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The Grandmaster by Kar Wai Wong

May 12, 2013

When you watch foreign movies you are always missing something and I guess every viewer who is not familiar with Chinese culture – and or its martial arts – will have a lukewarm reaction to this film by Wong, no matter the slight changes brought by the director to the international release of the movie in order to increase the intelligibility of some passages for non-Chinese viewers. Who was Ip Man? Why his story is relevant? They say he was the teacher of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, but I doubt this film will appeal to the fans of that movie genre: while Kar Wai Wong has expressed his admiration for the work of directors such Tsui Hark, his film plays a quite different territory. The Grandmaster brings to the scene five grandmasters, Ip Man (Tony Leung) may be the central character but he has to share the scene and the mastery of his art with Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), The Razor Yixiantian (Chen Chang), Gong Yutian (Qingxiang Wang) and Ma San (Jin Zhang) – as a fact the initial title was The Grandmasters: The Razor is the less developed character of the five and the film would not lose much without his scenes, on the other hand the presence of these scenes aliments confusion. Basically The Grandmaster is the story of the relationship between these masters of martial arts, the rivalry between North and South, the rules, an impossible love and how all of this happened and was affected by the times they were living: the Japanese invasion, WWII and then the fight between Communists and Nationalists, in the end The Grandmaster is a subtle political film.

Working once again without Christopher Doyle Wong has chosen French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, everybody knows Wong’s days with a hand held camera are gone, nowadays he is a stylish and sophisticated director known for his refined visuals and there is no doubt that a new director of photography has not changed his game, but while in films the likes of In The Mood for Love and 2046 the stunning visuals seemed necessary to the story here they look accessory, they are beautiful to watch – advertising kind of beautiful – but they don’t enhance the story. Everything looks beautiful in the film, the sets and the costumes are gorgeous, as for the actors I guess fresh faces would have helped the film: Ziyi Zhang and Tony Leung are good, but their star power eclipses the three other grandmasters. Overall the film is an interesting experience but Kar Wai Wong in the past has given us films who have stimulated our hearts and minds requesting repeated viewings, The Grandmaster does not play in that league.

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