2017-09-28

An elusive short film: In The Mood For Love 2001

Today I want to talk about one particular short film by Wong Kar-Wai. While he is certainly best known for his feature films, Kar-Wai has directed a fair number of short films during his career. The one that is probably most familiar to audiences is the first segment from 2004’s Eros called The Hand. But there are also other, less known shorts, like 2000’s Hua Yang De Nian Hua. It is basically a montage of clips from vintage Chinese films which had been thought to be lost before nitrate prints were discovered in a California warehouse in the 1990s. Both The Hand, Hua Yang De Nian Hua and other shorts (The Follow, I Travelled 9000km To Give It To You) are easily available for fans to watch, either on home video or on the internet. But there is one that is more elusive. It is called In The Mood For Love 2001.

To illuminate the origins of In The Mood For Love 2001, we have to travel back to 1997. In an interview with Wong Kar-Wai published in the Hong Kong paper City Entertainment in April 1997, he mentions a new project called Summer In Beijing and also mentions that he had wanted to finish it until the July 1 deadline, on which Hong Kong would be handed over to China. But he also makes it clear during the interview that the deadline was unlikely, making Summer In Beijing his first post-handover film. (1)

There are conflicting stories as to what Summer In Beijing was supposed to be about. Tony Rayns claims that it was planned in conjunction with Happy Together. As such, it was supposed to form a diptych much like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels had turned out to be. While Happy Together was about going to Argentina, Summer In Beijing would be the lighthearted second part of the diptych and would be set in the heart of the motherland. (2) Stephen Teo sees the roots of Wong’s later film 2046 in Summer In Beijing and writes that at “some point during the process, the project transmuted into a futuristic story about Beijing and was given a new title, 2046.” (3)

And while the origins and the evolution of Summer In Beijing’s story aren’t quite clear, the fate of its original, non-futuristic incarnation certainly is. As it turned out, things didn’t go quite as planned. While it hadn’t been a problem for Wong to shoot Chungking Express and Fallen Angels in Hong Kong without a script and even without filming permissions, his way of working wasn’t welcome in the mainland. The Film Bureau responsible for permitting a film to go into production didn’t pre-approve any film that didn’t even have a script. (4) In the end, the project was abandoned and moved back to Hong Kong. All that remains of Summer In Beijing now are some posters that show Tony Leung in front of the National Museum of China at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Interestingly, not only him and Maggie Cheung were announced to star in the upcoming film, but also Takeshi Kaneshiro, whom - as we know - hasn’t starred in a Wong Kar-Wai feature film since 1995’s Fallen Angels.

Summer In Beijing promotional posters

At this point you may ask yourself what all this has to do with In The Mood For Love 2001. Don’t worry, we’re almost there. Unable to further develop Summer in Beijing as he had wanted to do, Wong crafted some new ideas. Eventually and apparently with the help of Maggie Cheung, he came up with a project called Three Stories About Food:

“I was in Paris doing promotion for Happy Together and had dinner with Maggie [Cheung]. […] We hadn’t worked together since Ashes Of Time and she hadn’t worked in Hong Kong in a while. Over dinner, she said ‘We should do a film together.’ She wanted to work with Tony [Leung], who was her first partner from her TV debut.
I said, ‘Why don’t we do a collection of stories, and both of you will play all the characters.’ ‘And what would be the topic?’ she asked. ‘How about food?’ I was reading a book The Physiology of Taste by the French gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, whose famous quote was, ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.’ There was also a quote that said, ‘The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas: it mingles with all other pleasures and remains at last to console us for their departures.’ It was a perfect theme for our project, which had the working title Three Stories About Food.” (5)

In an interview at Cannes 2001 with Gilles Ciment, Wong Kar-Wai elaborates further on the historical and cultural background of the project:

“The idea was to have three stories which described the way food affects people. The story happened in Chinese communities and was about Chinese people. Since the 1970s, I think there have been two inventions which have changed Chinese and Asian life in general. One is the rice cooker; the second one is instant noodles. It used to be that women would have to spend lots of time at home cooking for their families. Without the rice cooker you have to spend hours in the kitchen. After we got rice cookers, the women had more time for themselves.
And then, as in In the Mood for Love, people used to go out for noodles. It was like a family outing, because they lived in a very small space. So they needed an excuse to go out at night to have a cup of noodles. Actually, it wasn’t the noodles, but they wanted to get some air. After we got instant noodles, people didn’t go out for noodles anymore. And so the last story is about fast-food shops. We can see that a lot of people now, especially the young people, don’t care about cooking. They prefer to go out.
The three stories are from different periods in Hong Kong, and we can see that the roles of men and women have changed a lot because of the habit of eating.” (6)

Had the project been completed, the film’s three stories would have been about (a) a kidnapper and the person being kidnapped, (b) a man and a woman, neighbours, whose spouses are having an affair and (c) a fast food shop owner and his customers. (7) If the second story sounds familiar to you, well, that’s no surprise. This is the story that eventually became In The Mood For Love. While filming that one, the “film got longer and longer and eventually we decided to forget about the idea of having three stories and just focused on the one.”, says Wong Kar-Wai. (8) But as it happened, Wong had already completed the third episode by the time he decided to expand the second story to a feature film. Eventually, it is this episode that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 under the title In The Mood For Love 2001. Wong Kar-Wai goes into further detail about the genesis and story of the episode in the aforementioned interview from 2001 as well as in an interview with John Powers from 2016:

