A while back, I posted Wong Kar Wai’s behind the scenes documentary of the “The Grandmaster,” and then promised to transcribe and translate the text for those of you who are interested. I have finally finished that small, but annoyingly difficult project. For those who don’t know, there were several dialects in this documentary, and that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was just finding the time to sit and do this. My time management needs management.
So I haven’t popped the subtitles into the Youtube clip, I just provide the text here. Feel free to mish and mash as you will. I have included the original Chinese text so you can do your own translation if you like, or just refer to the source whenever something seems a bit off. I have also placed time-markers at intervals, to allow you to skip ahead. Enjoy!
要重现民国是一个很庞大的工程 因为这个不单只是个跨度，服装，道具的问题， 是你要把那个时代重现出来。
Director Karwai Wong met with great challenges while filming and producing his first epic martial arts blockbluster “The Grandmaster.” Recreating the Republic of China (1912-1949) was a giant undertaking. It was not simply a matter of setting, costumes and props, but a matter of recreating the essence of an era.
In terms of the fight scenes, the original character of each fight must be reproduced, not through stunts, but by returning to the essence and vigor of martial artists at that time. The martial arts community is governed by set of rules [known in Chinese as yigui] and rituals that bind the martial art practitioners into a community. These rituals are the wisdom of our Chinese ancestors. Some of this wisdom has already disappeared.
Why is Wushu called Kung Fu? Actually, Kung-fu refers to time. Achieving my goals will take an incredible amount of time. But I am willing to walk this path, because the road has great appeal to me.
The Grandmaster was inspired in 1996 when I was filming Happy Together. One day in a train station in Argentina, I saw a newsstand with many magazines. There were two cover figures on the magazines, Chairman Mao on one cover and Bruce Lee on the other. These magazines weren’t for students of history but more for young people. To the youth, these two figures were idols and heroes.
Wong Kar Wai was very curious as to why Bruce Lee was able to grow so famous through wushu, why did he possess so much charm?
I watched many Bruce Lee movies growing up. I really liked watching them. But I never thought he would hold such a prominent place in my imagination 20 years after his death.
At that time I really wanted to make a Bruce Lee movie, but lots of people had already told his story on screen. I wondered what was Bruce Lee’s master like? Who helped cultivate Bruce Lee? Afterwards I returned to Hong Kong where I had the opportunity to see a video about Yip Man; it was supposedly filmed just 3 days before he died.
The most moving part was when he suddenly stopped (fighting), you didn’t know if it was because he was tired, or if he forgot the moves. He stopped for a while and then continued fighting. At that time, I didn’t understand why he did this but afterwards I discovered the reason. A traditional saying in martial arts circles goes like this: “Never forget, one must always remember; where there is even one breath, there is also a lamp to lead the way.” Because when there is even just one disciple, there is inheritance. He wanted to pass his essence along.
Yip Man made Bruce Lee, who made his fame as a grandmaster. Why? It was not only because he was great himself, but because he taught the next-generation to be greater than himself. Many teachers just ask the student to imitate them. Yip Man was able to help you develop, to help you learn to use your own thoughts to become better, even better than Yip Man himself.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s in Hong Kong, wushu schools were everywhere on the streets. This fact inspired the original idea for the The Grandmaster: it was about the story of one person and one street. However, after we investigated, the masters turned out to come from places all across the country. Subsequently, the director’s ambitions changed from [One Street] to [One Age].
Hello, this is Director Karwai Wong
Wong Kar Wai has always been very curious about traditional Chinese Kung Fu. He went searching for Kung Fu’s most mysterious combat techniques in order to make a completely new type of Kung Fu movie. By visiting and collecting a large amount of historical photos and books, Wong Kar Wai clarified his own thoughts on the matter, and decided that he wanted to make an authentic film that focuses on practical Kung Fu.
While doing these investigations, I discovered that I still needed to go back. Slowly start from Hong Kong, and retrace the road back to the Republic of China. I believe at that time there were great many interesting Kung Fu masters, all coming from the north.
