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Now Playing: The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster
dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 2013, Hong Kong/China

Rating: 8.8

grandmasters
The bottom line: grand mastery.

Opening this Friday in select U.S. cities is Wong Kar-Wai’s ambitious, years-in-the-making martial-arts epic/Ip Man-biopic The Grandmaster, which premiered in China back in January shortly before receiving its international bow — in slightly truncated form — at the Berlin International Film Festival. There has been a fascinating divide in terms of how the film has been received in the East versus how it has been received the West, which in many ways reverses how Wong’s movies are usually received: The Grandmaster has gone over much better in China (with both critics and audiences, becoming the director’s first true homegrown hit in a career spanning 10 features) than in Europe and North America. While Wong has typically been a darling of western critics and cinephiles — especially in the period lasting from Days of Being Wild in 1990 to In the Mood for Love in 2000 — his movies have often been quizzically regarded as arty and pretentious specialty items back home. I think the reversal evidenced by The Grandmaster‘s reception can be explained by what might be termed its China-centric qualities, especially the way Wong explores notions of Chinese identity and history and, perhaps most importantly, the philosophical side of kung fu (though it is also chock-full of good old-fashioned kick-ass fight scenes that should satisfy genre aficionados). Western critics have been quick to criticize the new film’s narrative “patchwork” quality (it is certainly the most elliptical thing Wong has ever made) and they definitely have a point. To paraphrase something Andre Bazin said about Robert Bresson, however, I would argue that Wong sees in his narrative awkwardness the price he must pay for something more important; for, while it may not be as “perfect” as beloved earlier films like Chungking Express or In the Mood for Love, I believe The Grandmaster‘s astonishing thematic richness makes it more profound than either.

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As a piece of storytelling, The Grandmaster definitely has the quality of seeming like it’s the digest of a much longer movie. The plot, such as it is, unfolds as a series of almost self-contained vignettes in the life of Ip Man (Tony Leung, underplaying but charismatic as ever), a real kung-fu master who immigrated from southern mainland China to Hong Kong in the mid-20th century, single-handedly popularized the minimalistic fighting style known as Wing Chun and became Bruce Lee’s first teacher (yes, an adorable moppet turns up as young Bruce in the final scene). Each scene feels like a narrative block that has been separated from the ones that precede and follow it by a span of several years, sometimes with only intertitles to fill viewers in on crucial missing information. Characters who seem like they will be important (especially Ip Man’s wife and a mysterious barber/martial artist known as “Razor,” played by Song Hye-kyo and Chang Chen, respectively) pop up for a scene or two, make a big impression, then vanish. The film’s second most important character is Gong Er (an excellent Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a kung-fu master from the North, who is the center of a parallel narrative that sees her attempting to avenge her father’s murder, and who shares feelings of mutually unrequited love with Ip Man. While unrequited love has long been a pet theme of Wong’s, the characters’ emotions here, while deeply moving to witness, are not the film’s primary reason for being — as has always been the case with Wong’s movies in the past — but are rather the byproduct of a fascinating allegorical story about the paths different Chinese people took in terms of dealing with social upheaval and adapting to exile during a specific period in history. (Unusual for Wong, he collaborated on the original script with co-writers: Xu Haofeng and Zou Jingzhi.)

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One of the Grandmaster‘s most fascinating aspects is the way it illustrates how the philosophy behind kung fu can provide valuable lessons for not just how to fight but how to live. Wong has always been concerned with preserving the past — whether shooting old buildings for Fallen Angels that he knew would soon be torn down, to making Hua yang de nian hua (2000), a short film celebrating the golden age of Chinese cinema, to lovingly recreating the past of Hong Kong and China in Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, 2046 and The Grandmaster. The importance of preserving the past becomes the explicit theme of the new movie as Wong uses kung fu as a metaphor for Chinese culture in general — the “grandmaster” Ip Man is a teacher who passes along traditions and thus allows his cultural heritage to perpetuate. In this sense, one of the most important scenes shows how Gong Er’s father, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), is incapable of teaching his traitorous disciple, Ma San (Zhang Jin), a particular kung-fu move that involves the act of “looking back.” Ma San soon colludes with occupying Japanese forces and thus symbolizes disrespecting tradition and sacrificing one’s own integrity in order to survive. Gong Yutian informs Ma San that he will never attain the highest level of martial arts — the ability to “see humanity,” which follows “seeing oneself” and “seeing the world.” By contrast, Ip Man and Gong Er are able to maintain their ideals (Ip Man informs Japanese government officials that he would rather starve than eat their rice), and live in exile in Hong Kong — although their differing philosophies ensure that they too meet different destinies. Gong Er betrays her father’s final wish in seeking vengeance for his death and allows herself to become mired in pessimism and opium addiction. Ip Man, however, has the ability to look forward and backward simultaneously; his essential optimism — even in the face of overwhelming suffering (two of his daughters starve to death and he and his wife are separated from each other against their wishes) — ensures that he alone among the film’s characters is able to “see humanity,” and that his Wing Chun school in Hong Kong will flourish. Regardless (and perhaps because of) the disjointed quality the movie takes in getting there, the final scenes are the most mature and humane that Wong has ever created.