“[…] the short film we’ve just seen is supposed to be the last [episode]. It’s like a dessert. We shot this short film in the first two days when we started our production. So it took only two nights, then we finished it, and then we worked on the main course, which is In the Mood for Love. But somehow In the Mood for Love became longer and longer, it has noodles and it has a rice cooker in it, but it became a film in itself. Actually, when the [Cannes] festival told me that I had to give a lesson here, I didn’t have any lessons. I don’t have anything to teach people because I don’t think I’m a good example. We made a lot of mistakes. So I want to share my experience with you, and I think it’s better to show you the way we make films and the process we have to go through. So we showed the short film in the festival.” (9)
“We shot the first story in an all-night convenience store in Central. Late at night, it was a natural stopping place for broken hearts and lost souls. The place reminded me of Edward Hopper’s painting, ‘Nighthawks’. Tony played the owner who had a hobby, which was collecting the keys customers would leave behind, the remnants of broken promises. Maggie played a woman who’d left her key before, but then comes back, very upset. She gets drunk and wants to eat whatever food he has. He’s only got cakes left and she eats them, one after the other. After the last piece, she passes out with a bit of frosting on her lip. This bothers the owner, who is very tidy and keeps an immaculate restaurant. He wants to clean it off of her, but instead of a napkin, he uses a personal touch. We shot the whole story in 10 days and started prepping for the next one. […] The first story that we shot eventually was shown as a short film at my master class in 2003 [sic!] under the title In The Mood For Love 2001, which a few years later was developed and became My Blueberry Nights.”  (10)

Wong’s two reports obviously differ in detail: Two days vs. ten days of shooting and first vs. last episode. I would conclude that he simply meant that the fast food shop episode was the first one to be filmed, although it was always meant to be the dessert that ends the film.

All in all, with the materials available, the genesis and content of In The Mood For Love 2001 can be reconstructed quite accurately. There is one question that remains: Why hasn’t Wong made this film more available to the public eye? Obviously, it would have been a nice bonus feature on home video editions of In The Mood For Love or even My Blueberry Nights, which it was the inspiration for. There is no definite answer, but there are two guesses. The first one comes from Tony Rayns who attended the screening at Cannes. He suspects that Wong never cleared the rights to use Bryan Ferry’s cover version of the song In The Mood For Love (which apparently is heard during the short film). (11) I doubt that this is the case, since that recording was a big part of the promotion of In The Mood For Love (the feature film) and was part of the trailers and the soundtrack albums. My guess would be that Wong Kar-Wai considers In The Mood For Love 2001 an unfinished project. One that probably pales in comparison to its bigger sibling, In The Mood For Love, the feature film. That’s how I take his comment during the 2001 interview, that in filmmaking, he makes a lot of mistakes. Maybe he only presented the short film in order to discuss the process of filmmaking, to give the audience a glimpse of a project that was completed but then discarded and turned out to be just one step along the way.

I will leave you now with three film strips from In The Mood For Love 2001 that appear in the book The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. They are the only visual material from the short that I know.

three film strips from In The Mood For Love 2001

(1) Teo, Stephen (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. World Directors. p. 114.
(2) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 58.
(3) Teo, Stephen (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. World Directors. p. 114.
(4) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 58.
(5) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155.
(6) Brunette, Peter (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. Contemporary Film Directors. p. 124.
(7) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155 and Lee, Wai-Ming; Lee, Micky (2017). Wong Kar-Wai. Interviews. p. 125.
(8) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 156.
(9) Brunette, Peter (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. Contemporary Film Directors. p. 124.
(10) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155f.
(11) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 93.

2017-09-14

2046's deleted scenes #1: 'M. Chow quitte 2046'

In this new series of blog entries I want to describe and comment on the various deleted scenes from 2004's '2046'. When I pondered on how to begin this series, I eventually thought to myself: "Why not start at the very end?" So here it is, the alternate ending of 2046. This scene appears on the US DVD by Sony as well as on the French DVD by TF1, albeit in two versions. Let's take a look at the US DVD first.

On the US DVD, the scene is called 'The writer visits the future bar'. There, the whole scene is completely silent. No music, no dialogue whatsoever. The scene consists of one single shot only. First, we see lights from the sci-fi train flash up. The camera pans from right to left, as an android walks into the frame in the same direction. We eventually see Chow from behind, sitting at the future bar, drinking and smoking. As he puts his glass down, he turns around, looking straight into the camera. After several seconds, the shot turns bright and cuts off.




On the French TF1 DVD, the scene is called 'M. Chow quitte 2046' ('Mister Chow leaves 2046'). It starts with a black screen. We hear Nat King Cole's 'Christmas Song' and Chow via voiceover: "One who goes to 2046 has only one intention: Recapturing lost memories. Because in 2046 nothing ever changes, they say." Then, the shot from the future bar begins, albeit a bit later than in the version on the US DVD. The android waiter has already entered the frame as the shot begins in the TF1 version. The music and Chow's voiceover continue:  "Nobody knows if that's the case, because no-one has ever come back." Chow turns around. "But me. I want to change." Chow takes a long stare into the camera. And without turning bright, the scene cuts to a zoom-in on the futuristic hole in the wall. Nat King Cole's song continues until the very end.




