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The Grandmaster

一代宗师 / Yut doi jung si 2013 | 130 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

The Grandmaster


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Movie appeal

Martial arts39%


Theatrical release date

 23 August, 2013

Country of origin

 Hong Kong

Technical aspects


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The Grandmaster


Screenshots from The Grandmaster Blu-ray

The Grandmaster Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 29, 2013

I suppose it’s difficult to review the American cut of “The Grandmaster,” which is 22 minutes shorter than the Chinese version of the movie, with scenes fussed with and hand-holding voiceover employed to guide English-speaking audiences out of the fog of exposition and atmosphere that’s commonplace to the work of director Wong Kar-wai. The feature’s been simplified but hardly neutered, preserving lush cinematography and skilled editing to the effort’s many sequences of fighting, allowing great appreciation for the technical aspects of “The Grandmaster” to remain. However, what was once an emotional ride of human connection and the soulful lift of kung fu is now a streamlined examination of conflicted man who would go on to train Bruce Lee in the ways of Wing Chun.

Ip Man (Tony Leung) is a martial arts legend whose skill is beginning to grab attention around China as historical events of the 1930s alter the country. In the south, a new master is sought to represent the land, with Ip Man brought in as a candidate by leader Gong Yutian (Quingxiang Wang), while his daughter, Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) challenges the decision with her own specialized brand of fighting. While Gong Er and Ip Man share a special chemistry rooted in mutual respect, they are separated by personal responsibilities. Faced with war and tragedy, Ip Man moves to Hong Kong to begin his life as a martial arts teacher, building a reputation as a formidable figure worthy of immense respect. Gong Er takes another path, looking for revenge against Ma Sun (Jin Zhang), the warlord that killed her father.

Putting all talk of cuts and alterations aside for a moment, “The Grandmaster” is a film of immense beauty and remarkable poise. Taking a cue from kung fu’s teaching of balance over aggression, the feature is an elegant creation born from the sensual ways of its creator, Wong Kar-wai. The director of such esteemed efforts as “In the Mood for Love,” “Chungking Express,” and lesser fare such as “My Blueberry Nights” and “2046,” Wong’s touch is unmistakable in “The Grandmaster,” working with cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd to mastermind an almost fantastical presentation, deliberately stretching reality to emphasize the mythical creation of Ip Man and his skills of defense. Using the elements (an opening battle is drenched in rain, another with Gong Er cuts through falling snow) and a rich display of color, the production is a feast for the eyes, painstakingly perfecting details of the frame, setting the mood with precision. The helmer also furthers his examination of food and philosophy, occasionally mixing the pair to impart distinct lessons of control. Using the big screen as a canvas, “The Grandmaster” always demands the utmost attention, pushing the story through a few rough patches of dramatic inertia, creating a riveting viewing experience that’s worth a view with or without a coherent tale driving it along.

Releasing studio The Weinstein Company ordered up some considerable cuts to “The Grandmaster” to help reorganize the story in a chronological order, while characterizations are rubber stamped from the start, clarifying relationships. The picture’s been brought down to a manageable size (allegedly with Wong’s participation) for mass consumption, with the greatest loss being Ziyi Zhang’s supporting work as Gong Er. Once a vital character with insular complexity to help define a theme of equilibrium and deepen Ip Man’s journey of self, Gong Er’s arc has been chopped considerably, reducing her from a co-lead to a passing fancy, diluting the emotional impact of the plot. It’s a strange choice, but the Americanized version of “The Grandmaster” doesn’t have time for distractions, emphasizing Ip Man’s rise to Wing Chung glory, dialing down the feature’s interests in discussion, symbolism, and forbidden desires to focus on physical feats. These are outstandingly crafted action sequences, cut to exact measurements, but they’re missing chunks of context to assist in their psychological exploration.

A bubblegum version of “The Grandmaster” is better than no film at all. While American audiences are missing profound elements of longing, philosophical deliberation, and soulful connection among multifaceted characters, the basic viewing experience remains in enticing fragments, possibly creating a fascinating alternative look to a movie that demands deeper inspection.

Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi Zhang (Zhang Ziyi), Xiao Shenyang, Chen Chang, Yuen Woo Ping, Benshan Zhao
Director: Wong Kar-wai

» See full cast & crew

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The Grandmaster US Release 40 Sep 19, 2013

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