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I hasten to add that I hope my analysis of the Grandmaster‘s thematic content does not make watching the film seem like anything less than the viscerally exciting experience that it is. The action scenes were choreographed by the great Yuen Woo-Ping and part of the fun of watching the characters fight is seeing how their personalities are expressed through their different fighting styles: the clever and humble Ip Man’s brand of Wing Chun is based on the precise execution of a few effective blows, while the more petulant Gong Er is the last remaining practitioner of the maximalist style known as “64 hands.” Razor — a master of the Bagua school — is both barber and undercover assassin, and wields as a weapon the blade that gave him his nickname. Wong, working with his longtime editor (and production/costume designer) William Chang, as well as collaborating for the first time with cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd, has broken martial-arts movie tradition by capturing the fights not with long takes and long shots but by using close-ups, varying film speeds, fast cuts and an unusually shallow depth field. (This last aspect is a major trend in contemporary digital cinematography and has the effect of turning everything in front of the camera lens — drops of water, icicles, Zhang Ziyi’s porcelain skin, etc. — into a fetish object.) These breathtaking visuals, aided immeasurably by the bone-crunching sound effects, do not seek to whip viewers of the ADHD set into a frenzy the way that most spatially/temporally-challenged Hollywood action movies do. Rather, they manage to break down each fight — especially the instant classic train-station climax involving Gong Er and Ma San — into many comprehensible individual moments. In other words, to watch The Grandmaster is to take a master class in filmmaking.

You can view the trailer for The Grandmaster via YouTube below (please ignore the awful car-commercial voice-over):

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

25 responses to “Now Playing: The Grandmaster

  • Grant Winship

    So excited for this on a number of levels – the Donnie Yen Ip Man movies turned me on to the Ip Man historical character, who seems poised to take up the mantle that Wong Fei-Hung did in the 80s and 90s (Once Upon a Time in China series, and at least 100 others). Most intrigued by the description of the action though, I’ve been longing for a return to old school long, wide shots in martial arts movies, but this cinematography sounds possibly even more interesting. Anything that aids in dissecting the flow of the fight in a way that adds comprehension is a plus.

    • michaelgloversmith

      You know what’s funny? WKW announced this would be his next project over a decade ago. It is doubtful that the Donnie Yen/Ip Man movies would have ever been made had the filmmakers not known that Wong was making his film. But you’re right: Ip Man is in many ways the new Wong Fei-Hung.

      I normally hate the use of fast cutting and close-ups in fight scenes (and dancing scenes for that matter) because it’s usually a sign that the filmmakers are using doubles and/or trying to “cut around” the fact that the actors aren’t real martial artists. But Wong is doing something totally different here. The visual style is highly innovative and different than anything you’ve seen before but it actually enhances Yuen Woo-Ping’s choreography.

      Let me know what you think when you see it. I have a feeling you’ll love it.

  • david

    Great review, man. The Razor character is ambiguous even in the Chinese version, audiences were totally confused. We can only wait for the rumored 3-hour director’s cut.

    One thing I think you nailed is the philosophy behind the martial arts, also the philosophy to live by in that period of time. I have seen many martial arts films, but this one is quite unique and profound.

