The Grandmaster, 2013.
Directed by Wong Kar Wai.
Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Quinxiang Wang, Hye-Kyo Song, Shun Lao, Hoi Pang-Lo, Xiaofei Zhou and Benshan Zhao.
The poetically charged biographical story of Ip-Man, the martial arts expert and teacher , who went on to train Bruce Lee…
Wong Kar Wai is a film-maker gifted with a true sense of creating a luxuriant depth of visual detail married to a philosophical highlighting of universals that can cut across genres and standardised models of cinema. His best known film In The Mood For Love is a memorable ode to fate and destiny, crafted and contrasted in the most balletic and joyous modes of scene making. The follow up, 2046 took a science fictionesque framing of these themes and delivered them in a stunning collection of striking visual forms.
Coupled to both of these film’s attractive visual coordination and stimulation were scripts and stories with a strong dose of the mysterious and the magical. A dreamlike atmosphere was key to the both film’s success, and helped to seal Wai’s reputation as one of the world’s most innovative and insightful of auteurs.
The striking visuals are certainly in evidence in this biopic of the kung-fu master Ip-Man (Tony Leung), even if some of the storytelling elements are a bit more on the clunky side. The man who went on to train Bruce Lee clearly led an extremely rich and full life as the film displays in all its finery. It occasionally veers off course and sometimes resembles a scrapbook of memories without much of a complete plot. This is more of an observation than a criticism, in any case.
Occasionally the fight-scenes – and it is the choreography and the artistry of these segments that truly make the film stand out from the Kung-Fu crowd – blow any misgivings about such rudimentary things such as story and script out of the water. They are truly that good. When witnessed on the cinema screen with the swelling strings of the orchestral soundtrack blasting out of the speakers, it could probably inspire a few star-jumps and somersaults on the way home. But perhaps that’s just me. ..
The plot as it is then, is based around the memoirs of the kung-fu legend Ip-Man, spanning two centuries and the fall of the last Chinese empire and the rise of the Republic. There is a chaste and effective love-story and rivalry involving the master and Zhang Ziyi’s noblewoman martial artist, which takes in some of Wai’s obsession with duty, honour and pre-determined fate. Apart from that it is mostly a question of beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
Making use of Yuen Yo Ping, the choreographer behind such well toned films as The Matrix, Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the film’s central trio, Leung, Ziyi and Chang Chen all look as though they can handle themselves incredibly well. A film that brings the ruckus in pure style, then, a bit like a fight after a high society dinner party.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.