The Republic of China era was the golden age of Wushu. There were many organizations, including the China Wu Athletic Federation, Chinese Warrior Society and the Central Wushu School founded in the first year of the Republic of China. The Guangdong-Guangxi Wushu School established in the Republic of China’s 17th year. Later the Five Masters, including Fu Zhensong, Gu Ruzhang, Li Xianwu (or Geng Deqiang), Wan Laisheng and Wang Shaozhou went to Lingnan together with the local masters to teach Wushu together, and then northern Kung Fu was passed to the south. “The Grandmaster” takes place during that time.
During the Anti-Japanese War, the 5th generation heir to Lanshou Wushu (now living in Jinyiweiqiao St., Hebei District, Tianjin), created Broadsword vs. Spear. The reason [for creating this form and teaching it] is easily understood [we were at war]. It was especially used to fight against the invading Japanese army. There wasn’t just one Broadsword teacher, every school had one. At that time if you went against the Japanese, you were a hero.
Wong Kar Wai thinks that you cannot represent the wushu community just by looking at pictures and written documents. You must go further, visit the teachers and learn from them.
In December 2008, Wong Kar Wai visited Jet Li’s teacher, Master Wu Bin:
“If you wanted to present one type of boxing, you had to get the specialties of this type of boxing….” Master Wu Bin helped the director start his journey visiting Masters from the north to the south and across the strait: “Journey of The Grandmaster”
Wong Kar Wai was well known for his films with Bridgette Lin and Maggie Cheung. So I at first thought he knew nothing about Kung Fu. So we told him everything, and afterwards took him to Tongxian County to see Li’s Taiji in practice. We also took him to find some Baguazhang (Eight Diagram Palm) masters.
After visiting and learning, we sat down to discuss, and he brought out his notebook. He had started to study Wushu a long time ago, covering many schools and techniques. From north to south, every school, every region – they were all in that book. When he opened the book I said, “you have that, but I don’t,” I cannot just say anything now when I talk to him. If it was put in the record, someone checks and can’t find it, then we would be embarrassed, which is not good. So my impression of him changed, I considered him a very detail-oriented person.
So to talk about Wong Kar Wai’s Kung Fu Journey, it started in Hong Kong and continued on to the Mainland, successively passing through: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, the Northeast of China, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Foshan,
Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei. He paid a visit to the schools of Wing Chun, Xingyi, Bagua, Baji (Eight Extremes Fist), and Xinyiquan amongst many others, and met over 100 masters. He discovered many of Wushu’s unknown stories and secrets.
The data we are taking down is all about Xingyi, and we mention Zhao Daoxin in them. One teacher asked me if I knew some things about teacher Zhao Daoxin, these documents have been examined and approved by the state; these are our intangible heritage – Xingyiquan. We came here for two purposes: first, we must at least understand the cultural background and the environment from which this style of boxing originates; second, to discover Xingyiquan’s techniques and characteristics.
Every school has their own style, for example, Tan Tui (springing legs), there is Hui-minority Tan Tui, Bihe Tan Tui etc. Every school has their own style and moves – which also applies to Yixingquan. For example, there are Dragon-style moves, Tiger-style moves and Snake-style moves; Yixingquan has all these particulars.
Actually this is a dodge and that can avoid the attack, this is Baji (Eight Extremes), so we must understand Baji’s characteristics. When you are moving your hands to strike, the floor is your support; you must borrow its energy, do not move your feet from the ground and fight without its support. The old generation of Kung Fu practitioners used to stomp the ground forcefully, as if they desperately wanted to stomp a hole into it.
Xingyiquan features hitting people so hard that they fly into the air, and people in Shanxi really like that style,hitting someone so hard they fly. But only a successful fist attack can work. When we were at the Xingyi training session, we watched from the sideline, and we thought it was very easy. I thought, I can study for a few years and be able to do it. The fact is that it takes a lifetime to learn Wushu well. I have studied for more than 40 years, and I believe I have only very recently begun to master the style, after studying more and more, digging deeper and deeper. The more I train, the more I like it, it is especially profound. After all this time, it seems that training for ten years was simple.
Watch this: this is dragon-style big chop, this is tiger style, what are their characteristics? The tiger’s characteristics are the tiger jumping and touching, do you understand? The horse has ice hooves, don’t you want to talk about characteristics？The horse has ice hooves. Teacher, if this were the past ….
In the past, you had to go to other people’s mountains to pay respects.
What were the rituals?
