BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MARCH 8, 2014
Kung-fu is not a genre of action film that I am often drawn to. Even when I saw the trailer for “The Grandmaster”, I wrote it off slightly, but the pacing, the storytelling, and the lore of Ip Man achieve greatness no matter what the genre. Nominated for two Academy Awards, in Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography, the film reaches admirable levels of both, but reaches much further, producing amazing performances and an intriguing story of a nation divided and a man that is less a hero and more a temple of martial arts knowledge. A man that weathered the storm and went on to teach the greats, including one of the most popular martial artists of our time, Bruce Lee.
Beginning in the pouring rain, we are subject to witness Ip Man (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) fight several combatants. Kung-fu is hard enough to catch on film correctly, but it becomes a dance for Le Sourd, involving the camera movements gliding gracefully along with the masters as they battle one another from room to room from street to street. With the camera dancing alongside the fighters, producing rich visuals throughout the choreography of fighting, it’s hard to deny the actors in these roles, convincing the audience that they are grandmasters, indeed. Soon, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) from the North arrives in the South to announce his retirement and his successor but places a challenge for a South successor as well. With Ip Man picked to represent the other grandmasters, the passing of knowledge from a handful of fellow grandmasters commences in one of the most appealing bouts of storytelling of the film. Along with Gong Yutian comes his daughter Gong Er, played by the gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi of “House Of Flying Daggers” and “Memoirs Of A Geisha” fame. Let the untouchable romance begin.
A battle of wits ensues between Ip Man and Gong Yutian, leaving Ip Man victorious. Sharing a few moments, Ip Man and Gong Er decide to keep in touch, despite Ip Man already being married. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 breaks out in the South, forcing Ip Man to take work in Hong Kong, never actually keeping in touch with Gong Er. The rest of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. To top it all off, this entire film is based on some sort of fact, mythology if you will, despite its fantastical nature. With a convincing cast and visual styling that breathes authenticity, you forget you’re watching a film and begin to experience the feeling of watching archival footage play in front of your eyes. The costumes are memorable in “The Grandmaster”, especially that of the women, and in particular, the leading lady and her fur coats. But the costumes become part of the story as Ip Man brings to the audience’s attention that he never wears suits, except for a single ID photo and the winter coats he purchases but then has to sell to feed his family. Zhang Ziyi, alone, is worth viewing the film for, on top of some of the most amazing displays of martial arts you’ll ever see on film. Filled with impressive kung-fu battles and with some stellar scenes in the pouring rain, there is a distinct feel to the visuals in this film captured by Philippe Le Sourd and for that, “The Grandmaster” becomes a kung-fu film that breaks its boundaries and produces a period piece action film that I highly enjoyed.
August 23, 2013
The Weinstein Company
(for violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language)
Philippe Le Sourd
Tony Chiu-Wai Leung