    I always though Zhang Ziyi is at most a good actress, but she’s great here, Gong ‘Er is definitely the best role in her career so far.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks, David. I agree about this being Zhang Ziyi’s best role. A lot of people are saying she is the film’s true protagonist because she has more screen time than Ip Man. One thing’s for sure: Wong Kar-Wai sure knows how to create great female characters.

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  • KRISTA PETERS

    The Grandmaster was so captivating and luxurious! I enjoyed it very much. Not only was it educational about martial arts, but immaculate imagery as well! From the Chinese dresses, to the “mortal kombat” gear (so bad ass), to flawless skin and razors piercing viper soul defeating eyes.
    This film was passionate about kung fu, and Wong shows us how serious he is about it. I am sure the Chinese culture appreciated how Wong explored the martial arts world. Kung Fu looks so easy, but I know it isn’t. When Miss Gong graciously moves her body, like dance, and in one kick the body flys across the room. Miss Gong isn’t out of breath. Is this possible?
    The dialogue reminded me a little bit of Cosmopolis. The dialogue was metaphoric, talking about how life can be like a game of chess, and how if you don’t regret anything you are only fooling yourself. I really enjoyed those sayings that were said especially near the end. It made me think a lot about my life. “We do what’s easiest for us.”- M Smith
    Kung Fu seems like it takes discipline, focus, determination and patience! I give Miss Gong so much credit because she is a woman and being a woman in todays society is tough. Miss Gong gained so much MORE respect especially after she won that fight by the train. That was my favorite fight scene because it enhanced everything! Now the train can be used as a weapon. My favorite line in the whole movie was when Miss Gong corrected him and said something like no, I will always carry the legacy of my father, something like that. I just like how she had no fear and stood up for herself!! I loved the black fur in the last fighting scene! She is my hero!

  • Alina

    The Grandmaster is a beautifully shot film with lessons to be learned all along the way. The opening scene in the rain sets an expectancy of intensity, which doesn’t quite hold throughout the movie. Nevertheless, some scenes are so remarkable that they are unforgettable. When Gong Er fights Ma San at the train station it is so powerful. When she defeats him she is the definition of badass in her black fur coat. The use of slow motion allows the viewer to see the precise nature of what kung fu is. It is not throwing punches around aimlessly as we see fighting scenes in Western film. Kung fu is about precision and technique, which we are able to see through Wai’s shots.
    The true carrier of the film was Gong Er. She is powerful and a master at what she does. However, I would call her a misguided hero. She wants so badly to follow the code of honor she has learned from her father, but follows it with all her might. She leaves nothing in her life for herself, nothing to be happy for. In the end there is a heartbreaking line that the only fight she lost was to herself. She wishes she was born a boy and lives her life not being truly happy. She wants to avenge her father’s death, but in doing so she victimizes herself. Surely he wouldn’t have wanted the life she chose for herself. It was sad to see her life unravel.
    One of the most beautiful scenes in the film was when she was practicing in the snow outside. We see her practicing the moves as a child and then as an adult. When she was a child she had hoped to follow in her father’s footsteps. She says learning the code of honor were her happiest days. This scene mirrors that time, as we flash back to her childhood. However, this time around there is little happiness to be found in her as she practices the same moves. She is a dynamic character, both heroic and tragic at the same time.

