There has been a quite from director Wong Kar-wai since 2007, and now 6 years later he’s back with a martial arts movie The Grandmaster. Wong with his predilection for woozy atmospherics and the shimmering decorative surface has delivered a film far from a conventional example of the hong kong action which everybody expects to see.
The story begins in Foshan province, where at the age of 40, Ip Man is happily married to a beautiful, doting wife, lives off a healthy inheritance, and has continued the family legacy of advocating Wing Chun, a simplified yet remarkably effective form of kung-fu.
At the Golden Pavilion, a local brothel patronized by many of the region’s finest martial artists, North-eastern Grandmaster Gong (Wang Qingxiang) challenges the best Southerner to a fight, before he returns North. After seeing off his rivals from the other local martial arts schools, Ip Man comes forward, only to demonstrate that intelligence and restraint can prove as powerful weapons as kung fu. Ip insists that Northern and Southern martial arts can co-exist peacefully, and Gong leaves humbled, yet satisfied.
Tony Leung plays Ip Man, the successor of the retiring grandmaster Gong Yutian. Japanese occupation and character’s life were shown much more interesting in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man movie. Wong’s version of Ip Man ultimately is a portrait of a sad, isolated figure in comparison with Donnie Yen‘s popular and famous person in Foshan.
The Grandmaster is more about philosophy and aesthetics than ass kicking. There is certainly plenty of good action scenes choreographed by maestro Yuen Woo-ping, but they look more like dancing of sliding slippered feet in thundering rain, splintering glass, falling snow or speedy train.
French cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd, a director of photography, brought a gorgeous display and polished look to a droopy plot and slowed down and sped up fight choreography. Screen legends like Bruce Leung Siu Lung and Cung Le push Tony Leung to the limits of his newfound prowess, while Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Jin are also thoroughly convincing fighters on screen.
If The Grandmaster were simply focused on the search for the new Wing Chung champion and hand-to-hand combat rather than fleshing out the atmosphere it could be more interesting to watch and could look like Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen meets Jet Li‘s Fearless.
With plenty of script holes, this movie possesses nothing like the Wong’s blend of lush images and poetic encounters and far away from the crafted beauty of actions such as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Zhang Yimou’s Hero. In my opinion, The Grandmaster is nothing special for kung fu movie world and can be watched on fast forwarding if you are not in need of sleeping pill of cause.
The Grandmaster has earned US$2.7 million at the Hong Kong box office, and grossed over US$50 million at the mainland Chinese box office, and thus becoming Wong’s highest grossing film to date.