Movie Review: The Grandmaster

The GrandmasterTitle: “The Grandmaster”

Director: Kar Wai Wong

Writers: Kar Wai Wong, Jingzhi Zou, Haofeng Xu

Starring: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang

“The Grandmaster” tells the story of Ip Man, one of the greatest martial artists and possibly the greatest kung fu masters of all time, not to mention the man who trained Bruce Lee. Or at least I think that’s what it’s about. This movie makes it very hard to tell.

From the first scene, you’ll notice that this movie is highly stylized. It begins with a kung fu fight between Ip Man and an unnamed group in the rain. Seriously, this movie starts by making it look like Ip Man spent his time randomly fighting people in the street for no reason.

Throughout the movie, we see hints of what is going on in the background, such as the political upheaval in China and it’s change from an Empire to a Republic. But we only know about it through references that the characters bring up.

This leads us to the single biggest flaw with this movie: There is no context. While the style is decent and the fighting sequences are well done, they feel out of place within a film that is described on paper as essentially being a biopic. What we’re watching feels completely unreal, which gives us no reason to believe that any of this happened.

I can understand Wong’s desire to make something artistic, feeling that he could show the spirit of Ip Man rather than simple events. The problem is that he moves so far towards the artistic that he leaves behind the basics of storytelling that would give Ip Man’s story a proper treatment. Ultimately, it turns the film into a confusing mess.

This highly stylized film is more a tribute to martial arts than to Ip Man himself. It provides no context for what we’re seeing, making this film confusing. While the style is good and nice to watch, the focus is on the style and not the substance. If you can tolerate that, you might enjoy it, but personally I came away feeling like I didn’t know anymore about this legendary figure than when I started.

“The Grandmaster” earns 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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