Monday, April 28, 2014

Film Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

The Grandmaster (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The story is large in scale, but miniscule in detail..."

The story of legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man's (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) life from the 1930s to the early 1950s.

The Grandmaster continues by chronicling Ip Man's rivalry with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) -- daughter of a northern martial arts master -- the Japanese invasion and its impact on his life and family, his transition to Hong Kong, and more. Aside from a few aspects of his life, for the most part, The Grandmaster treads familiar grounds for fans of Ip Man films. The story is large in scale, but miniscule in detail, gleefully gliding over the major events of Ip Man's life. A highly-stylized bout here, some details about what's going in his life, another fight, and so on. The Grandmaster leads to a surprisingly expected ending -- who would've thought it would end with Bruce Lee?

First, you should know I watched The Weinstein Company cut of the film, which is the version available on Netflix Instant and cuts about 20 minutes -- I have no idea if the other versions are better. Anyway, The Grandmaster suffers from a classic problem: too much story, too little time. It's a film that wants to tell you two decades worth of Ip Man's life and teachings in less than two hours. Furthermore, the latter half of the film completely abandons Ip Man for large detour regarding Gong Er; in fact, the focus is so strong on Gong Er's pointless subplot, I actually forgot I was watching a movie about Ip Man for a moment; it's not to say the subplot is terrible, but it offers very little relevance to the main plot. Really, the film should be called "The Grandmasters With A Special Appearance by Ip Man" -- emphasis on the plural -- as it doesn't really care to develop Ip Man. Or, maybe it should be called "Gong Er: Guest Starring Ip Man." I can sit here for days coming up with better suited alternate title, but the point is: it doesn't focus on Ip Man, so why not call it what it is?

Aside from these issues, the story also features some convoluted storytelling, it occasionally feels uneventful, and it has one too many music videos. The highlights for the film are the breathtaking visuals, the beautiful and well-fitted music, and the superb action choreography. There quite a few superb fight sequences in the film, and they are very stylized. The slow-motion can be a bit too overwhelming at times, but it is the one thing in the film that helps differentiate it from others based on the same content. If it weren't for the slow-motion and creative fight choreography, you'd have a montage of all the other Ip Man films.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai does well as the martial arts icon; he really embodies the character, and he is physically capable. Zhang Ziyi is also great, a very powerful and stern performance in both her character and action. The acting, in general, was superb. The cinematography is stunning; The Grandmaster is one of the best looking films of 2013 next to Only God Forgives. The music is also perfect in creating the world were immersed in. The costumes were beautiful, very elegant and accurate. Wong Kar-wai crafts a beautiful film, an audiovisual masterpiece, but a severely disjointed and unfocussed story.

Overall, The Grandmaster is a good film. But if you've seen the first two Ip Man films and the two spinoffs, this film offers noting new regarding the martial arts icon. The fight sequences are superb, but the frame is poorly constructed. As previously stated, it's difficult to even call this an Ip Man film. Furthermore, I'd call it the art house version of Ip Man -- you can decide how much weight that holds.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

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