Director - Kar Wai Wong
Starring - Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Ziyi Zhang
The Grandmaster is a film about Ip Man, a master of Wing Chun and the teacher of one of the world's greatest and best known martial artists, Bruce Lee. However, do not expect to see Mr Lee, there is only the merest mention of his name in the final moments of the film. Also, do not expect a movie chock full of action; although there are obviously fight scenes, most are short, bloodless and at times just there to showcase the amazing martial arts styles.
There has been a previous film about Ip Man, entitled, surprisingly, Ip Man (2008) and starring Donnie Yen. Where that film was more action (presumably to capitalise on Yen's ability), this is more subdued and reflects on the history of not only Ip Man, but the essence of Kung Fu, in particular the style of Wing Chun. The script is littered with wise sayings and philosophical teachings giving the impression that The Grandmaster wants to delve behind the fighting and be driven by the characters.
In Tony Leung the film has a strong lead. He exudes charm and is convincing in his role as a Wing Chun master (Leung is better known for his dark and brooding roles in films such as Infernal Affairs and In the Mood for Love). He stars alongside Ziyi Zhang as Gong Er, the daughter of another Grandmaster who has a love/hate relationship with Leung's Ip Man. Zhang is beautiful and graceful, the perfect ice maiden. However it is this very quality that sometimes makes it hard for the audience to fully sympathise with her character; her facial expressions rarely go beyond a steely stare. Given she is part of the film's more sentimental storylines, it is hard for the viewer to truly understand what is going on, especially in the dialogue free parts.
Unlike the previously mentioned Ip Man, this film spans a much longer time-line, from 1936 China to Hong Kong in the 50s. The Second Sino-Japanese War, which is central to Yen's film, is a small section which is only there to show us why Ip Man leaves China in the first place. Indeed large blocks of text flash up thorough out the picture to give us information and remind the audience that this all really happened.
The film is beautifully shot; Kar Wai Wong uses the elements to dazzling effect. Snow, rain, blossom, steam... all are used to create a wondrous sight and visually stunning pieces (the sequence at the train station is a perfect example). The white plains of Northern China, described as harsh by characters, are nothing short of breath taking under his direction.
If you want a film that gives us an Ip Man of action, then I highly recommend Donnie Yen's 2008 movie. However if you prefer a more character driven and thoughtful piece, then this will be more than satisfying. Rating - 7/10