, contemplative moments. One of the film's very best scenes is towards the end as Ip Man and Gong Er meet one final time. Sitting together, listening to an opera that harkens back to the first time they met, Gong Er, perhaps realizing that she was coming to the end of her life, admits her feelings for Ip Man and returns the button of a winter coat he had made for the journey north that was never undertaken. The scene is even better in the Chinese Cut, as while the pair walk home alone down a street full of kung fu schools, Gong Er looks up wistfully and remarks “Is this street of schools all the Martial World has come to be?” She then turns to look at Ip Man, who has become a part of that new Martial World. It's less accusatory than it is melancholy. Later, as she dies in her own bed, we see a flashback of Gong Er at home in the snow practicing (in one of the few instances of material exclusive to the American cut of the film being worthwhile, she is also shown as a child spying on her father practicing and him reciprocating, leading to her lessons and life-long passion of kung fu). Her voice plays over the scene, declaring “A great age offers a choice: stay or move on. I choose to remain in my era, the time when I was happiest.” It's a lovely sequence, underscoring the differences between the two central characters, but also exposing that their personal connection has resulted in the both of them losing a great deal as they stick to codes and traditions going by the wayside in the wake of shifting times. The American version awkwardly hints at this, but it is really brought home and more powerful in the original.

The Grandmaster is a beautiful, melancholic ode to the end of an era for Chinese martial arts and the country as a whole, embodied by Ip Man and Gong Er and the bond shared between them as time and history catches up to and passes the old ways. The American version is not completely without value; while it is inarguably a compromised film, it does shine a light on what is so great about the original domestic version and why Wong would be attracted to this material. As Ehrlich notes, what they got wrong in editing the film for American audiences was believing that the heart of the film was a biopic whose details were necessary to understanding what was going on, when in fact, “a working knowledge of the war [and supporting players] is less essential to appreciating the film than an understanding of how it could transform two people and the way of life that compelled them to each other.” Watching how this film was intended to look and flow after having seen it in theaters here, it is practically a revelation. In time, Harvey ought to be ashamed of himself.

Thus, it leaves me and other critics with an undesired choice. Having seen two vastly different versions of the same movie, with one being decidedly superior to the other, how do we go about evaluating and recommending them? Can I unequivocally declare that everyone should go and drop $40 for a region-free, imported Blu-ray, just so they can see the film as it was meant to be seen? Should I tell Americans not to see the film being offered to them in theaters, just because it is an obviously compromised work of art? Exactly which film should I rate here, the one most of you have and will have access to? Or the better, more “true” vision that may never be made readily available to Western moviegoers? Ultimately, I can't tell you how to spend your time and money. I can only offer my genuine, honest opinion and evaluation. If you have access to the American cut of The Grandmaster, go and see it, but understand its flaws going in and don't damn the movie for concessions forced upon it by mistaken distributors. And if, by chance, you get the opportunity to see the original version of the film, count yourself lucky and do so.

Rating below is for the original, Chinese/Hong Kong domestic version of The Grandmaster. Region-free Blu-rays are available to purchase that include English subtitles and which will arrive in about two weeks.

The 411: The Grandmaster is a return to form for renowned filmmaker Wong Kar-wai after the disappointments of his English-language debut My Blueberry Nights. A film roughly five years in the making, the original 130-minute domestic version stands as some of the best work he's ever done. Beautifully shot and choreographed fight sequences have been the selling points (and are in fact some of the only selling points for the bastardized and compromised 108-minute altered American version), but much like Ashes of Time they populate a more expressionistic portrait of two kung fu artists who struggle to remain true to the principles and traditions of their unique fighting styles in the midst of changing times and unbearable losses. Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi are tremendous as Ip Man and Gong Er, in both the fight scenes and in the quieter, more Wong-like contemplative and romanticized moments. The American version is a deeply, deeply flawed film, and if I were rating it, it'd likely land in the 6s. However, if you get the chance to watch the version of The Grandmaster shown to audiences in China and Hong Kong, please do so. That film is a powerful, elegiac, insanely beautiful experience, a sweeping historical epic from one of the world's leading filmmakers that can rightfully be counted among the year's best. Recommended.

411 Elite Award
Final Score: 9.0 [ Amazing ] legend
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Many thanks for sharing these very helpful articles with us, dear Yitian thumbleft ...for getting a better impression of varieties of TG. Most interesting for you fellow fans, who already had the chance to watch those most different versions.

