By Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong art house director Wong Kar Wai, whose slow-paced, pensive films earned him laurels at international festivals such as Cannes, where he won best director, has just come out with "The Grandmaster," his latest kung fu epic.
The fruit of eight years of labor and selected as the opening movie for February's Berlin International Film Festival, The Grandmaster tells the legendary tale of Bruce Lee's master Yip Man, played by Wong's long-time collaborator and Cannes best actor award winner Tony Leung.
The concept of the movie hit Wong even before he released his most celebrated work, In The Mood for Love, back in 2000, said the director, wearing his trademark sunglasses, at the movie's Hong Kong premiere on Jan 8.
The idea kept brewing in his head and eventually took him on a three-year journey, knocking on the doors of over 100 kung fu masters across China.
"In the world of martial arts, there's a saying that goes -- 'the skies outside and inside the door are different,' he said.
"When you look at it outside the door, it will forever stay a mystery. But when you have a chance to put your head inside and take a peek, you then realize that (the world) inside draws you in," added Wong, who will also serve as the president of the jury for this year's Berlinale.
The auteur set his eyes on four martial art clans for his feature film, but stressed that he wanted to convey a common spirit shared by grandmasters and aficionados alike.
"In the world of martial arts, there are many people who are not 'masters', but they have a deep affection for martial arts. They always hope to leave something behind for their clan and martial arts during their lifetime," he said.
"I think this spirit is the spirit that 'The Grandmaster' wants to convey -- lingering thoughts that are never forgotten, echos that will always come," Wong said.
Set at the infancy of modern China in the early 1900s, the retirement of a martial arts guru leaves the title of Grandmaster up for grabs.
Among the four top fighters for the position is the feisty Gong Er, played by Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha.
For her role, Zhang trained under the teacher of kung fu star Jet Li, and said the movements were key to expressing the spirit of the characters.
"She (Gong Er) is a combination of almost all the unique features and merits of women of that era," Zhang said.
"In terms of movements, we trained for such a long time because the director hoped when we went inside the world of the characters, we already carried their spirit in our bodies."
Wong took the Best Director Award at Cannes in 1997 for "Happy Together," which depicts a tempestuous romance between two men and was also nominated for the Palme d'Or.
Plagued by delays, The Grandmaster finally made its global premiere in Beijing on Jan 6, and opened across China on Jan 8 before showing in Berlin on February 7.
(Reporting by Venus Wu, editing by Elaine Lies)