Let's discuss the scene as it appears on the French DVD. I guess the most apparent thing is the voiceover. It's the same voiceover that accompanies the final shot of the common theatrical version - except for a crucial change. While the theatrical version ends with "...because no-one has ever come back.", the deleted scene adds: "But me. I want to change." His statement is however contradicted by his very presence at the future bar. Maybe that's why he looks at the camera so intensively - so we can actually see his pain.
I have long suspected that the deleted scenes from the TF1 DVD stem from the unfinished version of 2046 which was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. An article by Tony Rayns from 'Sight and Sound' (2008, No. 18 no. 3) confirms this:
One recurrent voiceover heard in the Cannes version of 2046 had disappeared by the time the film reached release. That version opened and closed with the writer’s reflections on his own relationship with 2046, and the same words also popped up in the middle of the film. They went something like this: “Those who go to 2046 never come back. But I’m the exception. I went to 2046, and I have come back. Because I want to change …”
I once asked Wong Kar-wai why he had rewritten that voiceover, and he told me he did so because he thought the original was too obvious. What he meant, I think, was that his own relationship with his writer character too closely mirrored the writer’s relationship with his Japanese surrogate. He feared that audiences would take the voiceover as an autobiographical mission statement. 2046 felt like some kind of summation of Wong’s themes and motifs. This voiceover gave the whole thing an air of valediction; it suggested a director who was feeling an urgent need to move into entirely new areas. I was reminded of an earlier conversation with Wong in which he wryly commented, “Too many people are ‘doing’ Wong Kar-wai these days, so I have to do something else.”

So what do you think about this alternate ending? Tell me in the comments.

2017-09-13

Chungking Express: HK Cut vs. International Cut

Every Wong Kar-Wai movie exists in multiple versions. That's a fact.  Take 2013's 'The Grandmaster' as an example. It was screened in at least four versions and three of them are available on BluRay and DVD. That makes this movie a rare case, since most of the director's other movies are available on home video in one particular cut only. That's understandable, since most of the alternate cuts are premiere versions which Wong Kar-Wai refined further until he presented them to a more general audience. This was the case for 'In The Mood For Love', '2046' and 'My Blueberry Nights', whose Cannes premiere versions were all reportedly different from the versions we know so well.

One alternate version I've always wanted to see is the obscure 'Hong Kong version' of 'Chungking Express'. I think I first read about it in Stephen Teo's 'Wong Kar-Wai: Auteur of Time'. There he discusses some of the differences between that versions and the better known 'international version' and argues that the version shown to international audiences has a more abstract sense of Hong Kong space compared to the version presented to the Hong Kong audience. In order to get to know more about Teo's great analysis, you should probably read his book. The point is, ever since I read those comments, I wanted to see the Hong Kong version. But the sad fact is: All the common DVD and BluRay releases contain 'the international version' only. So I did some research and found out that in the 1990s, the label Ocean Shores released the Hong Kong version on VCD and DVD. You can even find a short review of the latter on DVD Beaver. So I turned to Ebay and was able to get the VCD, but not the DVD.

Chungking Express VCD by Ocean Shores

And I have to tell you, it's an usual experience to watch a VCD nowadays. In the world of HD and 4K, a VCD seems ancient. While it's still compatible with my equipment, the resolution of 352x240 pixels (plus the MPEG-1 codec and the constant bitrate) is quite... something.
So, in order to sport all the differences between the two versions, I let the VCD (Hong Kong version) and the BluRay by the Criterion Collection (international version) run side by side and created this little report about their differences. I should however make some comments about my approach beforehand:
- I didn't document very minor differences, like shots that run 1-2 seconds longer in either version.
- The voiceovers are placed a bit differently in both versions. Usually, there's a 1-2 seconds time difference between both versions. I don't mention that below, otherwise I would have had to comment on each and every voiceover of the movie.
- I tried to comment on differences in the soundtrack. However, the VCD contains a mono soundtrack, while the Criterion BluRay has a remastered 5.1 mix. Needless to say that this makes the overall sound atmosphere completely different. So I only comment on the sound when the differences are severe, like different or missing music cues.

So here it is, my comparison of both versions of 'Chungking Express'.

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HK version 0:00:00 - 0:00:02 (VCD #1) / International version 0:00:00 - 0:00:45
There is a black-on-white Jet Tone Logo in the HK version, while there appear several logos in the international version, including a white-on-black Jet Tone Logo.

Hong Kong version
International version
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HK version 0:00:42 (VCD #1) / International version 0:01:22
The title card contains an English translation in the Int. Cut.

Hong Kong version

International version

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HK version 0:05:22 - 0:05:37 (VCD #1)
The scene with Cop 223 loitering in front of May's window is seen earlier in the HK version.

Hong Kong version

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HK version 0:06:27 - 0:07:37 (VCD #1)
In the Hong Kong version, we only get one short montage sequence with the Indians and the Blonde during which they prepare the drug smuggling. We see the Indians getting paid as well as the drugs being hidden in clothes, shoes and even in people! The Baroque theme is heard during the scene.

