Review: The Grandmaster
A talented yet simple martial artist is set to take over as grandmaster of southern China in the 1930s. Mentors impart their wisdom, northern rivals want victory, and Ip Man must carry history and tradition on his shoulders through space and time.
Tony Leung Chui Wai, who is apparently over fifty-years-old, has all the right moves as Ip Man. Ziyi Zhang is plenty capable too, as she plays the Gong Er, daughter of the form grandmaster.
A familiar character and a historic figure return to the screen in The Grandmaster, as the real life legend of martial artist Ip Man unfolds once more. A lyrical, reverential, and atmospheric film that is more drama than action, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai dazzles with light and sound, but leaves more to be desired.
Tony Leung, with charm as undeniably powerful as are his fists and feet, is Ip Man, the rising warrior of the southern half of a divided China. He is not a leader of tradition, a symbolic leader of a region that resides in traditional and honor.
An opening rain-soaked scene, that finds Ip Man effortlessly slaying down ferocious opponents, is staggering. The slow-motion effects allow the viewer to catch blood and rain droplets flying off felled foes, while Ip Man spins and punches and kicks like music while dressed in a black ensemble complete with white hat.
Ip Man is the grandmaster, and his ascension brings with it warriors who will celebrate alongside him by fighting against him. Don’t be mistaken, however, this is a film about Chinese history and an inspiring legend that happens to deal with martial arts. Beginning in 1936, and traversing about 20 years of Ip Man’s later years, is still not even about Ip Man personally but what he represents. It’s about his style of fighting Wing Chun, a simpler yet effective type of fighting that his mentors are more than happy to supplement (he visits an odd trio of teachers, and each fight scene is more entertaining than the last).
The most climatic scene of the film, one that comes rather soon at that, is between Gong Er, the former grandmaster’s daughter and a fanatical adversary from the north. Amid falling snow on the platform of a train station, dressed in fur coats, the pair dance in battle. It is a sublime encounter, one of several, and makes for visual beauty and hypnotic choreography.
This version, however, is not the original. Roughly 20 minutes shorter, and with some added explanation, it feels rushed and filled with holes. Either way, the film is for fans of Wong and Leung, a pair of men who can dazzle and awe, but like the action, glide over any peril and forgo gravity.
Should You See It?
It is beautiful, but not novel or pressing is captured, this one can wait some time.