It wasn’t easy just to go somewhere, meet a master and train. You needed a special handshake, and it changed you.
No, like this.
He said “Don’t break the three rules when you strike, don’t break the three rules when you speak,” have I broken the 3 Rules? I haven’t – do you see?
You have! My middle finger is the 3rd, where have I put my middle finger?
I have put it on my pulse.
Your pulse is in your blood vessels, this blood vessel is very long, and I have already given you [my force?].
Oh, this is Glasses Cheng (Cheng Tinghua)’s descendents.
Your ancestors plaque is still in the back?… Ah here it comes now.
At last in Foshan, Wong Kar Wai met Yip Man’s son: Ip Chun (Ye Zhun). A master of one generation cannot only study Kung Fu, the most important thing is to develop the school, develop a strong influence and a strong moral character. Only with all that can he be a Grandmaster.
At this time Wong Kar Wai thought something bigger was calling him, and it attracted him deeply. During his travels he saw many old masters who, despite their age, were still learning and teaching. Like the already passed Taiwanese master Wang Jinfa (Hong School), who held fast to the last training field of the Hong School atop Jinchun mountain. He told Wong Kar Wai the rituals of the Hong School in detail again and again.
In Guangzhou that year, the grandson and granddaughter of one of the famous Five Tiger Masters – Fu Zhenson were teaching wushu every evening in the public park. Why did they not quit? Because they were both crazy about it, both had a need for it.
The second bow.
The pulse of traditional Wushu comes from the teacher and disciple; the same type of Kung Fu can split into different schools, each with its own characteristics. Many combat techniques, and many unique skills can come out of one master’s teachings. Relying on the pulse, the teacher and disciple pass Kung Fu on with a relationship such as that of father and son, brimming with humanity.
Getting actors for The Grandmaster was a big problem. They needed to be able to demonstrate Wing Chun, Bagua and Tai chi fighting methods. They needed to be able to capture the Republic of China’s Wushu manner, not just the temperament of the time, but also the actual Kung Fu training. Only then can they have it in their bones. Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Zhen had all had many formal years of Kung Fu training, with regards to the actors, this was a very hard decision.
For his film, Wong Kar Wai visited many teachers from many schools, not just from Wing Chun. He was most attracted by three northern schools: Bagua, Xingyi and Baji. These schools in the nationalist period produced a group of chivalrous and high level masters. Wong Kar Wai finally decided to have four big fighting styles in his film: Wing Chun, Bagua, Xingyi and Baji.
Yip Man was born in the late Qing dynasty and grew up during the Republican period. He experienced the Northern expedition, the Japanese invasion and civil war. Finally he settled in Hong Kong where he opened a martial arts school. He taughtBruce Lee, who afterwards carried Wing Chun to the world.
There are no issues with his ability to focus. I plan to fire a water gun at him, to practice focus without blinking. To be at ease and calm while focused. Wong Kar Wai made a special trip to see Yip Man’s disciple, Mr. Liang Shaohong, to personally train in traditional Wing Chun fighting methods and theory.
When I was seven years old I started studying Kung Fu, at 13 I went with Bruce Lee to study Wing Chun, under Yip Man. What Yip Man said made a lot of sense, such as how to fight with clapping, so much sense. He didn’t just talk, he demonstrated. Master demonstrated a few times, and it made me feel that he was very lethal. He was about 5 feet tall, shorter than me, less than 100 pounds but his power was incredible, inestimable. At the same time his boxing speed was very fast. After he explained something to me, I always felt it was spot on. After several decades I went to America, some people wanted me to teach Kung Fu there. First I went to New York, but New York was very chaotic. So I went to Virginia, several schools in several cities. The police academy invited me to go and teach, and after that I taught the Navy Seals and also the American SWAT team.
Wing Chun is easier to learn than other schools. The main reason is that Wing Chun does not require great physical ability but comprehensive philosophy and theories etc.
When we fight, my hands don’t move, I leave them here.
(I) wanted to change Tony Leung’s features to another person.
Once Tony Leung started to study Kung Fu, he slowly went into someone else’s soul.
Baguazhang is a Kungfu widely used in the Imperial Palace, and it is more feminine.
Baguazhang is one of China’s three internal forms, which also includes Taiji, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang.