International version 0:06:63 - 0:11:33
In the International version, there are two longer montage sequences involving the Indians and the drug smuggling. Instead of the Baroque theme, we get to hear different folk tunes. Between the montage sequences we get the scene with Cop 223 loitering in front of May's window that appeared earlier in the Hong Kong Cut.

International version, 0:06:53 - 0:08:53
First, the Indians get paid, then the Blonde takes them shopping and eating.

International version, 0:08:53 - 0:09:12
This scene is the same as in the HK Cut, except that it's followed by an additional shot of the clock. 

International version, 0:09:13 - 0:11:33
The Blond and the Indians shop a little bit more before they prepare the drug smuggling.
The respective music from the montage sequence continues until the first part of the airport scene, which follows in both versions. After the intercut to the stewardess from Episode #2, we get to hear frantic drums in the HK version. The international version replaces the drum music with announcements from the airport personnel that luggage is not supposed to be left unattended.

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International version 0:13:19 - 0:13:53
The international version has an additional scene with Cop 223 who steps out of McDonalds and then calls his paging service from a supermarket to ask whether he has any new messages. Subsequently, we hear Cop 223 via voiceover:
"We broke up on April Fool's Day, so I took it as a joke. I'm willing to humor her for a month. Every day I buy a can of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1, because May loves pineapple and May 1 is my birthday. I tell myself, that if May hasn't come back by the time I've bought 30 cans, then our love will expire too."
The HK version begins the scene in the supermarket with the close up of the cans of pineapple. From that point on, the scene is the same in both cuts, except that the international version continues the voiceover until shortly before Cop 223 talks to the salesclerk. The HK version has no voiceover at that point.

International Cut
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HK version 0:09:58 - 0:10:30 (VCD #1)
This additional scene from the HK version is an alternative to the scene described before and has the same voiceover. It appears after Cop 223 has left the store.

Hong Kong version
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HK version 0:11:09 - 0:11:51 (VCD #1) / International version 0:14:55 - 0:17:19
The Blonde questions several people whether they know the Indians whom she has hired. The order of the people she asks is different in each version. Additionally, the international version contains a small subplot during which the Blonde kidnaps a little girl in order to get information about the Indians from her father. Her scheme is not successful however and she returns the girl. Via voiceover, she tells us: "Some men might sacrifice their own kid for money, but he wasn't one of them. One hour later, I left."

International version
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HK version 0:14:34 - 0:14:36 (VCD #1)
An additional shot in the HK version which zooms in on the clock when it turns from April 30 to May 1.

Hong Kong version
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HK version 0:14:37 - 0:16:59 (VCD #1) / International version 0:19:55 - 0:22:15
The scene in which the Blonde enters Garden Hostel, is subsequently attacked by hitmen and flees is cut a little bit differenty in the end. But the changes in music are more important here. In the HK version, a folk song can be heard until the Blonde smokes a cigarette. In the international version, a different folk song fades in slowly as she smokes. The 'action music' at the beginning of the subsequent attack is also different in both versions. Also, the folk song from the international version continues to be heard during the first part of the action sequence.

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HK version ~28min. VCD #1) / International version ~33min.
The beginning of the scene with Cop 223 and the Blonde in the hotel is cut exactly the same in both versions, but we hear the cop's voiceover quite a bit later in the international version.

Hong Kong version

International version
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HK version 0:29:50 - 0:29:54 (VCD #1)
The HK version contains an additional shot of Cop 223 cleaning his teeth.

Hong Kong version
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International version 0:39:01 - 0:39:22
There's an additional shot in the international version.

International version
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HK version 0:02:23 - 0:03:40 (VCD #2)
During this famous scene with Cop 663 and Faye, Faye Wong's cover of 'Dreams' can be heard in the HK version. It even continues until the next scene with the cop's colleague. In the international version, the scene is silent.

Hong Kong version

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HK version 0:04:59 - 0:05:02 (VCD #2) / International version 0:57:25 - 0:57:33
This shot outside of Cop 663's appartement is different in each version. In the HK version, the lights flash up twice, in the international version, the interiors remain in the dark.

HK version

International version
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HK version 0:04:59 - 0:05:02 (VCD #2)
The HK version adds a shot of Cop 663 getting up from his couch.

HK version
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HK version 0:05:09 - 0:06:18 (VCD #2)
This scene is exclusive to the HK version. Please click on the picture below to read Cop 663's voiceover.

HK version
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International version ~1h4m
This scene is almost the same in both cuts. But the international version adds Tony's voiceover from the aforementioned extra scene from the HK version. In the HK version, there's no voiceover heard during the scene.

International version
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HK version ~28min (VCD #2) / International version ~1h20m
Before the electricity is cut from the Midnight Express imbiss, a song plays through the speakers in the HK version. This is not the case in the international version.

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HK version ~29min (VCD #2) / International version ~1h22m
As Cop 663 begins to notice the changes in his appartement, he discovers the picture attached to his mirror first and then eats the canned food in the HK version. It's the other way round in the international version. I also had the impression that the shots differed in length from version to version, but it's just minor.

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HK version ~32min (VCD #2)
The following shot lasts longer in the HK version. In the international version, a part of its dialogue is heard over the next shot.

