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.

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