Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd expected to work for six months on director Wong Kar Wai’s epic martial arts actioner The Grandmaster, but it ended up being a 3-year job. “Making The Grandmaster was a challenge,” he said. “It was a big journey, and I didn’t expect it to take so long.” Remarkably, this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Achievement in Cinematography and Costume Design were the first ever for the grandmaster himself, Wong, who has been directing films since 1988 and is internationally acclaimed. So when the director asked Le Sourd to come to China and work on his film, the New York-based DP said yes, but when he got to the set, he was faced with many challenges. “To come in as a foreigner to China when you don’t speak the language … I needed a translator on the set to try to understand what was going on,” he said. “The fact that you don’t have a script and you don’t know when you’re going to see the movie. that was an amazing challenge because you don’t know what you’re going to do the next day or the next week. Every day was a surprise.” It was no surprise that his work not only earned him his first Oscar nom but also a nominations from his peers from the American Society of Cinematographers.
Since completing The Grandmaster, Le Sourd has embarked on new challenges of a more musical nature among other things. The acclaimed DP was the lensman on U2’s new music video for “Invisible,” which debuted to a record-breaking audience during this month’s Super Bowl. The simple, almost stark video reveals Le Sourd’s ability to illuminate and mesmerize, turning the tried-and-true rock video format into something that sparkles anew. Similarly, with The Grandmaster, which was shot on Fuji’s last roll, Le Sourd displayed a visually dexterity rarely seen in the martial arts genre. What will he do next? He’s not sure. “I’m looking for a new journey.” He said he learned something through this experience. “What you learn at the end is you have to journey in the present. You have to let it go. Don’t think about the future. Don’t think about the past, it’s just what you know today.” He called it the most beautiful and difficult experience.