HK version
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HK version ~35min (VCD #2)
The scene in which Faye interacts enthusiastically with her customers is a few seconds longer in the HK version. There might be some extended or additional shots in there.

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Last but not least, the credits are once again different in each version.

HK version
international version

2017-09-11

Days Of Being Wild, Years Of Being Obscure

Remember that article by film theorist and historian David Bordwell about 'Days Of Being Wild' from nearly ten years ago? It was called "Years of being obscure". Check it out, it's worth reading. There he talked about an obscure cut of that movie which was presumably shown to audiences during its Hong Kong run in 1990. Apparently, it's nearly identical from the cut we all know from DVDs and BluRays, except for the fact that there's a new prologue and the ending contains some alternative material. I have never seen the prologue, but I've just come across a video on YouTube that contains the ending with all the alterations that Bordwell describes in his article! It's been on YouTube for two years and I hadn't seen it before. Amazing what you will sometimes on the internet just by chance. Watch it below:



Let's hope that the obscure prologue will also turn up at some point.

2017-09-07

Making sense of 'The Razor' of 2013's 'The Grandmaster'


This will be my first post in more than three years! Let me tell you how this came about: Last month, the Babylon cinema in Berlin organized a series of movie screenings called 'Best of Hong Kong Film'. Lucky for me, many of Wong Kar-Wai’s movies were shown. I was able to attend screenings of Ashes Of Time Redux, In The Mood For Love, 2046 and The Grandmaster. I missed Days Of Being Wild and My Blueberry Nights, but they were screened also. Since then, I’ve found my interest in these movies renewed, although I’ve seen them countless of times by now. Yet, they continue to fascinate and even surprise me. I still discover something new every time I watch them. So thank you, Babylon Berlin, for reigniting my love for Wong Kar-Wai’s work.

Today, I want to write about the character 'Razor' of 2013’s 'The Grandmaster', played by Chang Chen. This character has intrigued me ever since I watched the movie for the very first time (in its original Hong Kong Cut). 'The Razor'  as he is also called in the subtitles  is a mysterious figure. For a long time, I couldn’t quite grasp why he was in the movie. After all, his screen time was rather short and I couldn't quite figure out his connection to the main protagonists of the storyline, namely Ip Man and Gong Er. Later, I watched the two other cuts of 'The Grandmaster'. Each of them contains scenes featuring Razor that aren’t part of the other cuts. Combining all the different cuts, we are able to paint a more complete picture of this intriguing character.

What will follow now is a comparison of the three cuts in terms of how they depict the character Razor. For each of the three versions, I will give detailed breakdowns of the scenes in which this character is featured and provide an interpretation of them. At the end, I will also give a conclusion that will stress some general points that arise during the interpretations.


THE HONG KONG CUT (130min)
The Hong Kong Cut includes three scenes  featuring Razor.

1. Gong Er and Razor meet aboard a train (53:52 – 56:00)
This scene follows Ip Man’s description of his life during wartime and how he lost family and friends in those years. The scene begins with Japanese soldiers boarding a train. We see that Gong Er is also onboard as a passenger. A gentleman – as it will turn out, Razor – whom we haven’t seen before, sits down opposite of her. Gong Er notices that he is wounded, she can see his blood dripping on the seat and on the floor. As the Japanese soldiers enter the cabin, he draws a razor. Gong Er then seats herself right beside him and covers him with her fur coat, thereby successfully hiding that he is wounded and armed. A Japanese soldier comes up to them and asks them for IDs and where they are headed, but they both pretend they’re asleep. Lucky for them, the Japanese soldiers are then called to another cabin and hastily go there. Gong Er and Razor then take a long look at each other, before Gong Er moves back to her seat.
An intercut to the train moving through the dusk as well as the dried blood on Razor's hand indicate that some time has now passed. We then see Gong Er sleeping. Razor now puts the coat back on her and leaves the train. The text on the screen then tells us: “1939. Traveling to Northwest University to practice medicine, Gong Er meets The Razor, a Nationalist agent.”





2. Razor is confronted by his former party members (1:17:32 – 1:20:22)
The second scene with Razor follows right after Ip Man has shown his challengers in Hong Kong the eight kicks of Wing Chun. The movie then cuts to a few seconds of heavy rain, before we witness a confrontation between Razor and other members of his party. “Do you remember our oath?”, he is asked. “What oath?”, he replies. His question is answered promptly: “I vow with all my heart to be loyal and obedient to the Party. I fear neither hardship nor sacrifice. Should I forsake these vows, I accept the harshest punishment.” Razor explains that the war is over and they’re now in Hong Kong, implying that the oath is no longer relevant. His adversaries however voice a different opinion: “Join us alive. Leave us dead.”, to which Razor replies that he will now leave and asks them whether they will be able to stop him. What now follows is an impressive fight in the rain, during which Razor easily manages to defeat them all. Afterwards, text on the screen tells us: “In exile in Hong Kong, The Razor ran the White Rose Barber Shop.”





