Go Master, The (Wu Qingyuan)

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The ViewDunedin Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/03/2008

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

The Go Master tells an undoubtedly fascinating story but the austere structure and emotionless direction make you long for a more traditional, dare one say it, Hollywood-style approach.

What's it all about?
The Go Master is based on the true story of Wu Qingyuan (Chang Chen), a native of China who emerged as a child prodigy of the ancient game of Go (a strategy game played with black and white counters) before moving to Japan in 1928 and rising to prominence as the top Go player in the world. Wu-san successfully defended his position for several decades, choosing to remain in Japan despite severe political pressures from all sides.

The film presents episodes from Wu's life in stripped-down snapshots, often accompanied with onscreen text that includes both a short biographical detail and an actual comment from Wu himself (who still lives in Japan, now well into his 90s). These episodes include: Wu's courtship and subsequent marriage to a Japanese girl; the famous Hiroshima game, where play was briefly interrupted when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; Wu's brief abandonment of the game in order to dedicate himself to a religious sect; and his 1961 motorcycle accident that shattered his confidence.

The Good
There are a couple of decent scenes but the film remains frustratingly flat when the material is crying out for the glossy Hollywood biopic treatment.

The Bad
There's no doubt that in the right hands, The Go Master could have been a fascinating, exciting and ultimately deeply moving biopic. Unfortunately, director Tian Zhuangzhuang takes an austere and frequently emotionless approach that means we're constantly kept at arm's length and never really engage with Wu as a character. The film also makes no attempt to explain how Go is played, so all talk of classic moves and strategies goes completely over our heads.

Worth seeing?
In short, there's a terrific story here that's begging to be told by a different director, as Tian Zhuangzhuang's approach to the material is often frustratingly under-stated and ultimately unsatisfying as a result.

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Content updated: 21/06/2019 05:12

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