Craig's First Take: "The Grandmaster"

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The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
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Mention the name IP man in certain circles and you’ll probably hear the story of a martial artist more famous than Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee combined (in fact he trained Lee), and that would probably be better than sitting through Wong Kar-Wai’s disastrous film about the man. Reportedly four hours long at one point, “The Grandmaster” has been the rapidly shrinking movie ever since. It now stands as 1 hour and 40 minutes. And as a result, it’s a confusing film that feels like it’s jamming decades worth of history without time for clarification or time to let it breathe.

So what we get is a movie with a lot of switching narrators and words running across the screen telling us things we should be seeing, various fights with other martial art masters that seem to make no difference other than to see him school his adversaries, and a story that goes from him representing the South Kung Fu artists against the North, him losing his family during the Japanese occupation, and him opening a school in Hong Kong. There are so many different styles of martial art but here it all looks like kicking and punching without the slightest bit of context as to the differences.

And as far as emotion goes, the movie is a dead zone. IP Man losing his family is shown in one scene of actor Tony Leung (playing IP Man, and working with Wong for the seventh time here) looking sad before it seems to quickly be done away with. Worse is the relationship he has with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the master from the North. They seem to have a mutual respect for one another, if not a forbidden romance, but it never really seems like Kar-Wai’s heart is in it until both actors share a beautifully portrayed goodbye scene.

There is also a side story of Gong Er avenging her father which I wish was told better but at least it has a fight scene where there seems to be something at stake.

The choreography by Yuen Woo Ping is a bunch of impeccably made dances and the sets and scenes in the snow, dark, and other various places around China couldn’t be filmed any better but if you want context from your movies, “The Grandmaster” is an epic fail.