3. The Razor’s barber shop (1:40:30 – 1:44:30)
Arriving at home, Gong Er breaks down and spills blood, due to her previous fight with Ma San. The next scene tells us via text on the screen: “1952. Hong Kong. White Rose Barber Shop” We witness The Razor being challenged once again. This time, it’s by someone who tries to get protection money from him. The Razor has obviously declined. His opponent warns him: “Open a business, play by the rules.” All in all, their confrontation seems to be about the local hierarchy. The Razor puts an end to the confrontation by 'planting his opponent's ass' (as he puts it) in a stool in the next room. Overcome by the skills of The Razor, the opponent then begs to become his disciple. At first, Razor declines, but the next shot shows him surrounded by his employees (including said opponent) as if posing for a group photo. The text on the screen then tells us: “That same year, The Razor began teaching. Baji kung fu came to Hong Kong.”




Interpretation
The Hong Kong Cut paints a picture of The Razor which at first is fairly vague, but becomes clearer with each scene. Let's take a look at the scene on the train first. It is clear from watching the scene that the Japanese soldiers aren't just randomly checking the people aboard the train, instead, they're looking for someone specific. It is Razor, who was apparently wounded in a confrontation with them shortly before. It doesn't take a lesson in Chinese history to guess why the Japanese soldiers are looking for him. After all, in the previous scene with Ip Man, we witnessed executions of people who weren't willing to cooperate with the Japanese occupiers. Our conclusions are then confirmed in the text shown on screen after the scene. There, Razor is called a "Nationalist agent". It's interesting to see that Wong Kar-Wai gives us the basic context of the scene beforehand, but the specific 'explanation' follows only after we have already watched it.
To understand Razor's specific political affiliations, now it does take a little bit of knowledge about Chinese history. We have to know that Razor, being a Nationalist agent, probably belongs to the Kuomintang, which had turned China from a monarchy to a republic in 1912. The Kuomintang were eventually forced out of the mainland in 1949, when the communist People's Republic of China was established. This historical background is necessary to understand the second scene, where Razor's political affiliations become more specific still. He is confronted by other Kuomintang party members who turn his flight to Hong Kong and his parting with the party into a life and death situation. The ensuing fight in the rain mirrors the fight between Ip Man and his opponents from the very start of the movie. There are similarities in the cholor scheme and the general production of the scene.
The text card at the end of the second scene tells us about Razor's barber shop in Hong Kong, indicating that he has moved on successfully. But it is not until 20 minutes later that we actually get a glimpse of this new life. We learn that the barber shop is actually just a cover up for the secret martial arts school that The Razor is now running there. The image of him surrounded by his employees/disciples at the end of the scene once agains mirrors one of Ip Man and his disciples from elsewhere in the movie.


THE INTERNATIONAL CUT (122min)
The International Cut contains four scenes featuring The Razor.

1. Gong Er and Razor meet aboard a train (51:07 – 53:15)
This scene is exactly the same as in the Hong Kong Cut and it occurs at the same point during the movie.

2. The Razor meets Gong Er in a restaurant in Hong Kong (1:14:12 – 1:15:10)
This scene follows right after Ip Man has demonstrated the eight kicks of Wing Chung to his challengers. Gong Er enters a restaurant and requests stewed lamb, kebabs and rolls. The salesclerk informs her that they don’t serve that anymore, since the Southerners don’t have a taste for it. But if she craves some home style food, she can tell him in advance and he’ll prepare it for her. Gong Er thanks him, says goodbye and leaves. The whole conversation is witnessed by The Razor, who recognizes Gong Er, but doesn’t approach her. We then see him leave, too.




3. Razor is confronted by his former party members (1:15:11 – 1:18:02)
This scene is almost the same as it is in the Hong Kong Cut, but it now follows the aforementioned scene of Gong Er and The Razor in the restaurant. Also, it has a different shot of the rain attached at its beginning. But more importantly, the text at the end is different. Here, it says: “That same year, ‘The Razor’ deserted the Party and took cover in Hong Kong.”


4. The Razor’s barbershop (1:33:27 – 1:37:26)
This scene is the same as in the Hong Kong Cut, except for one little shot missing.

Interpretation
The Razor's depiction is almost the same in the International Cut. The additional scene with Gong Er and Razor serves at least three causes: 1) It shows Gong Er as foreign in Hong Kong and makes it more obvious that this is an exile for her. 2) It continues the story between the two characters. Razor doesn't approach Gong Er, but he obviously remembers her from the past. Now that they are in the same city, we are left to wonder whether they will meet again. The general feeling that comes across however is one of isolation. Apparently, Wong Kar-Wai had at one point planned to continue the story of the two further, as one article tell us: "In the deleted scenes, Razor tries to guard for Gong Er in Hong Kong. So his barber shop is nearby Gong Er's clinic." I have not come across said deleted scene, so I can't comment on this. 3) The scene also provides context for the one that follows. When that one starts, we already know that Razor now lives in Hong Kong and don't have to wait for the dialogue to let us know this.
The second difference between the Hong Kong Cut and the International Cut is the differing title cards at the end of the fight in the rain. In the Hong Kong Cut, we are told that Razor now runs a barber shop in the city. In the International Cut, we learn that Razor leaves the Kuomintag and hides out in Hong Kong. To me, the text card of the International Cut is rather superfluous. It emphasizes points that have already been made perfectly clear during the preceding scenes. The text card of the Hong Kong Cut however serves as a bridge to the next scene with Razor, as I have already said above.


