Early on, there’s reason enough to hope that Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Go Master won’t turn into the dull n’ stately Zentenary it eventually becomes. As the famed Go player Wu Qingyuan, Chang Chen is as striking as ever, particularly in the passages where he’s decked out in a pair of oversize Harold Lloyd spectacles, and Tian has an eye for contemplative compositions that stir the spirit, especially during the initial Go matches (something of a Japanese version of chess that can go on, quite literally, for days) where even the movement of a game piece on a board gives off a resonant psychological charge. Tian films a number of scenes in single-take master shots with little exchange of dialogue. This heightens our impressions of Wu as an inward personality: He’s not unlike a Chinese Candide let loose in a tumultuous Japanese foster country, relying solely on his instincts and innate Go talents for survival. When one of Wu’s acquaintances dies off-screen, he silently senses it (the Buddhist parable of the tree falling in the woods applied) and Tian trusts we get the meaning from the lateral montage: it does make a sound. The Go Master moves continually forward along such straight, even-keeled lines and this is ultimately its undoing. Eras collapse one into another (the most striking transition depicts the Hiroshima bomb blast as a punctuating explosion of off-white light and splintered tatami) and Wu, slave to biopic rhythms, randomly appears as the need arises and the setting desires—here a member of the “Jiu Kyou” sect, there a quiet old man gazing out over an “enlightened” ocean. There’s little sense in The Go Master of a journey reaching culmination, experience left visibly in its wake. Wu is finally Tian’s hollowed-out puppet, star of a Punch n’ Judy allegory about Chinese-Japanese relations that’s more an example of fifth-gen pageantry than anything by Zhang or Chen.
- 104 min
- Tian Zhuangzhuang
- Ah Cheng
- Chang Chen, Sylvia Chang, Xin Baiqing, Itou Ayumi, Emoto Akira, Matsuzaka Keiko, Betty Huang, Li Xuejian, Inoue Takayuki, Nishina Takashi, Nomura Hironobu, Minami Kaho, Omori Nao
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