It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my reviews that I’m not a huge artsy-fartsy movie fan. I can appreciate the hard work that goes into creating a very stylized film, and do, on occasion, watch a film for the beautiful imagery. But, like a trip to the dentist, I need to know what I’m getting into before watching an artsy-fartsy movie, and I wasn’t prepared for The Grandmaster. Having the right kind of expectations for The Grandmaster can make the difference between loving it and feeling very unsatisfied.
At first glance, Kar Wai Wong’s The Grandmaster tells the story of the legendary Ip Man, grandmaster of Wing Chun. After getting further into the film, you’ll come to realize the film is actually telling the story of kung fu as a whole, using Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) as pieces of the puzzle. Ip Man begins and ends the film as the main character, but the middle the film shifts to tell the story of Gong Er, the daughter of Northern China’s martial arts master, Gong Yutian.
The fight scenes are skillfully choreographed and look both effortless and difficult. They are also surprisingly non-violent, as most a lot of the martial arts matches are exhibitions to teach Ip Man about the different styles of kung fu. These gentle, non-stakes fights are nice display of skill, but don’t incite any emotions. A few all out showdowns do occur and are fantastic, with beautiful, stylized scenery enhancing the overall drama. For example, the opening fight sequence takes place in the rain. While one can gloat about how beautiful the slow motion rain drops and splashes of water around the martial artists are, it makes it difficult to see the actual fight- which is what I’m looking for in a martial arts flick.
The rest of the film follows in the same style, with frequent use of slow motion to emphasize the imagery. It’s all very well done and beautiful…a.k.a artsy fartsy and not what I was expecting. The U.S. version runs about 20 minutes shorter than the original, which may be why the story gets a little confusing here and there, so pay close attention and it’ll all be okay.
The Grandmaster is a beautiful, well-crafted film that showcases many different types of martial arts. Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang did a wonderful job, as did writer/director Kar Wai Wong, in bringing the story to life. If you like action movies with a bit of artistic flair and gentle violence, The Grandmaster is for you.
Action Rating: 2 1/2 Artsy Farts, out of 5!
This is the Action Flick Chick, and you’ve just been kicked in the ass!
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