Stretching arms, buckling arms, horse stance.
Many of Baguazhang’s weapons are very unique. For example the Imperial Scholar’s pen (Judge’s pen), is a fairly unique one.
My Baguazhang patterns and ones I taught Zhang Ziyi all come from Cheng’s style. In these two branches you distinguish between the palm forms. Yin’s palm form is like this, and Cheng’s is like this. You can see this in the movie
“Sway, buckle, sway, turn right, turn this way, correct”
Baguazhang’s characteristics focus on the circle walking or “turning the circle” and pushing hands. (I) later found out that actually Bagua and xingyi have a subtle relationship. At that time Wong Kar Wai wanted to present a female master, letting her fight a more feminine Baguazhang, Zhang Ziyi was the most suitable candidate.
Another school of Kung Fu is Bajiquan, Baji is extremely tough and violent. Legend has it that the bodyguards of Puyi (the last emperor of China) and Mao Zedong practiced Baji; it is a very large northern school of fighting.
What are the particulars of Baji?
Chinese: 讲究【内存八意，外具八形，劲发八面 ，以意领气，以气促力】
Eight inside intentions, external eight forms, eight-direction forces, intention to lead Qi, forceful Qi. Whichever Baji style you practice, when you strike, you strike like this, I move upward and have my hands overhead. After that, I can beat you no matter how I move, this way or the other way round. I can walk this way or the other; I can move or stay still: I can let you move. Look! There it is.
Baji is a close range fighting style, we often call it short style’ overlord, because it is very fierce, fast, quick and violent, simple, concise, practical, easy and moreover there are not many things mixed in so it is authentic. Zhang Zhen practiced this type of Baji. Under Baji Master Wang Shiquan, he trained every morning, come rain or shine. He stuck with more than two years of very hard training.
Wong Kar Wai didn’t just learn Kung Fu from these masters, he also learned about national spirit and moral integrity. Wong Kar Wai wants to express these in the film, he doesn’t want to lose the good things. It is just like when
Wushu-leaners say [ancestral things should not be lost]
Because for Wushu itself, in modern China, is getting further and further away from the authentic Wushu skills – especially competitive Wushu. People go to watch Wushu these days from a different sense of aesthetics, this reveals a different side of Wushu; the real side is lost. It will just leave people with many questions. By filming this movie, Wong Kar Wai wants to give people new ideas, and keep the memory alive.
Wong Kar Wai thinks that those masters have entrusted him with kind of responsibility, to display traditional Kung Fu. If you don’t do it now, in the future it may be lost forever. Although this movie took a lot of time to make, Wong Kar Wai feels it was worth it.
In making this movie, Wong Kar Wai has promoted Chinese traditional culture, and encouraged young people’s love and devotion to this traditional culture. I feel that this thing has merit and is especially good.
It seems that nowadays in action movies – Kung Fu movies – if there is fighting, they should fight until half dead. Having seen a lot of these type of movies, I think that your style of doing it can present people with something different, something they have not seen before. To take the internal ideas, the essence, and express that. I think that your concept is quite good, because it can provide people with space, space to understand and interact with true Wushu. Not to focus on just one person, to place the burden on one person, but on an era. Nobody has thought of this before.
As far as Wushu is concerned, I am a blank sheet. I am a blank page so I can be neutral, and see clearly.
We say as far as Wong Kar Wai is concerned, he is willing to learn. When he starting filming “The Grandmaster,” he needed to choose actors and prepare. He took it very seriously. He doesn’t understand Wushu, he is not a practitioner but you cannot say he doesn’t get it. He probably knows more about the various schools of martial arts than than you do.
He even asked how Yip Man buttoned up his clothes – you can see his seriousness in it.
The filming of “The Grandmaster” is a reflection of the true connotations of Wushu. Any strike, be it a fist or palm, must reflect the real Kung Fu, the way it was practiced decades ago, and must be shown like that in the film.
“The Grandmaster” helped contribute to the development of Wushu. And this is crucially important.
In the past years he has directed international movies, and their effects are felt all around the world.
Some people say the so called “unique skill,” is to do a simple thing to its perfection.
For this movie, we tried our best, but I do not dare to say it is perfect. But I hope it has opened a door and started something. I hope some people will walk this road, it is simply too fascinating…