Berlin 2013: The Weinstein Co. Nabs U.S. Rights to Wong Kar-wai’s 'The Grandmaster'

10:08 AM PST 02/07/2013 by Clarence Tsui
"The Grandmaster"

The deal was revealed just as the film opened the Berlin International Film Festival Thursday night.

BERLIN -- Marking the first major deal to be announced at the Berlin International Film Festival, The Weinstein Co. has acquired U.S. distribution rights to Wong Kar-wai's martial arts epic The Grandmaster.

TWC also picked up rights in English-speaking Canada. The company already had secured rights in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

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The U.S. deal ends a year of speculation as to who would snap up rights to the movie.

Insiders say TWC and Annapurna -- who teamed on Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master -- have been working on the finer details of the deal for several weeks, though the pact wasn't revealed until just before Grandmaster premiered in Berlin as the fest's opening-night film.

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CAA represents domestic rights to the film, while Wild Bunch is handling internationally.

Before arriving in Berlin, competition jury president Wong worked around the clock at Bangkok's Oriental Post labs to finish the international cut of his martial arts epic. The new version that opened the Berlinale on Thursday night is about 13 minutes shorter and went through structural changes.

Critically acclaimed at home, Grandmaster already has grossed $50 million in China since opening Jan. 8. The film has become Wong’s first bona fide blockbuster.

Grandmaster is an account of how legendary martial arts masters Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), her father Gong Baotian (Wang Qingxiang), The Razor (Chang Chen) and Ma San (Zhang Jin) navigate their lives in politically unstable times in 20th century China.

Having first conceived the film in 1996 on the Buenos Aires set of Happy Together, Wong began production only six years ago. It has been a tortuous journey for both Wong and his cast, with Leung having broken his arm once while training for his role. Wong also has been doing additional filming last year, well after the principal shoot -- which took place in locations in northeastern China and the southern city of Kaiping -- had wrapped.

Speaking at the festival press conference before Thursday premiere screening, Wong said he hopes the film will bring foreign audiences "a new perspective of martial arts or of China."

Having already adjusted the film's English subtitles to cater to international audiences, Wong said he acknowledged non-Chinese viewers' difficulties in following some of the historical details that marked his depiction of the martial arts experts' lives.

"It's hard even for some Chinese audiences," he said. "But there's something universal in the film, such as family values or codes of honor, which I believe international audiences can share."

In the press release announcing the deal, TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said he is "absolutely thrilled" to be working with Annapurna as "they have shown invaluable support to our campaigns." TWC and Annapurna previously collaborated on The Master.

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.

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