  • LuLu

    The Grandmaster is a Hong Kong and Chinese film that first premiered in 2013 at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival. Wong Kar-Wai directed and wrote The Grandmaster. Aside from being a filmmaker he is also a graphic designer and screenwriter. His graphic design skills are greatly seen throughout the film and are mesmerizing to watch. I have seen very few Kung Fu movies (I’ve only seen the Karate Kid films) I was really excited to see an actual Kung Fu movie.
    The storyline focuses on two main characters Ip Man and Gong Er. Ip Mann was a Kung Fu Master and legend he is known for using the “Wing Chun” fighting style. I think it is pretty cool that he was also Bruce Lee’s first Kung Fu teacher. Throughout the film we learn more about his personal life and personality. I agree with what was said in class on Ip Mann being an optimistic character with a lot integrity. I feel like he was a very strong in his beliefs and knew when and where was the right time to use Kung Fu. He was also extremely skilled at fighting. My favorite scene with Ip Mann is when he’s working his way up to meet Gong Yutian. I loved seeing all the different styles of fighting that he came across on each floor.
    The first word I would use to describe Gong Er would be badass! She was the daughter of Gong Yutian, a martial arts grandmaster. Gong Er was also extremely talented and deadly when it came to fighting she learned from the best, her father. Throughout the film we learn more about her story and struggle to try to bring her family’s honor back. She ultimately does so when she fights Ma San at the train station (this was another one of my favorite scenes). Gong Er was independent and strong on the outside, but on the inside I feel like she was unhappy. Her father told her that, because she was a woman she would not be able to inherit his place. Although she was unable to take his place she was still able to learn all his moves. She was able to defend and stand up for herself. I love the scene of when she’s a child looking at her father practice and he helped her perfect the moves. I feel like that scene showed how much she admired and looked up to her father.
    The cinematography in The Grandmaster was amazing. From all the films I’ve seen this past semester this one has had the best. I love the fight scene in the water. The water is so fluid and light when it moves. When the camera zoomed in on Ip Mann’s hat and I love how smoothly the water spiraled off his hat. I like how their feet would swoosh in the water. Another example of the great cinematography is at the end when Gong Er was practicing by herself in the snow she seemed to move the flakes with her hand movements. Her feet would also glide with the snow in a smooth way. I like the close ups in the fights as well as how slow they would show them. It was refreshing to see it presented this way. The audience can see how sharp and precise the fighting was.
    Wong Kar-Wai main themes include “time” and “memory.” He believes in trying to preserve the past, Chinese culture, cinema, Kung Fu, and traditions. Some of these themes can be seen in The Grandmaster, such as it being a Kung Fu film and it talks about China’s past with Japan. I really enjoyed this film the visuals were beautiful and the fight scenes were impeccable. I look forward to checking out some of Wong Kar-Wai’s other films.

  • brad

    THE GRANDMASTER

    Ip Man is Tony Leung. He flies across the screen as warriors must have flown across the sky in the good old days. Today, modern warriors are portrayed as film stars that have intense relationships with their fellow actors. The Ip Man is characterized as a Manchurian street fighter— wearing a white hat. I think the Ip Man wears a white hat because he represents what is good rather than what is bad in Chinese society. He appears as a heroic figure, which is attempting to find peace in a cruel world dominated by natural forces that are beyond his control. Dark shadows seem always just around the corner, and then the screen lights up with delight letting the audience know that everything will eventually turn out for the best. His relationships involve such forces as love and hate, loyalty and disloyalty, and war and peace. The Ip Man travels through time and space, he never wastes time on sentiment or makes an inappropriate move.
    The Ip Man says, there are four seasons, and spring lasts for forty years. He practices a form of kung fu which is known as wing chun (beautiful spring). The beautiful spring begins when Gong Baose, the Grand Master, demonstrates wing chun and gives kung fu a very special meaning. Manchuria is under Japanese occupation, and a world war is about to begin. The Grand Master instructs the Ip Man to head south to find his successor, symbolizing the unity of the northern and southern provinces. We become aware of his adversaries— who represent a wide variety of people as we see scenes of happiness and images of his wife mourning .
    The fight scenes consist of an energetic form of ballet. They portray conventional poses and close-ups of flowing figures in brilliant colors that eventually come to a standstill characterizing the nature of Chinese society in the mid-twentieth century. The Ip Man’s most stubborn opponent is Baose’s daughter (Gong) who springs into the air, pressing her body against the Ip Man in an erotic pose.
    The Ip Man flees to Hong Kong where he seeks the freedom to compete in a society that respects the rights of the individual. He is a man that plays by the rules; however, his world is in chaos, and yet The Ip Man refuses to turn his back on reality. He becomes a martial arts teacher and has as a lengthy plutonic relationship with Gong. All cultures place restraints upon on men as well as women. The Grand Master points out that it is ironic that women are often forbidden to have a one on one relationship with men. Life is truly bizarre!

  • Danny

    The Grandmaster (directed by Wong Kar-Wai) was just an overall fun movie to watch. It’s a semi biopic based off the life of martial artist Ip Man. Though a serious story, I found myself appreciating a few aspects of the film. One thing I appreciated about this film was its use of slow motion, particularly during the fight sequences. An audience member can follow everything that is going on the first time they view this with the use of slow-mo. This is unique for kung-fu films. Usually, they are ore fast-paced and require the utmost attention of whoever is watching it. I think it was an especially appreciated and unique aspect of this film.