In my view, the articles are very clear and understandable written ...enlightning.... and obviously very well researched....haha...I am looking forward to watch the US version (hopefully no too "WKW light"....or "Wong-fu" .....for box-office and financial reasons Sad )

Has anybody of you fellow fans and friends watched more than 2 versions of "The Grandmaster" yet to compare ? ....and does anybody know, how many versions of TG do exist - ultimately ? Is the Japanese version identical with Internat. version ? I am really a bit confused meanwhile.

BTW: I watched the HK version/Engl. subtlt. on DVD 3 times ( once again cordial thanks to Heike Wink )
Although longer and more "WKW-winding" than the more linearly /straighter Intern.version (and similar Berlinale version I guess so) I cannot say exactly, which version I prefer.
Some scenes I like in one version...I miss in the other...and vice versa... some scenes have changed place/ context....or more focused on Ip Man or on Gong Er....(and in US version are added scenes, reportedly ) ...Voice-over, lines...soundtrack differs also.
I miss some nice scenes in the HK version :
- Gong Er´s childhood with father.. teaching her .....or
- the little boy ( little Bruce Lee ?...or wished little WKW ? )... curiously observing Wing Chun class through a window....for example.

The fortunately constant fact: The beautiful scenery and ...and our dear Tony´s outstanding and most convincing embodiment of his role. He does not act, you see and feel...HE IS "The Grandmaster"....Tony at his best ! Applause sunny
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2013 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Safran wrote:
....and does anybody know, how many versions of TG do exist - ultimately ? Is the Japanese version identical with Internat. version ? I am really a bit confused meanwhile.

Who (except WKW) knows how many versions are already out there Wink

I came across a Chinese article long ago, comparing the difference between China and Berlin version of The Grandmaster. It may be interesting for some people to read here: My brief translation follows the Chinese

一代宗师》柏林版20处修改 一线天重遇宫二

  时光网讯 王家卫执导的《一代宗师》昨天在柏林电影作为开幕片上映。相对于国内130分钟的片长,柏林电影节放映的版本是115分钟,有近20处的情节增删改动,故事变得更加流畅和更符合外国观众的欣赏习惯。



















  【整场戏】丁连山(赵本山 饰)去香港,叶问拜访求见“六十四手”。











The Grandmaster Modifications in Berlin Version
Added scene:
1 Master Gong saw Ip Man fighting in the rain at the beginning and he thought Ip has good skills.
2 Razor dine in a HK restaurant and Gong Er came in to order few dishes.
3 More Ip fighting at the very end, plus a line of Bruce Lee’s understanding of “Kung Fu”.
4 Extra subtitles to explain events: Fushan locked down; Gong Er met Razor on her way to HK study medicine; Razor detached himself from spy organization and ran away to HK.
Deleted scene:
1 Ding Lian Shan went to HK and Ip Man went to see him with hope for seeing 64 hands (the one who lit cigarettes for Ip)
2 Jiang (Gong Er's servant) gave Gong Er’s burnt hair to Ip Man.
3 Jiang’s dialogue to Ip Man after Ip Man visited Gong Er the first time.
4 A phase (time doesn’t wait) of the way of funeral for Master Gong
5 Phrase “I choose to remain in my own time” – Gong Er.
6 Phrase “Mr. Ip, all encounters in the world is reunion after long parting” – Gong Er.
Replaced scene:
1 Replaced Ip watching his disciples practice at the end to Ip teach a young boy + taking picture.
2 Moved Ip’s master tight sash for young Ip at the beginning to the end of the film.

Safran wrote:
Tony at his best ! Applause sunny

AS ALWAYS Very Happy . I just want to see the 4-hour version Wink .
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2013 11:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wonder if the 4-hour version would even qualify as a version? I mean, if it would even make sense, or flow well as a story? The four-hour version may contain quite a few alternate scenes, which would have to be either chosen, or left out, such as the Ips getting costs for the trip Northeast. In the original version, Tony puts the coat on Hye-Kyo's shoulders, and she makes the comment about Foshan never getting that cold. In the American version, Hye-Kyo puts the coat on Tony, and HE makes the remark about the cold. I like the choice in the American version better, as it shows, indeed, that she understood him well.

If the 4 hour version actually could be a complete film, then I sure wish there would be enough interest to re-release the film as a two-parter. (I can't imagine any movie company allowing the whole story to be released in one picture). I do disagree with critics, though, that the American version is "dumbed down," or "WKW-lite", it's not any easier to watch than the original. It requires plenty of patience, and concentration, and a little mental input on the audience's part. It really is a perfectly legitimate alternate version of the original. It's just as good, in its own way. I hope everyone who cares, gets to see it, if only to see what else Tony had to offer. Smile
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