|THE GO MASTER
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Chang Chen as Wu Quingyuan in
The Go Master (Wu Qingyuan)
Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang,
Photo Credit: Fortissimo Films
Born in 1914 as the first World War was taking hold in Europe, Wu Qingyuan
(portrayed by Chang Chen) became one of the 20th Century masters of the
Eastern strategy board game go. A young prodigy, he became the de facto
supporter of his family by playing in tournaments after the early death of his
father. News of his prowess reached Japan and he and his mother emigrated
there in 1928. After a match with the reigning go master, Wu Qingyuan became
known throughout Japan and within five years, his rose through the ranks to
become recognized as one of the top players. He even managed to find the
time to collaborate on a book of strategy with one of his opponents.
As the subject for a film biography, there would seem to be a great deal
of material there, but screenwriter Ah Cheng and director Tian Zhuangzhuang
make a botch of it. There are attempts to find a corollary between Wu's
spiritual beliefs and his rise through the ranks of go players, but too often
the subtle approach they have taken leads the Western audience to boredom.
Mostly because almost nothing that is dramatic happens.
Yes, there are a couple of set pieces during World War II where
bombs fall and there's an amazing moment set in Hiroshima on that fateful
August day, but for the most part, the film is too internalized. For all the quotes
from Wu Qingyang's writings, we don't really get a full sense of the man.
This is not the fault of Chang Chen who struggles to inject personality in the
role. He's defeated by a very terse script and by Tian's moribund direction.
What THE GO MASTER does have working in its favor are the sets
and costumes designed by Emi Wada who has previously collaborated with
Kurosawa on RAN and DREAMS and more recently with Zhang Yimou on
HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. She enlivens the entire film with
sumptuous settings and period costumes which have been loving photographed
by cinematographer Wang Yu. They create whatever pizazz the film has.