BERLIN - Martial arts epic "The Grandmaster" kicked off the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, introducing an international audience to Yip Man, the man who mentored Bruce Lee and brought kung fu to the masses.
The movie by Wong Kar-wai is running out of competition because the director also heads this year's jury.
Shanghai-born Wong and his fellow jurors — among them American actor-director Tim Robbins — will have to choose from 19 movies competing for prizes at the 63rd Berlinale.
These include the Steven Soderbergh thriller "Side Effects" with Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Gus Van Sant's film "Promised Land" about the shale gas industry starring Matt Damon.
Juliette Binoche portrays a troubled French sculptor in "Camille Claudel 1915," while "Gold" tells a tale of German immigrants seeking their luck in late 19th-century North America.
Competing also are romantic thriller "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" with Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood, and "Closed Curtain" by Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who was barred from leaving Iran to attend the festival.
The winner of one award has already been announced. French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann will be honoured for his life's work. Lanzmann's nine-and-a-half hour documentary "Shoah" about the horrors of the genocide of European Jews was screened at the festival in 1986.
In total more than 400 films will be shown at the Feb. 7-17 event known for its focus on social and political works.
Jury president Wong said ahead of the festival that Berlin was about the "experience of a true pleasure of sharing ideas" in the cinema.
Speaking Thursday about his own work, Wong told reporters that the biggest challenge while making "The Grandmaster" was the fact that he doesn't practice martial arts himself.
Wong said he was nevertheless drawn to the figure of Yip Man, Bruce Lee's mentor, because of his fortitude in the face of a lifetime of hardship, beginning with his childhood in Imperial China through the revolutionary years and ending in Hong Kong under British colonial rule.
"His life basically is like the modern history of the early days of our republic," said Wong. "During all these periods you can see how a martial artist stands up for his principles and his honour in front of all this hardship"
The international cut of "The Grandmaster" premiering in Berlin has been shortened from the version released in China last year. The film stars Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love") and Zhang Ziyi, best known internationally for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Festival website: http://www.berlinale.de