The Grandmaster: American Version vs. Chinese Version
Saw The Grandmaster at Athena Cinema. It was fascinating to see how much changes were made in the American version that they feel like two vastly different films. Many of the changes were made to tell a more linear story, to make something that was more suggestive, implicit in the Chinese version more explicit for American audience. The structure of the Chinese version was not based on causal relationship or linear logic, but more on a poetic feeling. There were many side characters, who did not have connection with Ip Man. In some sense, Ip Man was not even the narractive center of the film. The Chinese version seems to be not about Ip Man’s story, but a story about a generation of martial arts masters who were affected by the historical currents of their times. However, the American version restructured the story to center on Ip Man, and make sure every other character has connection with him. The different way of structuring and editing made sense in terms of serving each of their different emphasis. However, I was wondering whether Wong Kar Wai made the changes under the pressure of the distributor for the American market, or he made the choices for other reasons, or was it even him who made the choices. Now I pray for a director’s cut to be released with the DVD with a complete, final version that could fully present his vision.
The Chinese version was 130 min long—-the American version: 108 min
Gong Er’s story about revenge was quite dominant in the Chinese version, and was told from approximately 55 min to 100 min, which means that it is structurally at the center of the film. However, the story was not told in one piece, but was divided by the meeting between Ip Man and Gong Er in Hong Kong in 1951. The timeline was confusing here, because there were no intertitles to indicate which scene happens in which year—-American version tells Ip Man’s story first, and then flashback to Gong Er’s story after Ip Man met her again in Hong Kong
Scenes added and cut:
A scene was added after the fighting in the rain: Master Gong was observing the fight, and learned that the talented man was Ip Man
Lots of intertitles and historical footage were added to explain the historical backgrounds, and connect events. These were not in the Chinese version (and the intertitles look so ugly and stands in huge contrast with the Chinese intertitles, which were aesthetically fitting the film at large)
Gong Er’s flashback to her memory of observing her father practicing when she was small was an addition in the American version. Interestingly, by making this addition, the film emphasized her personal story and her reminiscence of her childhood and the times when she could practice her martial arts. The lines were changed as well. After telling her childhood memory, she said, “that was the happiest time of my life.” In the Chinese version, there was her fantasy/memory of her playing martial arts in the snow in the woods. She said, “A great age was about a choice: stay or move on. I chose to remain in my era, the time when I was happiest.” It seems that the Chinese version was emphasizing the times, and how it affected Gong Er, and other masters’ life. When the times compelled the characters to leave their home and take refuge in Hong Kong, Ip Man chose to move on, while Gong Er chose the other way.
The side characters:
The barber: Chinese version: he has no connection with Ip Man. There was a scene with him on the train with Gong Er, a scene in his barbershop recruiting his disciples by showing them his martial arts——these scenes were deleted in the American version, while there is a scene added with the Barber meeting Ip Man
The Cigarette Guy: The cigarette guy in the American version, who has a short encounter with Ip Man, actually was Master Gong’s senior, and had appeared in one or two other scenes earlier in the film, prior to his encounter with Ip Man.
The lines for The Grandmaster were one of the most poetic part of the film, besides the beautiful cinematography. There were many philosophical, suggestive lines that were crucial in the film. However, that implicit message was the part that was difficult to translate into English. Many lines were translated so literally that they completely lost their original tone, emotional underpinning, or significance.
The American version added a part to the ending credits, composed with various fighting scenes and Ip Man asking “what is your style?” which feels like a commercial, or a dancing sequence added to a Romantic Comedy. Before the credits rolled, the film ended with a quote from Bruce Lee, which was also quite nonsensical. (They neglected to make changes to the ending credits. Since there were several scenes cut in the American version, many actors’ names should not appear in the ending credits in this version.) Are these choices made to cater to American audience as well? Does a Chinese film have to sell for its relation to Bruce Lee? I think the distributor went too far to adapt this film to Western taste. I wonder whether Wong Kar Wai was also, as the masters in the film, compelled to cater to the times, or the market against his gut.