My Review of Movie Grandmaster

I am never a fan of Kung Fu movies. But a good writer friend who has fine taste in film and documentaries, persuaded me and invited me. While she appreciated the movie greatly, I found it a big disappointment.

Grandmaster (一代宗师), directed by successful HK film director Wang Kaiwei (Wang Kar-wai), it is supposedly about the marshal art master Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee, among others. I said supposedly, because the film features several other marshal art masters. Apart from Ip (ye), starred by Tony Leung, there’s Gong Er, (played by Zhang Ziying) and her father, Ma Sang, a baddie and another one played by comedian Zhang Bengshan. I had little idea what’s the film is about. Kong Er steals the show with lengthy fights. Okay, it can be a film about a group of Ku Fung masters in the 40s and their different approach to life. I still have a big problem with the plot and the narrative. It is not illuminated how Ip becomes a master or what drives him or what is his struggle.

One of the key fighting scenes takes place when Gong Er challenges Ip inside some exquisite Chinese style house. Why would she do that? I am not sure. The fight itself is well done and sexually-charged – that’s when something happened between the two, though their love is never consummated.

The film is beautifully shot and the 3 D visual effect dramatic. Both the lead characters are stunning to look at. But all these can’t change the fact that it is a frustrating film, for me anyway. Maybe I just didn’t get it, as my friend told me.

From time to time, the director throws in some Chinese wisdom. For example, towards the end of the film, the character played by Zhao Bengshan talks about what is life all about: life and death, glory and humiliation; gains and loss. In the end, it is all about ‘I’. Interesting touch. Without the substance of the movie, however, such wise remarks feel like a little pretentious.

It is reported that the director spent eight years researching on marshal arts for this film. Yet I don’t feel I have the insight of a ku fung master. Wang is a highly talented director,with successful movies such as In the Mood for Love and 2046 under his belt. They are all stylish and atmospheric. I loved these two in particular.

Just the other day, I went to an interesting talk about Hollywood and China. One of things being discussed is why so few Chinese films are marketable in the west. Fingers are pointed at the way of story-telling in Chinese films. I think Grandmaster is the case in point, even though Wang is an international director.

One thought on “My Review of Movie Grandmaster

  1. Lijia, as a former student of Wing Chun, I think that 甄子丹 as Ip Man (2008), at least lent a great credibility to the art form itself. His education and skill in the form really shines in the film. I have yet to see Tony Leung in Wang Kaiwei’s newest film treatment of Ip Man, although it is surely more lushly expressed under Wang Kaiwei’s direction. That being said, that Wing Chun is lauded as being the “only” Chinese martial art that was created by a woman, I have to wonder why there is now a sequence of films that focus solely on one of Wing Chun’s great male teachers…and not the creator herself. If legend bears historical credibility (which of course it doesn’t often), Ip Man was a descendant of Ng Mui. Wang Kaiwei had an opportunity with this film that was clouded by falling into older kung fu film habits. With Zhang Ziyi in the film, and given her own remarkable martial arts skills, isn’t it high time that a kung fu film should have looked at the art from the point of view of the woman who (at least legendarily) created it? Now that would have been original…and long, long overdue. –Kiri

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