The Grandmaster (2013)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m a die hard fan of martial arts cinema. Whether they’re colorful, Oscar-winning epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, heart-warming, coming of age dramas like The Karate Kid, or campy, Hong Kong Fooey films like Iron Monkey, Kung Fu movies will always hold a special place in my heart. That’s why, last week, when my friend and I sat down to watch The Grandmaster. I was positively giddy with excitement. Not only was the premise of the picture awesome–this 2013 film tells the story of Ip Man, the Wing Chung master who trained Bruce Lee–the movie was made by Wong Kar-Wai, one of my favorite Asian directors, and it had Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger, and Tony Leung of Infernal Affairs in the leads. Needless to say, it was all I could do to keep myself from squealing with delight when the lights dimmed and the opening credits started rolling.

Two hours and ten minutes later, that excitement, which had previously threatened to blow me to bits, was gone, and replaced by something else. What, you might ask, was that something? Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? The most honest answer would probably be some combination of “none of the above,” and “all of the above.” I didn’t hate the movie, but i didn’t love it either. I knew going into it that I was in for something strange–the director, Wong Kar-Wai, has gained a reputation for making movies that have little to no plot–but even I felt perplexed by the end of it. First of all, Ip Man, the titular character, is only in about a third of the movie. The rest of the film focuses on Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), a female martial arts qmaster, and Ip’s unrequited love interest. Second, there isn’t even that much Kung Fu in the movie, and when there is a fight scene, you can’t really see what’s going on. The Grandmaster was nominated for two Academy Awards–one for Best Cinematography, and one for Best Costume Design–and after watching it, I can understand why. The vibrant color scheme, exquisite use of slow motion, and creative camera angles are all breathtaking. But, at the same time, the beauty of these images is kind of distracting. In several scenes, like the opening fight where Ip Man takes on ten guys, the filmmakers seem more concerned with making the audience appreciate the aesthetics of the sequence as opposed to the sequence itself. I could never really tell who was punching who, or, to be honest, who was who. Instead, all I remember about the fight was extreme close ups of people’s hands, and slow motion shots of flying water droplets. But by far the greatest issue I had with the film was the fact that nothing really happened. Seriously! There were at least a dozen scenes in this movie where characters did nothing more than sit at a table and stare at one another. It was at points like this that I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did I somehow put the wrong movie in? Because I know for a fact that this isn’t the martial arts epic I was promised!”

And yet, as much as the film confused, bored, and in some cases, flat out frustrated me, I’d still recommend it to most people. As I said before, the visuals are absolutely beautiful, the soundtrack is appropriately dramatic, and the acting is nothing to snub one’s nose at. People in the West have developed this notion that Kung Fu movies are all over-the-top, weak in plot, and poorly acted, but this film just about disproves all those things. The leads give restrained, yet believable performances, and the art and philosophy of Kung Fu is far more prevalent here than most other movies. So, is it what I expected it to be? No. But I still believe its a film worth seeing. Think of it as a more colorful, brainy, poetic version of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man.

6 out of 10.

Give it a try if your in the mood for something heady.

Days Of Being Wild (1990)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Contrary to what it’s title might lead you to believe, Wong Kar-Wai’s Days Of Being Wild is NOT a raunchy comedy about rebellious youngsters living free and easy. Rather, this moody, atmospheric, and virtually plotless Hong Kong drama film focuses on emotionally abusive relationships, and how the time we spend together still impacts us long after that time has passed. I love it, and most mainstream critics these days agree that it’s a very well-made movie but, sad to say, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first released back in 1990, critics and audiences despised it. So much so that the director actually had to wait a whole decade before making another movie. Fortunately for him, that next film, In The Mood For Love, was both a critical and commercial success, even getting nominated for the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

But, returning to my original point, many of the problems that people had with Days Of Being Wild back then were ones that I too had the first time I saw it. Critics said that it was a film without a story–all conflict, and no resolution, and I can certainly see why they’d think that. The movie’s plot, if you can call it that, is essentially just a series of episodes in the life of York (Leslie Cheung), an angst filled, fearful of commitment man, and his one-sided relationships with stadium worker Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and dancer Mimi (Carina Lau). There’s no real inciting incident, no rising action, no climax, and by the time the end credits roll, we’re left with several unanswered questions. What happens to York? What happens to Mimi and Li Zhen? Do either of them get over the heartbreak York put them through? Does York stop being so cruel to women, or does he go right on being his nasty, manipulative self? Needless to say, this movie is seriously wanting in the area of closure. In addition to this, it possesses several scenes and subplots that don’t really add to the overall story, and never get addressed after they’re brought up. In one scene, for instance, York and Mimi are in bed making out, and then, for no reason whatsoever, York’s friend climbs through the window, says a line, and then leaves the way he came. Why he decided to scale a four story wall just to make some chit chat and not take the stairs beats me, as well as everyone back in 1990, but, honestly, that kind of logical thinking doesn’t work with Wong Kar-Wai. He is, in many respects, a slightly less surreal, Asian version of David Lynch, in that his movies often make no sense, but are still enjoyable because of their emotional content.

And that, I think, is where Days Of Being Wild’s true genius lies. Yes, it doesn’t really have a plot, and yes, it does leave a lot of questions unanswered, but, the emotions of the characters are so powerful, so real, that you almost forget about all those other things. Everything about the picture, from the grey, overcast color scheme, to the mournful, jazzy soundtrack, to the subdued, yet striking acting of all the leads, conveys a strong sense of depression and hopelessness. You really feel how much pain these people are in, and the movie does an excellent job of illustrating how long that pain can last–the film includes several lengthy shots of clocks, and the passage and meaning of time is a frequent topic of discussion. And as for all the ambiguity at the end, I actually kind of liked that because, in the real world, we don’t always get the answers we want. In fact, most of the time we don’t. Can you really say you know what’s happened to every friend, teacher or lover you’ve had in your lifetime? No, of course not. Plus, there have been lots of successful movies made–Inception, Lost in Translation, Oldboy–that didn’t give us total closure, and yet were lauded by critics and audiences for this very reason. Why were we comfortable with their ambiguity in those stories, and not with the ambiguity in this one? So yes, Days Of Being Wild has virtually no story, and it fails to answer all our questions, but its acting, soundtrack and color scheme all convey the thoughts and emotions of its characters so well that you feel as though they’re your own, and by god, that must count for something! 8 out of 10. Give it a look!

PS–to all the readers of my blog, thank you for staying with me for so long. Please, please, please leave comments about which pictures you’d like me to review or analyze. I want to give you all the most enjoyable blog-reading experience possible. Nathan