The Go Master

The Go Master


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the style of a haiku, with the look of a Chinese watercolour, The Go Master is a biopic about as far from Searching For Bobby Fischer as it is possible to be. The acting has the intensity of a Ming vase. Silences speak volumes. The photography flows like a river. Winters come, snow falls, years pass.

Wu San (Chen Chang) was born in 1914. At a very young age he started to play Go, a deceptively simple game of intricate complexities (like the film), which, at the highest level, is taken as seriously as religion, and proved so adept that there was talk of him being the reincarnation of a former Master (“God has blessed you with the gift of Go”).

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Wu is Chinese, living in Tokyo, which politically could have been a problem, considering that the two countries were fighting each other. When World War II gets going, he is drafted, but fails his medical because of “lingering TB.” During this period of unrest, which hardly registers, since, in the world of Go, only the game matters and contests can run for years, Wu marries – for someone so cripplingly shy, this is a small miracle – and becomes involved with a religious cult.

The film is as introspective as the man, while explanation is as minimalist as the screenplay. Wu’s mastery of the game involves squatting before a low table, with a bowl of white or black stones, staring intently at the board and never speaking. Occasionally, very occasionally, he will collect a stone in his long, elegant fingers from its polished cherry wood bowl and place it on the table.

The war ends; Hiroshima is flattened; Wu gives up Go for his faith and then gives up his faith for Go. His peers grow old and die. He doesn’t.

The Go Master is a film that would benefit from two or three viewings to fully appreciate the quality of this life and the perfect symmetry of Tian Zhuangzuang’s interpretation. It requires patience; it requires the talents that make a good player of the game; it requires a quiet mind.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2008
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The long and quiet life of a Chinese Go Master in Japan.
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Director: Tian Zhuangzhuang

Writer: Ah Cheng

Starring: Chen Chang, Yi Huang, Takashi Nishina, Akira Emoto, Sylvia Chang, Mansaku Fuwa

Year: 2006

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Japan/China


London 2006

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