In distilling the life of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Go players in history, Wu Qingyuan (Chen Chan) – an ethnic Chinese who immigrated to Japan (where he is referred to by the Japanese reading of his name, Go Seigen) in order to continue his pursuit of the game through officially sponsored tournaments into a few essential moments in the now nonagenarian’s lifelong search for enlightenment – it is interesting to see Tian Zhuangzhuang’s cinema converge towards the aesthetics of Hou Hsiao-hsien. Presenting a series of essential, elliptical, and seemingly alienated, self-encapsulated episodes that characterize, not only the shape of history (and in particular, the protracted conflict between China and Japan as a result of the conflict for sovereignty over Taiwan, the occupation of Manchuria, the Pacific War, and the rise of Communism), but also the psychological isolation imposed by the uncertainty of world events and further complicated by the problems of assimilation into a monoethnic adopted culture, The Go Master is more impressionistic than biographical, allusive than anecdotal (although certain particularly illuminating episodes that reveal Wu’s phenomenal concentration and character are recreated, such as an infamous match for the title of Go Master in which Wu was so engrossed in the game the he was completely oblivious of his opponent, Kitani Minoru’s infirmity from a nosebleed and subsequent collapse; his marriage to a Japanese woman, Nakahara Kazuko; his brief association with the controversial Buddhist sect, Jiu Kyou; and the symptomatic after-effects of nerve damage sustained from a pedestrian accident that cut short Wu’s dominance over the game). By framing Wu’s own words excerpted from his autobiography as written quotation chapter markers – a visual aesthetic reminiscent of the interstitial pillow word structures of Hou’s A City of Sadness – Tian elegantly and understatedly illustrates the thematic context of humanity as impotent witnesses to forces beyond their control, a humble, yet remarkable life lived in the periphery of turbulent human history, ennobled, not by victories, but by the everyday struggle and integrity of the perpetual quest.
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