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'The Grandmaster' review: Visually elegant yet its presentation still stumbles

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The Grandmaster

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"The Grandmaster" will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, March 4.

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The US release of "The Grandmaster" is a different cut than the international version and yet somehow it doesn't really seem to affect the overall story and the enjoyable experience of the film. Originally a four hour epic, director Wong Kar Wai has gone on record as saying that that version of the film will never see the light of day. This is an unfortunate circumstance that leaves fans having to choose between the two versions or owning both to own a semi-complete decent segment of what would otherwise be a masterful film.

The international version of the film is 130-minutes while the US version is only 108-minutes. The 130-minute version of the film may be longer, but it seems extremely choppy in the second half. The US version keeps everything important in tact in this neatly trimmed package that is easier to digest. The martial arts drama is meant to be seen in high-definition. The Blu-ray edition of the film shows everything in absolutely gorgeous, crystal clear detail. High definition shows off the beautifully impressive cinematography by Phillippe Le Sourd to exquisite detail. Everything from the intricate detail in Ip Man's (Tony Leung) hat to rain drops and training in the snow to close-ups of burning tobacco to the pores in someone's skin showing off a smooth complexion, Wong Kar Wai meant for his visual martial arts feast for the eyes to be seen on Blu-ray.

As previously mentioned, most of the international version is still there in this US cut of the film including the fight in the rain at the beginning of the film, everything at the brothel and Ma San (Zhang Jin) pummeling the grandmasters from the south, Ip Man going toe to toe with Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), and again with his daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) three days later. Ip Man's story is very much still there as is Gong Er's unwavering quest to avenge her father. The only real difference is that Ip Man actually confronts Razor in the US version and they actually have a scene together. In the international version, Razor had more screen time and his presence was felt a bit more in the background of everything else going on, but wasn't ever face to face with Ip Man. He's only around in the US version for about five minutes and his appearance feels somewhat excessive and unimportant.

That awkward slow-motion effect is still present, as well. It mostly seems like they just reduced the frame rate of the film and it seems to happen at the most inopportune times like when someone is walking upstairs. The only time it ever feels like it's used appropriately is when Ip Man is sitting at a diner of sorts and only he seems to be moving in slow-motion while the business around him is in a rushing blur.

The US cut of "The Grandmaster" is much more effective at telling the story between Ip Man and Gong Er than the international cut and even has a scene during the end credits that feels like it's thrown much of what was left on the cutting room floor into a quick two minute highlight reel. However the brilliant cinematography is still the film's biggest asset as it looks stunning on Blu-ray. The international version will be for die hard fans, but the US version of "The Grandmaster" works just fine for casual martial arts fans.

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