“The Grandmaster” has been in the making for more than 12 years and is director Wong Kar Wai’s labour of love.This film tells the biography of a martial arts master, whose life is interrupted by love and war.The film starts off very visually stunning, as master Ip and the adversaries fight in the rain in an epic style. Throughout the film, the sets are lavish and the visuals are consistently captivating.
The story focuses as much on Gong Er (Ziyi) as it does Ip Man and follows a love story between the two as they keep in contact for many years following a fight for Gong’s family’s honor. Ip Man had defeated her father, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) in a battle that was as much about philosophical ideas as combat. The film follows Ip Man’s years during the Second Sino-Japanese War, in 1938, struggling through poverty with his family. It also focuses on Gong Er’s attempt at vengeance against the man who murdered her father, Ma San (Zhang Jin).
Tony Leung’s Ip Man is portrayed akin to a normal gentleman. Even though we are Donnie Yen fans and as good as he was playing a dramatized version of Ip Man, Tony Leung’s scholar-like image is closer to who Ip Man was in real life. On the kung fu side, Leung is not Donnie Yen but achieves the necessary physicality and fights more convincingly. It makes us rethink how the actual Ip Man may have physically expressed himself, and I doubt he would have fought as aggressively as displayed in Donnie Yen’s version.
The fights are filmed tightly, but for a reason. Director Wong Kar Wai is interested in the details of the movements: the little twists, nudges and arcs where one gathers power that are all specific to each style of Chinese martial arts. It’s quite the rare visual treat as bigger movements usually bold better for on screen fight choreography.
Every once in a while a kung fu film breaks out of its confines of core Asian patronage and garners a worldwide fan following. Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yamou’s “Hero” became an international sensations, The Grandmaster should join that small list too.