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article imageReview: ‘The Grandmaster’ is an auteur's tribute to another master Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 26, 2013 in Entertainment
‘The Grandmaster’ is the story of martial-arts master Ip Man, tracing the path that brought him to Hong Kong to eventually train Bruce Lee.
Director Wong Kar-Wei's films are famously plagued by long productions that try the patience of everyone involved, including himself. But the results are consistently stunning, generally resulting in a reprieve and a willingness to work with the filmmaker more than once. Another theme is melancholy characters who yearn for a different life. This is undeniably prevalent in his latest picture, The Grandmaster, which tells the story of the martial arts legend who trained Bruce Lee.
In the beginning, martial arts in China was divided into north and south, separated by the Zhang River. In the 1930s, they finally agreed to meet and subsequently share their techniques. Ip Man (Tony Leung) was selected from Foshan to represent the South as he displayed an unsurpassed expertise in Wing Chun; but Japan's invasion of the country interrupted any plans for collaboration. After the war, Ip Man moved to Hong Kong to find work teaching his art to the masses. Here he is reunited with the North's female master (Ziyi Zhang) of 64 Hands who became a doctor. Though they offer each other company and solace, the relief is short-lived.
This is a film about martial arts, not a martial arts film. The distinction is that it does not centre on fighting, but includes some significant action scenes. These moments do not focus on the violence but rather the smoothness of the techniques used in each match. Shown mostly in slow-motion, each punch or kick is clearly visible. The sequence in the rain is impressive as each connection is enhanced by the directional change of the water droplets, magnifying the force of the impact. Moreover, a momentous challenge at a train station stands out as the film’s most striking scene.
The most notable of Wong’s many filmmaking talents is his ability to take every day experiences and turn them into beautiful images on the screen. From the framing to the transitions, he controls every element of the picture and brings them together to create a visually mesmerizing film. From the above mentioned incident in the rain to the vibrant brothel to the many instances of sadness, every moment is awe-inspiring.
The story is a complex one that takes place over many years and includes several characters. In spite of the character descriptions posted on the screen and the brief historical context given between scenes, those unfamiliar with the history or time period may be slightly confused. Attempting to capture so many significant moments in a man's life, even just over a little more than a decade, means glossing over most of the details.
Nonetheless, this remains a stunning biopic with multi-skilled actors that carries Wong's signature style.
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang and Jin Zhang
More about the grandmaster, Wong Kar Wai, ip man, Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang
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