OUTTAKES REPORT CARD
MOVIE: THE GRANDMASTER
This movie will be a difficult sell for anyone who hasn’t studied martial arts. Set up as more of a pseudo-documentary, its underlying theme concerns a code of honor; something the vast majority of viewers have lost. While many enjoy the action of the martial arts, few appreciate its philosophical elements, as evidenced by the popularity of MMA
The story chronicles the life of Ip Man, Master of the Wing Chun Kung Fu system and his relationship with Gong Er, daughter of the Northern Master. Man is best known as Bruce Lee’s teacher, but this recounting occurs before Lee becomes his student. Director and Writer Kar Wai Wong pens a meandering tale that haphazardly skips timelines and gives only thumbnail perspectives to some of the major events that affected Man’s life.
Tony Leung plays Ip Man. In the last two films detailing the martial artist’s life, the role was played by Donnie Yen. Yen is a tough act to follow, and probably the best martial arts star working today. Leung, however, is impressive, ensuring a posturing pause designed to accent Wing Chun’s more recognized moves. Ziyi Zhang continues to be one of the most alluring and deadly women in cinema. Her performance here is first rate. Jin Zhang, as Ma San, proves a noble foil for Gong Er. Their fight at the train station is an excellent sequence. Also of note is Chen Chang as Razor. It’s a cameo role, but its one of the best as it underscores the essence of the martial arts spirit.
There’s creative cinematography in this film, including close-ups, off-angle framing and slow motion. Philippe Le Sourd is imaginative without detracting from the Chinese mien. Most Chinese films are unnecessarily long. The original version of this film is 130 minutes, however the version released for American audiences is 110 minutes. There are parts of this version that truly drag; but I can’t blame Editor William Chang because I don’t know if he supervised this shorter version. Does the extra 20 minutes make it a better or slower film? That’s an answer for the DVD release.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
- THE FIGHT IN THE RAIN
- THE TRAIN FIGHT
- THE RICE CAKE CONTEST.
“The Grandmaster” is a hodgepodge film with accents on mundane events and a quick slip over more intense matters. It attempts to weave a love story as subplot, but not one a Western audience would readily appreciate. All told, this film is best left for those who enjoy Chinese philosophy and the spiritual side of kung fu.
FINAL GRADE: C+