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Fierce, visual poetry are the first three words that spring to mind when thinking of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster. The man’s name is synonymous with some of the most breathtaking films to come from Hong Kong and has managed to deliver once again with his latest film. The film is a biopic about Ip Man, a proponent of Wing Chun and Bruce Lee’s former mentor, who is played by legendary actor Tony Leung (In The Mood for Love). In the southern city of Foshan, Gong Yutian (Qingxiang Wang) is looking for someone to take over his school of kung fu. His only heir is his daughter, Gong Er (Zyang Ziyi) who cannot take over, due to her gender being ostracized in the martial arts community. After seeing a demonstration of Ip Man in action, Gong Yuitan decides to request Ip Man, to test his skills and determine whether he can further his schools teachings, as well as unite the schools of Northern and Southern China.
This is a very broad description of the film because it offers much more than Ip Man coming into his own. While we see Ip Man having to endure various hardships over the years and how he furthers Wing Chun, The Grandmaster finds itself trying to imbue the mind state and philosophies of a martial artist and how this affects their everyday lives. The film personifies mind over matter, but still manages to entertain through its incredible action sequences, evoke emotion through its love story and create a wonderful insight into the world of martial arts during this historical period.
Every single performance in the film is amazing, no matter how big or small the role is. From Tony Leung’s Ip Man, to Chang Chen’s The Razor, all of the characters feel completely realized, have the charm of an old school kung fu film and maintain the elegance that Wong Kar Wai is known for. Zhang Ziyi worked with Wai before on his previous Hong Kong film, 2046, and while she managed to deliver a stellar performance in that film, her portrayal of Gong Er is easily one of her best performances yet. Ziyi manages to play the martial artist with grace and beauty, along with being extremely fierce and determined. Tony Leung plays Ip Man as a true master, always in control of his emotions, no matter what he must overcome in life.
The Grandmaster was shot by Philipe Le Sourd (Seven Pounds), who manages to make this film look just as great as a Wong Kar Wai film should. From the very first promo that hit the internet, which is the opening fight sequence in the rain, The Grandmaster was surely something to see. Yuen Woo Ping lends his talents both on and off screen, by playing a bit role and doing all of the fight choreography for the film. As to be expected, Woo Ping’s contributions help The Grandmaster feel as authentic and invigorating in its fight sequences. While the film isn’t filled to the brim with fights, the one’s that happen are memorable, intense and awe inspiring, as anything created by Woo Ping should.
The Grandmaster is a kung fu, art film, something that many might not be into. If you’re looking for non-stop action bonanza, then go see Wilson Yip’s Ip Man, with Donnie Yen. If you care to be treated to something unlike any other kung fu film you’ve ever seen and wish to have an understanding of the mental stamina that creates one to be a grandmaster, then treat yourself to Wong Kar Wai’s latest film and prepare to be amazed.