    Another aspect of the film I enjoyed was its use of pictures to tell the story. Throughout the film, pictures are taken of the title character, Ip Man (played well by Tony Leung), posing for various reasons, whether it be for a passport or just a picture taken of a group of people he is with. Every time this is done, we see the subjects of the pictures setting up to have their photo taken. It is almost like the signal of a new chapter in the story each time it happens. I just found this to be a really cool feature of the film.

  • Tamara Fleysh

    In the movie “The Grandmaster” Wong Kar Wai showed a story inspired by the life of Bruce Lee Master, Ip Man.
    Many scenes from Kung Fu fighting are beautiful and powerful. The choreography of the Kung Fu fights was so precise that you could feel yourself becoming part of the action. The scenes moved from long shots to closed shots and allowed the watcher to feel the emotions of the fighters. The most amazing scene was the fight in the rain, where shots were taken under different angels. In this scene, the camera showed Kung Fu fighters at temporal speed, then in slow emotion, then at regular speed again. The scenes also artfully depicted splashes of water on the ground, falling rain drops, or a fan of splashes bouncing from the character Ip Man’s hat during the fight added more details for a full picture of the Kung Fu fight.
    The one of the strongest scenes with dialog was in the Tea House where Gong Er and Ip Man saw each other the last time. For a period of time their faces were visible, and everything else was in shadow. The scene concentrated only on the emotions of sadness and maybe regrets about the vow of Gong Er to never get married, have children, and teach Martial Art, and the impossibility of changing the situation. It was a very emotionally powerful scene when Gong Er told Ip Man about her love for him and gave her last goodbye.

  • Alex Rey

    The Grandmaster was an artistic triumph in quite a few different ways. We are shown many different art forms in this film from all the different Kung Fu styles to the cinematography of Wong Kar Wei. You can tell that hours of meticulous work went into every scene by the highly skilled choreography that coincided with the way that rain, wind, and snow exemplified the movements even more. The way Wong uses these elements of nature we see the power that extends beyond the reach of these great fighters, as the water rises higher than the head of the man Ip Man just kicked in the jaw or the way Gong Er moves the wind as we are shown falling snow getting caught in the whirlwinds she creates.
    Ip Man is an ideally perfect human being. He holds his values extremely close to him, never makes a questionable decision regarding morals, has respect even for his enemies, does all he can to support his family, constantly has a positive outlook, and fights with the passion for a better world. We view Ip Man as super human not only because of his uncanny strength and mastery of the Wing Chun style of fighting, but by the strength of his spirit where even if he is outnumbered by about two dozen men to cause physical harm or the death of his daughters to crush him emotionally he always comes out unchanged ready for the next obstacle. Gong Er, who is Ip Man’s polar opposite, is a woman who fights for revenge. We follow Gong Er down a path to avenge her father and see the toll this path takes on her. Although she does defeat the man, Ma Son, who killed her father she lacks motivation after achieving her ultimate goal and becomes addicted to opium to treat her pain and depression. Ip Man and Gong Er are also complete opposite in fighting styles. Ip Man’s Wing Chun consists of 3 basic moves which shows us his simplicity as a man; Gong Er’s technique is referred to as the “64 Hands” and is highly complicated. Gong Er’s quest for revenge left her unable to pass on her art form to the next generation while Ip Man’s path led to widespread teaching of Wing Chun. Even though it was decided Gong Er won the battle in the brothel it was eventually Ip Man who won the war.
    The fight scenes in this movie are truly spectacular as the time is slowed down to give the untrained eye a step-by-step on every aspect of the fight. We see how one must capitalize on the mistake of an opponent in a split second. The problem with most Kung Fu movies is not only that the fighting can be cheesy or too fast to comprehend, but that you can get bored by knowing that even if the hero is missing a limb they will still be able to use their training to be victorious. This film was truly different in the sense that even if you knew Ip Man would win you were on the edge of your seat waiting to see exactly how that enemy would get taken down.

