Despite the title, there isn't much movement in Chinese drama The Go Master. Tian Zhuangzhuang directs it like a still-life portrait of Wu Qingyuan (played by Chen Chang), who rose to prominence in the Far East playing the ancient board game Go. Earth-shattering events like the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima register as blips on the radar and perhaps would have gone by completely unnoticed except for the vibration knocking the pieces off the board.
It's fair to say that Qingyuan is thoroughly obsessed with Go. Apparently his father introduced him to the game as soon as he was old enough to sit up straight, but Zhuangzhuang glosses over this chapter in the young boy's life. Instead he introduces us to a brooding, intense man who accepts Go as his "calling" and his mastery of it as simply a matter of fact. A bout of tuberculosis and atomic warfare are not enough to sway him from this intellectual pursuit, but in later years his need for spiritual fulfilment leads Qingyuan to joining a religious cult.
"A QUAINT MYSTERY"
This crisis of faith is the major turning point in what is essentially a series of loosely connected tableaux bridged by written narration (including Qingyuan's own reflections). Of course by this stage it's clear that Go provides Qingyuan with the only forum where he can achieve total centeredness, but exactly why the game holds such a profound significance in oriental culture remains a quaint mystery. Zhuangzhuang makes no effort to clarify the rules, which is perhaps merciful, and yet it means there is little tension in the competition scenes. He only invites us to watch a man concentrate, to remain unflinching while his opponent keels over after three days in deadlock. This soporific stupor and final pinch of defeat is the experience that most fully equates with watching this film.
The Go Master (Wu Qingyuan) is out in the UK on 28th March 2008.