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The Grandmaster


Wong Kar-Wai’s long-awaited martial art drama, “The Grandmaster”, was finally released. The movie took 10 years from concept to production and 4 years to film. Other than high expectation, I just wonder how a martial art movie directed by Wong Kar-Wai will look like. The result, Wong Kar-Wai fans may view “The Grandmaster” as a masterpiece in the movie history. For those who after a martial art movie, they may … well, still be half satisfied by the choreography of Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix series).


The first part of the movie is about the Wing Chun Master Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). In the year 1936, Ip Man had inherited his family wealth and was living comfortably with his wife and family in Foshan. He was picked to take on Master Gong Yutian, a retiring northern Baquazhang Master who traveled south to have a final match against a southern martial artist. And Ip Man won.

Unable to accept the defeat, Gong’s daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) challenged Ip Man to reclaim her family’s reputation. During the fight, an emotional connection between the two formed. In the following years, they wrote letters to each other. Like other characters in Wong Kar-Wai movies, they suppressed their feelings and emotions as Ip Man was married and Gong Er was engaged. In 1938, Ip Man lost everything in the Second Sino-Japanese War. He then went to Hong Kong and opened a martial art school for living.

Kung fu, just two words: horizontal and vertical. Get it wrong, lie defeated. Only the one who stands upright has the right to say.

If life has four seasons, it’s spring to me before 40. But it then just turned straight to winter.

I never see a mountain before 40. The first time I saw one, I found the most difficult to climb is – life.

The Grandmaster Zhang Ziyi

The second part of the movie is about Gong Er. In 1940, Master Gong died after he had confronted with his number one student Ma San who had betrayed their clan. Gong Er seek vengeance upon Ma San despite her father’s wish to forget the hatred. But her choice came with remarkable sacrifices: she could not practice as a doctor, she needed to give up her marriage, and she would be alone for the rest of her life. Eventually, Gong Er and Ip Man met again in Hong Kong in 1950s. In the last meeting, Gong Er confessed to Ip Man that she once had a feeling for him.

Don’t inquire about my news. No news is news.

It’s my luck to meet you at the best time of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t have time anymore.

It’s pique to say life has no regrets. If life really has no regrets, it’s so boring.

You were once in my heart. It’s not a big deal to tell you this. Liking a person is not illegal. But the farthest I can go is just like.

There are 3 stages for a martial artist: see yourself, see the world, see humanity. I see myself. I see the world. But I don’t think I can see humanity.

All encounters in life are reunions after a long apart.

I choose to stay in my years, those are my happiest times.

“The Grandmaster” is an action movie with an exceptional art quality in Wong Kar-Wai’s trademark style. It is visually gorgeous and some scenes are as beautiful as a painting that can be placed in the museum exhibition hall. Fight sequences are illustrated with mixes of fast and slow motions, especially those battles in the rain at night are excellent filmed.

However, due to the rush editing, the movie feels loose and some characters and scenes seem disconnected from the main storyline. Also, the pace of the movie suddenly slows down in its last 30 minutes; this would be enough for non-Wong Kar-Wai fans to criticize. Don’t expect there will be a final fight between the good and bad guys at the end like other action movies.

Nevertheless, “The Grandmaster” is a more mature movie from Wong Kar-Wai than his previous films that is closer to the audiences. It shows the journey of a group of grandmasters in their world during their time, and how they coped with key events in their life. However, no matter how good they are, they still struggle for life. It’s sad to see them so hopeless when facing guns, hunger and their own regrets. At the end time just takes its toll from everyone.



Comments on: "The Grandmaster" (7)

  1. I really like Wong Kar-Wai and I’m surprised I hadn’t even heard of this film. I love Tony Leung. The stills look amazing. Gotta watch this movie. Thanks so much for the review and for the information about this film 🙂 😀

    • Yeah, I think you’ll like it. I watched the 130-minute version in Mandarin. I heard that the rough cut of the movie is about 4 hours. Wong Kar-Wai hinted that there may be a longer version but it may take years 😦 Some critics claimed this will be the best Asian film of the year.

      • Woah, 4 hours long? The original version must be in Cantonese right? Gotta see how I can watch it. It’s not out here so I’ll have to wait for the DVD I suppose 😦

      • The movie was just released and shown in cinemas of China (in Mandarin) and HK (in Cantonese) on 7-Jan. So you may need to wait for few months for the DVD 😦 4 hours is just the first cut, Wong KW then cut a lot of scenes to fit it into cinema sessions. That’s why one of the grandmasters “Razor” (left only 3 scenes) and Ip Man’s wife (has only 1 line of dialogue) seem incomplete in the movie. However it is well accepted and its box office is already more than the sum of Wong KW’s all previous movies 🙂

      • Oh! 😦
        Yeah well, since I’m not in China or HK I’ll have to wait :(. I didn’t know it’s such a big box office success already. Looking forward to it! Will they ever release the 4-hr cut I wonder

  2. Can’t wait to see this, VC. Wong Kar Wai is one of my favorites and Kung Fu is in my blood. Interesting that he chose Ip Man and Tony Leung. The rain scenes remind me of the Donnie Yen/Jett Li fight in Hero. Thank you for this enticing review.

    • Glad you like it. Donnie Yen also acted in 2 Ip Man movies and a 3rd one will start filming this year. You will be surprised Kung Fu can be filmed this way in Grandmaster – not totally physical, but also spiritual.

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