The Grandmaster is a bit of a strange film right from the start because it is essentially a remake of the excellent 2008 Hong Kong film Ip Man. SupposedlyThe Grandmaster (also about the life of Ip Man) was being developed at the same time but sat in development hell for over ten years. After Ip Man came out you have to wonder why they even continued with this version, which turned out to be quite the mess. Where Ip Man director Wilson Yip did everything right: hiring Sammo Hung to do the choreography, filling the movie with fights, even pacing, a simple kung fu plot, clean camera work, etc… The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai, does wrong. Wong breaks with traditional kung fu camera work, which usually lets the fight choreography play out in real time, by inter-cutting shots with a delayed shutter speed (Private Ryan style) and super-slow-mo. It doesn’t work at all. He destroys any kind of fluidity or even understanding of what’s going on. In an attempt to make a “more artistic” kung fu film, he ended up making an incomprehensible shit pile.
Like many films that raise themselves up out of development hell this one has several edits out there. There is the Hong Kong international cut and then the Weinstein U.S. cut. I checked out both and would probably recommend the Weinstein cut just for the fact that it’s a half hour shorter. There is no reason for a kung fu film to be over two hours long. The Weinsteins also attempted to make the time jumping incomprehensible plot a bit easier to understand with title cards and subtitles which tell you the who, when, and where because the dialogue sure doesn’t.
In case you don’t know Ip Man (also spelled Yip Man) he was Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher. As anyone who had anything to do with Bruce is famous it was just a matter of time before Ip Man became the subject of a film. I’m just surprised it took this long. After Ip Man came out in 2008 there have now been three more films about him as well as a Chinese TV series. Both Ip Man and The Grandmaster take great liberties with his story and I would say they’re both about 75% fictional. Much like the life of his most famous student, Ip Man is more legend than reality. I thought The Grandmaster was going to be a more realistic portrayal than the 2008 film but it was even more fanciful with the Crouching Tiger style wire work. They even hired Zhang Ziyi to play Ip’s rival and love interest. She was one of the only good things about the movie. Tony Leung gives a decent and understated performance as Ip but I still prefer Donnie Yen as he is a real martial artist.
Just check out Ip Man, if you haven’t yet for a good kung fu time, and skip all of the versions of The Grandmaster. But if you’re still curious the Weinstein cut is on Netflix Streaming. There are worse movies, but I was disappointed. The Grandmaster was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards.
2 Chopsticks Outta 5