THE US CUT (108min)
The US Cut basically has only one sequence featuring The Razor (54:20 - 57:45). But a lot happens during those three minutes!

1. The fight in the rain
The sequence follows the scene with Ip Man and Ding Lianshan at the imbiss in Hong Kong, which is also part of the Hong Kong Cut but not the International Cut. As that scene ends in the US Cut, we hear Ip Man’s voice over: “That year, refugees flooded into Hong Kong. Among them were many Northern masters. They brought their Martial Arts skills with them. One of them was the fabled Baji master, ‘Razor’.” As we listen to Ip Man’s monologue, the scene cuts to The Razor fighting in the rain. It’s basically a very condensed edit of the fight in the rain from the two other cuts. 


2. The Razor’s backstory
Ip Man continues: “He called himself a barber. Some said he was once an assassin, even the Last Emperor’s bodyguard. His blade was swift and untouchable. But a blade not blocked never sings. And he sought the Music of Steel.” Here, we get to see The Razor in his barber shop, but without any disciples.



3. Ip Man and The Razor meet
The sequence then cuts to Ip Man and The Razor sitting in a teahouse or some other comparable establishment. The Razor offers Ip Man a game of chess, which he declines. The Razor then inquires about Wing Chun and its use of knives. Asked if he wants to see it, he answers: “I want to hear it. This priceless sound. This razor hasn’t seen an equal for a long time.” Ip Man grabs a pair of metal chopsticks. As they both stand up, we are treated to ‘Casta Diva’ and see shots of other people going on about their business in nearby places, including the employess of the barber shop. The Razor draws his – you guessed it – razor and we hear its metal sound. Ip Man blocks it successfully and again that metal sound can be heard. The aforementioned people nearby listen and lock up, suggesting that they’re familiar with the sound – maybe there are some hidden masters among them. As the two masters part ways and share acknowledging smiles, Ip Man’s voiceover continues: “Wing Chun has a saying: You need both master and opponent. A great master is like a scale, a genuine opponent, a mirror. A well-matched opponent is as rare as a good friend. Razor put away his blade. But he never forgot that music and he gave Baji to Hong Kong.”







Interpretation
What's most obvious about the depiction of The Razor in the US Cut is that his historical contextualization is even less defined than in the other cuts. While he is a vague figure in each of the cuts, his mysteriousness becomes his defining element in the US Cut.
Here is what we know about his background. We can assume that he is one of the Northern masters who has fled to Hong Kong. Ip Man's implies this via voiceover. The fact that Razor is a master of Baji confirms this, after all, Baji is a Northern Chinese martial art. In contrast to the other cuts, his affiliation with the Kuomintang is not mentioned here. Rather, it becomes doubtful in this version, since he is rumored to once have been the Last Emperor's bodyguard. It's unlikely that someone in such a high position of the monarchical system could later become a member in a revolutionist national party. We must remember however, that these are only rumors. They serve to illustrate The Razor's mysteriousness and don't tell us viewers anything specific about the character. The Razor of the US Cut might have been a member of the Kuomintag just as The Razor from the other versions of the movie. We are simply not let in on that secret here, there is no hint for us to even assume Razor's membership in the Kuomintag Party; unless of course, we have seen the other versions.
Furthermore, The Razor's isolation is stressed in the US Cut. We either see him in battle or by himself practicing. There is no chance encounter with Gong Er (which creates a shared history between them in the International Cut) and we don't see him together with his disciples. In the US Cut, Razor's social web is rather non-existent. The only person Razor talks with in the US Cut is Ip Man. This is interesting, because the two don't meet in the other versions of the movie. There is no explanation given to us how this meeting came about. It is left in the dark.
Their dialogue, the action on screen as well as Ip Man's voiceover tell us a lot about their relationship. Unlike the people he has fought before, Razor clearly respects Ip Man. He genuinely inquires about Wing Chun and reveals his high regard of Ip Man when he says that his razor hasn't seen an equal in a long time. Either Ip Man's reputation precedes him or Razor simply senses when he has meet an equal. The following confrontation between the two is not a fight to the death, rather, it's a demonstration of skills. It's a confirmation of their statuses as grandmasters. When they part ways, they both take a look back at each other and share an acknowledging smile. It is this moment during which we can situate The Razor's historical localisation. He doesn't have to be defined as a rebel against Japanese oppression or the newly founded People's Republic of China. What's important is that he's a skilled martial artist, hiding out just as Ip Man does. His background may be vague, but his current situation isn't. In a nutshell: In the US Cut, the character Razor serves to illustrate the situation of martial artists during the 1950s.
Let's further dwell on the similarities between Ip Man and The Razor. In the other versions, they are only hinted at. Both of them are shown to have epic fights in the rain, which least of all creates a visual similarity. Both gather disciples in Hong Kong and pass their skills to a new generation. But most importantly, both are masters of their craft and defeat their opponents easily. To cite Ip Man's words in the movie: "Kung fu. Two words – horizontal, vertical. Make a mistake; horizontal. Stay standing and you win." Both stay standing, both win. This analogousness is only hinted at in the two other cuts; it is hinted at in scenes that are strewn across the whole movie. In the US Cut, their analogousness is brought to the front in one single sequence that lasts 3,5 minutes. They meet, they fight, they acknowledge each other's skills. 


