Ever since it landed slightly softly at the Berlin Film Festival back in February, it seems The Weinstein Company has been doing its best to re-engineer “The Grandmaster” less as an art house item than as a crossover piece. It”s probably for the best. Wong Kar-wai devotees, hungry for the film after years of protracted waiting, will catch the film regardless, whether or not its critical reception improves upon its US release. Genre enthusiasts, however, will need more persuading on a film that, given Wong”s trademark flourishes of woozy romanticism, is still far from conventional martial-arts fare.
First came the film”s Comic-Con appearance, which generated buzz from a very different corner of the internet to the usual film festival crowd. Then came the Academy showcase screening, creating the impression of accessible prestige fare rather than remote art cinema. And now, just over a week before the film hits US cinemas, comes an opportunistic new marketing angle: it’s being released under the banner of “Martin Scorsese Presents ‘The Grandmaster.’”
It”s a move that will probably annoy some of Wong”s more ardent devotees, who might feel that his should be the chief directorial brand associated with the film. It’s not a new tactic, of course: Quentin Tarantino’s name has been welded onto a number of Asian releases for the English-language market, Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” among them.
You could hardly ask for a more sincerely passionate advocate than Scorsese, however. Explaining his attachment to the film, the legendary director stated: “Wong Kar Wai has turned martial arts into a modern dance. Every movement hit with precision, every emotion drenched with underlying honor. ‘The Grandmaster,’ arranged with both elegance and fury, left me mesmerized.”
Harvey Weinstein responded, “Marty Scorsese”s reaction to ‘The Grandmaster’ couldn”t have been more enthusiastic. When Marty champions a film, nothing is better; it is the ultimate seal of approval. I look forward to audiences seeing this wildly entertaining and artistic film.”
I wasn’t quite as enthused as Scorsese about the film, but it certainly has dazzle to spare. Here’s hoping US audiences take the leap.