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