Wong Kar-wai in Last-Minute Rush to Finish 'The Grandmaster' For World Premiere (Report)

The Hong Kong auteur is still putting final touches to his martial arts epic, with the film to be delivered to mainland Chinese censors hours before its first press screening in Beijing on Jan. 5

HONG KONG – Producers of Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster will be transporting the film for clearance with mainland China’s censors on the morning of Jan. 5 – just hours before a scheduled press screening in Beijing in the afternoon.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, Wong is still working on the film’s post-production in Thailand today (Jan. 4) with his production designer William Chang Suk-ping.

The report stated that the film’s financiers and distributors, Sil-Metropole Organisation, will deliver copies of the film to the Film Bureau in Beijing to secure a screening license in the country. The film will also be submitted to the Communications Authority in Hong Kong for a film classification in the city.

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The world premiere of The Grandmaster will take place in the Chinese capital on Sunday (Jan. 6), with Wong attending a press conference beforehand with stars Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen. The film will then be released on Jan. 8, and then subsequently opening in Hong Kong, Wong’s hometown, on Jan. 10.

The Grandmaster was originally slated for release in China and Hong Kong in December. While the cast has been doing publicity for more than a month already, Wong has yet to grant interviews to the press. His assistants have responded to media requests saying the filmmaker remains busy at work finishing the movie, which will open the Berlin Film Festival – where Wong will serve as head of the official competition jury – on Feb. 7.

Sil-Metropole has already put in a place a 300-strong team ready to deliver digital prints to theatres across China once the film is green-lit by the authorities, according to the Apple Daily report.

The Grandmaster will be the sole major production to be released in China next week, and is widely expected to have a clear run at the box office before Skyfall opens on Jan. 21. The performance of Wong’s film will challenge the successful runs of festive hits Lost in Thailand and CZ12. The former has already secured 1.1 billion yuan (US$176.5 million) at the box office and is now vying to become the highest-grossing film in Chinese history, a record presently held by Avatar (which took 1.38 billion yuan/US$221.4 million in the country).

Nearly a decade in the making, The Grandmaster is a fictionalized account of the early career of Ip Man, a real-life martial arts expert and the mentor of Bruce Lee. Details of the story have been scarce but the film is understood to revolve around the rivalry and romance between Ip (played by Leung) and specialists from other martial arts schools in northeastern China.

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While boasting a stellar cast and action choreography from Yuen Woo-ping (who designed fight scenes for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Matrix trilogy), production of the film has been subjected to a few hiccups, with Leung having broken his arm while training for his role before shooting began.

True to style, Wong has also subsequently conducted additional filming after principal shooting has ended, while also requiring his actors to be on stand-by for possible extra contributions to the film. Interestingly, Chang has spent so much time in practice that he became a real athlete himself, winning a mainland martial arts competition earlier this year.

With his films securing regular critical garlands in the film festival circuit – a Best Cinematography title for Ashes of Time (1994) in Venice, a Best director prize for Happy Together (1997) in Cannes and a Best Non-European Film gong for 2046 (2004) at the European Film Awards – Wong remains one of the most well-known auteurs to come out of Hong Kong in recent years.

The 54-year-old has become such an art-house brand that festival directors have given him much leeway in exchange for his films to take a bow at their events. The most memorable incident took place in 2004, when Cannes announced the inclusion of Wong’s erstwhile untitled (and unfinished) film in its official competition. The festival had to cancel the first screening of the film because Wong was unable to finish the film in time, and reports stated that a copy of the film was transported straight from the processing labs to the Grand Theatre Lumiere in time for its world premiere.