Blu-ray Review: Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster'

By Daniel S Levine,
Author Rating: 
3.5 Stars

Bruce Lee is still the most famous man around the world when it comes to martial arts, but acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar-wai decided to center his latest film on Lee's teacher, Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in The Grandmaster. The film, which was nominated for two Academy Awards this year, reaches Blu-ray this week and it is a stunner, exactly what one would expect from Wong.

The Grandmaster isn't some epic biopic that may bore viewers outside of China and Hong Kong. Instead, this 108-minute epic runs at breakneck speed, even as Wong uses the camera and editing to slow down quieter moments that other filmmakers may have ignored. Anyone who has seen In The Mood For Love should know what to expect. Wong and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd bring out the more emotional sequences between fights, making sure that they are treated as carefully as the fight sequences. It is stunning to see Wong move elegantly from violent action set pieces to moments with Ip and his children or his first meeting with Gong Er.

It's also worth noting that the film doesn't really stick with Ip's story throughout and is likely its weak point. While he dominates the first half, as he becomes more and more respected, the audience learns more about Gong. She is a strong woman, one who would rather fight than be a doctor. But her father doesn't believe a woman should be his heir, so he names Ma San the heir. The second half of the film follows her journey to reclaim what is her's, while Ip struggles to survive during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Like most aspects of the film, the acting is exquisite. In The Mood For Love star Tony Leung plays Ip perfectly. Ziyi Zhang plays Gong well, allowing emotion to be shown right through her tears. With Wong, it looks like one must learn how to be a silent film actor, as he loves to show actors just sitting, reacting to their situation without words. Ziyi actually gets the best fight scene, when she goes head to head with Ma (Zhang Jin).

In addition to the nomination for cinematography, the Academy also nominated William Chang Suk Ping for his immaculate costume designs. Seriously, the costumes crafted for Ziyi are stunning, especially that coat she wears during the train station fight.

Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release comes with a few extras, including a 50-minute making-of piece. The transfer is gorgeous as well.

The Grandmaster does seem to lose its focus midway though, as it transitions to Gong's life rather than Ip. (Many of the major moments of his life, such as losing his children and wife, happen offscreen and through narration only.) Still, this is a beautiful looking film with exciting fight sequences.



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