Bruce Lee, without question, was the greatest cinematic martial artist of all time. Enter the Dragon is a perfect kung-fu flick and truly introduced the man to an international audience. Bruce Lee was trained by Ip Man, a legendary artist who combined different techniques into today’s modern kung-fu. The latest movie about Ip Man’s life is The Grandmaster.
The film is part historical drama and part revenge flick wrapped in the martial arts world before the Second World War. The film starts with different masters from both the North and South of China showing their skills. Ip Man (Tony Leung) is a student with massive skills who combines the fighting styles of every discipline. This is something that is just not done.
The other side of the plot is of Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang). She is the daughter of Gong Yutian, a master in his own right. Since Gong Er is a lady, she cannot inherit from Gong Yutian. Through a series of events, Gong Er challenges Ip Man to avenge the honor of her family. Gong Yutian was killed by Ma San. The two have a bitter battle that reflects what it happening in the world.
The film takes place from the 1930s to the 1950s, a time of world war. There are moments from The Second Sino-Japanese War as well as the forming of the puppet state of Manchukuo. The film is based in history but is more about how the obsession of different individuals leads to disastrous consequences. Along the way Ip Man loses everything that is important to him.
This film is easily the most beautiful flick of 2013. With sweeping vistas in the pouring rain, stylized fighting scenes and backdrops that feel as if they were taken from The Great Gatsby set, this film is a visual masterpiece. It has to be a nomination lock for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction and, of course Best Foreign Picture.
Director Wong Kar-Wai has crafted a world of epic beauty. Just about every image he puts on the screen draws one into the world so foreign to most US audiences. Yes, the film is in Chinese with subtitles, but the images transcend the difficulty of reading every line of dialogue.
The original run time on the Hong Kong print is 130 minutes and the US is 108 minutes. Lionsgate cut the film down for the American audience. The streamlining of the work may keep up the pace but it works against the narrative. This film sorely needs the rest of the scenes added back in.
Ziyi Zhang has been a fan favorite since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since then she has appeared in Rush Hour 2, Hero and Memoirs of a Geisha. There is this lost little girl quality to her acting that draws one into her world. She seems so frail yet so powerful when handling a sword or competing with a fist.
Every September, films get batted around that might be Oscar contenders. Usually these films never make it to the Academy finish line. The Grandmaster should be one film to cross that point. It is a feast for the eyes and should not be missed.