Starring: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi
Written by: Wong Kar Wai, Zou Jingzhi, Xu Haofeng
Directed by: Wong Kar Wai
The story of Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) is told in a dramatic, martial arts epic from the 1930’s to the death of Ip Man.
The Grandmaster is a strange film. Part martial arts film, part drama, part faux documentary, the film tells the tale of Ip Man, known for being the teacher of Bruce Lee. Visually stunning, the film is an eclectic amalgamation of different styles of filmmaking under the direction of Wong Kar Wai. Featuring epic martial arts battle scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix Trilogy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and heart wrenching drama, The Grandmaster is a very well done film. It is not perfect, though, as it can be confusing thanks to time shifts that take you to earlier points in these characters lives without announcing it.
The film follows Ip Man as he becomes a grandmaster in Wing Chun Kung Fu, the occupation of China by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War, his flight to Hong Kong, and the events leading to his death. It also focuses on Gong Er, the daughter of a grandmaster who cannot become a grandmaster herself, because she is female.
While I cannot say that I am well versed in martial arts films, I have seen the Bruce Lee films (Enter the Dragon, Game of Death) and the obvious films everyone knows (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero). The Grandmaster, though, is an odd duck. With confusing time shifts and a very quick pace, sprinkled with wonderful martial arts choreography, the film kind of left me cold. While I in no way hated the film, I found it hard to relate to the characters and actually understand what was going on in the film. Case in point, I actually thought Ip Man married Gong Er and that was his wife. When he says in the movie that he never saw his family again and then ran into Gong Er in Hong Kong, I was shocked and confused.
Visually, though, this is perhaps the most gorgeous film I have seen since Legends of the Fall or Last of the Mohicans. Every frame of the film is like a painting, exquisite in detail and light and shadow. While people talk about Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch, Watchmen) being style over substance, they usually use the term in a derogatory manner. Personally, I felt The Grandmaster was style over substance, but no one will say that in such negative verbage here.
There really is an intriguing story here, if told in a more linear fashion. Which is odd, because there are actually three cuts of this movie, and obviously I have the American version, cut by The Weinstein Company to be more linear and less confusing to American audiences who may not know the story of Ip Man. I shudder to think about how confused I would have been watching the other cuts of the film, especially since this version is for the heathen American audience.
The Grandmaster is a really well done film. While I found myself confused, the stunning cinematography and fabulous fight choreography keep this film from being a throwaway martial arts film. The fight between Gong Er and Ip Man in the brothel is a standout in the film, as is the train scene. Oh, and the fight in the rain in the beginning. And the . . .ok, all of the fights are amazing. If you are a fan of martial arts films and haven’t seen this yet, I would recommend it. It is no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it certainly merits some attention.
**1/2 out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- This film was announced a decade before it’s release, due to the perfectionism of director Wong Kar Wai.
- Bruce Lee trained with Ip Man for five years, studying the Wing Chun style. He eventually created his own hybrid known as Jeet Kune Do.
- Tony Leung trained four hours a day for a year for this film.
- Wong Kar Wai spent a year editing the film before being satisfied.
- Zhang Ziyi, who plays Gong Er, also starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Rush Hour 2.