I recently attended a screening of this martial arts epic based on the life of Wing Chun Master Ip Man- a must-see for every martial arts lover. Bringing together my personal dream team- the legendary Wong Kar Wai as producer, director and writer, Yuen Woo Ping as martial arts choreographer and international star Tony Leung as Ip Man, The Grandmaster will go down as the most gorgeous interpretation of a true master’s life.
While the Ip Man movies from several years ago were also well produced with the great Donnie Yen as the lead, The Grandmaster offers parts of the legend’s story that seem closer to fact than much of the fiction in Ip Man, as well as cinematography that lulls audiences into that enchanting albeit terrifying era in China’s modern history.
Tony Leung brings his characteristically cool, calm and nerves of steel aura, giving Ip Man a truly “grand” master persona, making all of us wannabe grandmasters salivate at the dream of being his student. His fight scenes are a seamless transition between rapid fire Wing Chun moves and artistic close-ups depicting the inner power that this martial arts form can wield. The film is generous with the number and quality of sparring scenes.
Zhang Ziyi returns to the big screen as Gong Er, the lead female role, Ip Man’s love interest (in addition to his wife) and daughter of previous Grandmaster, Gong Yutian. Fans of Zhang Ziyi will revel in the gorgeous scenes with shadows perfectly cast over her face, wet with a single stream of tears and the awesome fighting scenes of which she partakes in quite a few. Those looking for something new from her will be disappointed to find Zhang reprising essentially the same role she has played in every film she has ever starred in from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to Memoirs of a Geisha. She is the quiet, outwardly delicate girl with a mostly expressionless face and an inward determination that manifests in some grandiose promise. To be certain, Zhang plays this same role very well.
While I’m a big fan of the beautiful Song Hye Kyo from her lead roles in numerous Korean dramas, I was unfortunately not moved by her presence as Ip Man’s wife in this film. That may be more due to the lack of her character’s development rather than a reflection of her acting on the big screen. Other critics lament her character’s lack of depth but it’s uncertain whether this was an artistic choice on Wong Kar Wai’s part or if Ip Man’s wife perhaps played such a peripheral role in his real life.
Despite a few minor questionable aspects, The Grandmaster is an overall artistic martial arts masterpiece that will easily become a global favorite.
Opens Asia in January 2013
Opens United States and Worldwide August 2013