Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Benshan Zhao, Chen Chang, Hye-kyo Song, Jin Zhang, Qingxiang Wang
Wong Kar Wai
Wong Kar Wai (Story), Zou Jingzhi (Screenplay), Xu Haofeng (Screenplay)
The Weinstein Company
With an Ip Man resurgence firmly in process, The Grandmaster was practically destined to become one of director Wong Kar Wai's most successful films to date (and most successful in China). Despite the modest surprise that the film was not short-listed for the Best Foreign Language category in the upcoming Academy Awards, The Grandmaster remains one of the year's most impressive foreign language films and a rather amazing weaving together of Wong Kar Wai's romanticism with a fury indicative of Bruce Lee that comes courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping's absolutely astounding action choreography.
Picked up by The Weinstein Company for its U.S. distribution, The Grandmaster was tightened (HINT: Edited) with the U.S. version a good twenty minutes shorter than the version released in China with the director's consent. Said by the director to have contributed to the American version having a more emotional/human core, it's still undeniable that The Grandmaster is a case of style over substance.
But, oh my, what style.
For those unfamiliar, Ip Man was the martial arts master who trained the legendary Bruce Lee. Portrayed here by Tony Leung, Ip Man and his trademark Wing Chun style has been featured quite a bit recently in the Chinese media with multiple cinematic and television presentations about The Grandmaster. The film kicks off in 1936 and we get to see Ip Man in action even before the story gets going with Ip, his traditional white fedora hat firmly planted, taking on a group of martial arts experts who've inexplicably attacked amidst a driving rain. It's a mesmerizing scene, but it's also a scene that lets you know early on that The Grandmaster is going to be more concerned with showing you The Grandmaster than telling you his story.
It has been documented that Leung studied martial arts for three years to prepare for the demands of portraying Ip Man, training that is evident in his cinematic prowess and believability even in the film's more high octane battles such as when practitioners of four different styles of martial arts all attack together.
Do you really need to wonder how it all goes?
Ziyi Zhang is Gong Er, Gong Baosen's daughter and said to be the mistress of the 64 Hands technique of fighting. Zhang, whom most American audiences will remember from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is the film's most emotionally developed character and yet also has a couple of action sequences that are just breathtaking.
It is disappointing and surprising that The Grandmaster, even with its modest flaws of substance, is not to be found among this year's Oscar nominees. With several expected to be recognized films left off the Oscar shortlist, it will be an interesting year for the Best Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic