Pros: cinematography of Wang Yu
Cons: both the history and the game are opaque to most people
I was impressed by director Tian Zhuangzhuang’s 1996 movie “Blue Kite,” but primarily watched “The Go Master” (Go Seigen, originally the master’s name, played by Wu Qingyuan) because its title character was played by me second-favorite (second to Takeshi Kaneshiro) Taiwanese actor, Chang Chen (who was Chang in “Happy Together”, the Mongol prince, Dark Cloud, in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, Sun Quan in “Red Cliff”, Razor in “The Grand Master” ). I would not have recognized him as Wu Qingyuan, either young or old (he looks exactly the same throughout this movie, except that with age he stops wearing glasses, which is a puzzlement).
Even with voiceovers from Wu’s diary (also shown in Chinese characters and English subtitles), the viewer has no idea what Wu thinks or feels about anything, including the physical for the draft into the Imperial Japanese Army, which was at war with his native China. Wu was very Japanized even before the Japanese invasion of China and his “sport” is one venerated in Japan.
Wu survives tuberculosis, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, food shortages, and realizing he is following a false god (a megalomaniacal prophetess of a Buddhist sect, Jikou Son (Minami Kaho) without showing any emotion whatsoever. He is good at bowing and at sitting motionless on his legs (something few Japanese, let alone Taiwanese now can do).
The jumps in time and lack of character development (/motivation) make the movie pretty confusing (dare I say “evidence narrative incompetence”?), but it definitely looks great (like Wong Kar-Wai’s “Grand Master” with even less action). Credit cinematographer Wang Yu (Suzhou River, 24 City). The movie was mostly shot in Japan (specifically, Odawara in the Kanagawa Prefecture in the southeast of Honshu, the target of US bombers August 15, 1945) and the dialogue is mostly in Japanese.
©2018, Stephen O. Murray
There are few competitors (only Hou Hsiao-Hsien) for perpetrating very long immobile shots, frequently without any of the characters in or staying in the frame, of Tsai Ming-Liang movies. I am mystified by the critical praise (and international prizes, including Golden Horses for director and actor and a Venice Film Festival special Jury Prize and a Golden Mouse) he has accrued, especially for the excruciating (not just slow) “Jiao you” (Stray Dogs, 2013), which has Tsai’s muse, Lee Kang-Sheng shuffling along on the margins of Taipei as a homeless (squatter) alcoholic who holds up an advertising sign in the constant rain at a Taipei inersection and has two children (the actor’s real-life nephew and niece) who mostly have to fend for themselves. There is no narrative and no payoff of long, long, long shots by an immobile camera of rainy riverbank (Tsia’s cinematic universe has always been notably soggy) or contemplating a charcoal landscape mural for thirteen mute minutes. Tsai is bored with making movies and has said this may be his last. It certainly shows and shares his boredom.
Chen Kaige’s (2012) “Sousuo” (Caught in the Web) has rapid cuts and a complex narrative. It is unlike other Chen movies (centering on a video clip going viral), but is intriguing and watchable and even touching in the end, with considerable humor along the way.
Koreeda Horikazu’s (20013) “Soshite chichi ni naru” (Like Father, Like Son) is intermediate in scene length, and unsurprisingly touching as a hard-driving businessman (Fukuyama Masaharu) and his wife (Ono Machiko) find that their six-year-old son was switched in the hospital with the son of a fairly feckless (at least unambitious) but warm small-town shop owner (Lily Frnky) and his wife (Maki Yôko). After some trial stays with their biological parents, a switch is made. As in “The Other Son,” in which there is a vaster gap between the families, the boys bond with each other.
As usual in Koreeda movies (e.g., I Wish, Nobody Knows) the children are both captivating and resilient, puzzling the adults to varying degrees. That both sons prefer love to money is not a surprise.