  • Charlie Weil

    Charlie Weil Cinema Studies
    7/24/15

    “The Grandmaster” (Wong Kar Wai/ Hong Kong/ 2013)
    By: Charlie Weil

    When viewing “The Grandmaster”, I found the film to have stunning cinematography, amazing choreography in the fight sequences and a powerful, effective score that exemplified every martial arts aspect in filmmaking. The film also incorporated impeccable cinematography in each frame that flowed brilliantly with the storyline. Overall, there were many aspects of “The Grandmaster” that I greatly admired. I appreciated the visual effects, impressive score and two grippingly powerful performances from Ziyi Zhang as the female protagonist of the film, Miss Gung, and Tony Chiu Wai Leung, her nemesis, the tough Ip Man.

    “The Grandmaster” also had spectacular visual effects. The visual effects were fantastic because they transported the audience to a world of Kung Fu. It was as if the audience was actually in Hong Kong watching the fight scenes between Miss Gung and Ip Man. I was utterly captivated by the amazing visual effects, which were suspenseful throughout the entire film. Due to the unpredictability of the movie, I had no idea who would prevail in the final fighting sequence. I was on the edge of my seat, unsure of what would happen next.

    “The Grandmaster” also incorporated exceptional sound design that seemed entirely realistic. The sound design of the film was unparalleled because it made the audience feel as if they were on an emotional rollercoaster of suspense, intrigue, uncertainty, and unpredictability. The audience was completely unaware of who was going to win the fight on the train between Miss Gung and Ip Man. Miss Gung had proven that she was a strong, resilient, and independent female warrior, whose skills transcended her gender and those of her master, Ip Man’s. The sound design kept the audience in a state of terror throughout the fighting sequences because we, as the audience, never knew what surprises Miss Gung would have up her sleeve. The sound design was effective to listen to due to the mystery it evoked and the power it exuded. The fight scene on the train was a good example of the impressive sound design. It was a marvelous achievement that no other Kung Fu film could have pulled off as brilliantly or as captivatingly as this film did.

    The fight was riveting and captivating to watch because it seemed to come out of nowhere. There were many close-up shots between Ip Man and Miss Gung, where the audience could see their reactions in the fight. This made the audience instantly aware of what the characters were feeling in the scene. Wong Kar Wai, the director of the film, utilized the close-up shots in his film as a way to instinctively humanize the two main characters. He wanted to make sure that the two main characters seemed realistic and relatable. He showed the characters’ facial expressions throughout the fight in order to add humanity to both of these strong, somewhat emotionless characters. In doing so, the audience was able to see the characters because the audience saw their anxiety, fearlessness, and resilience. When incorporating this method, Wong Kar- Wai added greater depth to Miss Gung and to Ip Man, which inevitably made them more believable as characters.

    I also enjoyed the film because it had a strong, independent, and self- sufficient central female character in Miss Gung. Miss Gung was an astonishing example of a courageous, selfless and resilient female warrior. She rebelled against her societal social class because of her ambition to be a warrior, and to fight for her country. She was the type of woman who refused to be victimized. She was her own woman, who could stand on her own two feet without a man. She was an amazing role model for girls all over China because of her independence, resilience, fearlessness, and utter tenacity to fight. Ziyi Zhang gave an excellent performance because she personified all of the qualities a woman of Miss Gung’s circumstances would possess. She also seemed vulnerable and sensitive, which made her even more believable to watch. For example, when Miss Gung was told that because she was a woman, she could not achieve as much a man, like Kung Fu. The audience instantly witnessed her pride being trampled on. In that moment, Miss Gung felt her pain and she shed a tear. This humanized her character even more, even though she remained the fierce female warrior she was.

    Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the use of pictures to tell the story. I felt that the pictures in the film represented the characters and their different backgrounds. I thought the use of pictures in the film gave deeper meaning to whose these characters were in context to the story because it added more depth to their characters. The pictures in the film gave background specifically to the characters of Miss Gung and Ip Man. It displayed for the audience how these two characters came to be. For example, there is an ironic juxtaposition between Miss Gung at the end of the film, and at the beginning of the film. It showed her at two very different stages in her life. At the beginning of the film, it shows her as an idealistic child who had a clear ambition to be a warrior that she believed that she would not let any external forces get in her way. By the end of the film, the audience can see she has become more realistic in attaining her dreams, and is aware of the obstacles that are in her path.