CONCLUSION
In this conclusion, I want to highlight the differencess between Ip Man and Razor, before I comment on the intertextual relationship of the three versions of the movie.
I have just stressed that Ip Man and Razor are analogue to one another. Both are undefeatable martial artists who have fled to Hong Kong, where they pass their respective craft, namely Wing Chung and Baji, to a new generation. Regarding the horizontal-vertical opposition of the movie, both are clearly vertical. Other characters like Gong Er, Ma San and Gong Yutian have made mistakes - horizonal. There is yet another opposition in the movie, it's the one between light and dark. Gong Yutian tells his daughter in one scene: "Some thrive in light, others in shadow. The times make us what we are." This is not an opposition that is as exclusive as the one that came before, since both Ip Man and The Razor are forced to live in the shadows at some point. But it's Razor who thrives there. Either as a spy for the Kuomintang or later on as a 'barber' in Hong Kong, he is a mysterious figure whose real persona is not out in the open at any point in time. Ip Man is different. He initially comes from the light. This is symbolized in the movie when Ip Man talks about life's seasons: "If life has seasons, my first forty years were spring." Later on, when the Second Sino-Japanese War begins, he loses everything. His wealth, his family and his friends. Eventually, he is forced to take refuge in Hong Kong. As the character describes this dramatic change in the movie: "If life has four seasons, we went from spring straight to winter." In 'The Grandmaster', it's the social and historical circumstances that shape the characters. As Ip Man says, "It was life that dealt the blows." The times make us what we are indeed.
In a final step, I want to comment on the intertextual relationship of the three cuts of the movie and how they affect our view of The Razor. Suppose you have only watched the US Cut and don't know anything about the other versions. This is how you would probably characterize Razor: "He is a Northern Master who has fled to Hong Kong. His past history is unknown, there are rumours that he might have been an assassin or a bodyguard for the Last Emperor. He now works as a barber." Another person, who has seen the other cuts beforehand, can easily fill out the gaps in your description. Theirs would be entirely different. They would add that although The Razor's background is rumoured, he was in fact a member of the Kuomintag and had to fight for his life to get out of the party. After all, that fight can be witnessed in the US Cut. They would also recognize the barbers that can be seen briefly in the US Cut as Razor's disciples in Hong Kong. Basically, a person who has seen the other cuts before, can contextualize some scenes and shots differently than a person who has no knowledge of the other versions. This works the other way too. When one watches the Hong Kong Cut, one can fill in the second meeting of Gong Er and Razor from the International Cut as well as the friendly duel between Ip Man and Razor from the US Cut.
While all Wong Kar-Wai movies demand observant viewers who are willing to actively (re)construct in their minds what they are witnessing on the screen, with 'The Grandmaster', Wong Kar-Wai has taken this to a new level. The different cuts are one reason for this. Through the different versions, he has found three distinct ways to tell his story. But unlike any Wong Kar-Wai movie before, the three versions form an intertextual web that invites the viewers to fill in information that is left out of the cut they are currently watching. Viewers are now faced with a task that goes beyond the (re)construction of the plot in their minds. I see this as an interesting and exciting development.
There are other ways to look at the intertextual web the three versions create. One could for example also examine how Gong Er's vow is depicted in each of the cuts. This would be a far more ambitious task, since it touches the very core of the movie. One could also take a look at the contradictions between the versions and how they can be explained. For now, I will leave you with my thoughts regarding The Razor. Please feel free to comment.

Update (8th September 2017):
In an interview originally published in The Bejing News (9th January 2015) and now available in English as part of the book 'Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews', Wong talks about the 3D version of 'The Grandmaster'. This is yet another, fourth cut of the movie. I don't mention it in my article above. Apparently, it is based on the US Cut, but adds a few new scenes at the end. For our purposes, we can assume that it is nearly identical to the US Cut. In the interview, Wong Kar-Wai says: "After you watch the 3D version, you will have a clearer idea [of the story] when you re-watch the 2D version." This is exactly what I am talking about when I mention the intertextuality above.
In that interview, he also talks about The Razor. I quote this passage in full length:
WKW: I think if The Grandmaster was really talking about the world of kung fu during the Republican era, it would not be one film. It ought to be three. The first one is about Gong Er and Ip Man; the second one is about the face and the true self; and the last one is about how Razor (played by Chang Chen) was exiled to Taiwan. 
AY: Is the story about Razor’s exile to Taiwan just an idea? 
WKW: I have a concrete story. Why did I choose Baji Quan? Baji Quan has a legendary background. All the bodyguards of Chinese leaders in the past century were trained in Baji Quan: [the last Emperor of Qing Dynasty] Pu Yi’s bodyguard, Chiang Kai-shek’s, and Chairman Mao’s was said to be. The prototype of Razor is based on Liu Yunqiao, the master of Taiwanese Baji Quan. (p. 208)
The notes of the published interview add some useful information:
The Razor character is fictional but is based on two Baji Quan masters. Many Baji Quan masters were assassins or military leaders who rebelled against the Japanese occupation. (p. 210f.)
While this does not contradict the points I made above, I think it's interesting that Razor's martial arts style is an indicator of his background. The US Cut makes this explicit when it mentions the possibility that he may used to be an assassin or even the Last Emperor's bodyguard.