Working with Wong Kar Wai: DoP Philippe Le Sourd Describes the Experience of Shooting The Grandmaster.
Wong Kar Wai‘s latest film, The Grandmaster, is finally coming out this week in the U.S. with a shorter and “more linear” cut. If you’ve seen my Alien List you know that the film made it to my top; it is a feast for the senses, I have no other way to put it (I watched the 122 minutes cut). The Grandmaster is sumptuous and epic and yet, it was shot without a script, based on improvisations, and took four years in the making says DoP Philippe Le Sourd.
A question has been haunting me since March, how does Wong Kar Wai pull it off? When you know how hard it is to make a movie when everything is planned, it is hard to imagine how a film of The Grandmaster’s calibre could be made out of improvisations. It is, after all, a kung-fu/costume drama/epic story that requires massive work from every departments involved.
On top of that, Wong Kar Wai changed cinematographer for his grand scale new film, working with French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd instead of Chris Doyle, his usual collaborator. And yet, when you watch it, you definitely recognize Wong Kar Wai’s palette and universe.
Again: how does filming without a script work on a large-scale movie?
I have been trying to find an interview with either cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, or editor and long-time collaborator William Chang since last March, and I finally found one from the Berlinale Talent Campus with Philippe Le Sourd and Matthew Libatique, where they respectively talked about their experience on The Grandmaster and Black Swan. (Look out next week for an article dedicated to Libatique’s story).
After Le Sourd explained how the initial project, shooting a documentary about Ip Man during six months in China, morphed into shooting a film for four years without a script, he was asked to explain how working with Wong Kar Wai happened, on a practical level.
Le Sourd used the example of the ‘platform scene’ to try explaining the process involved in shooting The Grandmaster. Below is an edited transcript. As you will see, it is a million miles away from what is the norm, and a thousand leaps of faith must have been taken from every person involved for it to work out. If you have not seen the movie yet, an extract of the fight (that took two months to shoot) is embedded after the transcript.
Enter Wong Kar Wai’s Set:
Here is the fight on the platform:
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