    In conclusion, I found that “The Grandmaster” was just a really fun, enjoyable and exciting movie to watch. It had stunning cinematography, amazing choreography in the fight sequences and a powerful, effective score that exemplified every martial arts aspect in filmmaking. Throughout the film’s narrative, you see one woman’s journey to be a female warrior, all to avenge her father’s death. The film was a stunning achievement in the aspects of filmmaking because it also capitalized on themes of leadership, loyalty, honor, and trust. It was an almost perfect film that I would recommend to anyone.

  • dancer250

    Just like I said in my blog post for The Master, it’s difficult to discuss The Grandmaster without first discussing the cinematography and filmmaking techniques. I have seen many gorgeous films throughout my life, but The Grandmaster had one of the most innovative uses of cinematography, right after Cemetery of Splendour (which I highly recommend checking out). For example, my favorite scene was the fight sequence on the train between Gong Er and Ma San (sorry to be the millionth person to mention this, but I just had to mention this scene) because each shot in that scene was like a work of art. It began with Gong Er’s head against a black background, and because of her black coat it looked like she had no body and you could only see her head, then her hand pressed against the snow and pushed a brick in slow motion, and after that everything was so intense to watch, with the train rushing past to add movement to Ma San being almost pushed onto the tracks. The slow motion sequences in a whirlwind of action sequences broke down each shot so the viewer could appreciate martial arts. Also, since the entire film was about time, from quotes such as “Some live ahead, others live in the past” to “Better to advance than to stop”, the slow motion sequences acted as a nice contrast to slow down and appreciate what you had in front of you.

    Another one of my favorite filmmaking techniques in The Grandmaster was the use of smoke. If I wanted to overanalyze it then I could say that the smoke was used to foreshadow Gong Er’s opium addiction, but in all honesty, I think Wong Kar Wai just really likes to use smoke, because In the Mood for Love had some gorgeous smoking sequences as well. For example, there is one sequence where there’s only smoke blowing into the wind with music playing in the background, and another sequence with a man (I’m totally blanking on his name) sitting in a desk chair blowing smoke, which is honestly one of the coolest smoking sequences of all time, which adds a whole other “coolness” factor to the film. Another one of my favorite scenes was the scene of the family portrait currently taking place, then it faded to black and white and blew up, which was very Citizen Kane-esque (it reminded me of when Charles Foster Kane was looking at a picture of the Chronicle and then he was taking a picture with the Chronicle’s staff) and was another very profound example in the film about the passage of time. Later in the film many things have vanished throughout martial arts history, despite trying to preserve them, and old rules don’t rule over in Hong Kong, and I think the picture blowing up is a good example of that, because despite the need to preserve the past and take pictures, not everything can be preserved.

  • Marguerite Yang

    The film, The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-Wai, 2013, was a combination of a believable and interesting story with great cinematography that added to the telling of the story by emphasizing specific characters and acts. As my husband and two sons are black-belt martial artists, I could understand the mastery behind the martial arts scenes (both fights and individual practice sessions) and was very impressed on how the director was able to catch that mastery on film.

    The cinematography, costumes, make-up, actions, and script all added to create a coherent multi-layered life-story narrative including both the personal challenges of the characters and the national challenges around the characters.

    Each character added a different view, or perspective, to the life-story narrative. For example, Ip Man added to the life-story the lessons of personal perfection, deep honor, and a continuation of the past into the present. Ma San added to the life-story the lessons of lack of honor, collaboration, and ethical flexibility. Gong Er added to the life-story tragic victimization, inflexibility, frustration, and revenge. Gong Er was a martial arts master in her own right and that martial arts mastery gave her frustration and a means to revenge her father’s murder. Each of the Masters of the different martial arts styles who were preparing Ip Man for competition, included in their demonstrations the theme behind their style, for example brutal force (i.e., the crush) and rouge surprise.

    The film had a combination of themes that kept the film exciting and the viewer intrigued as to what would come next. There was the theme of good versus evil, as shown for example by the fight scenes and the degradations of occupation. There was the romance theme between Ip Man and Gong Er, which was strong but not requited. There was also the historical documentaries of the conquering and occupation of China by Japan, the life of Chinese refuges in Hong Kong, and the overall life of Ip Man.

    I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys documentaries of the effects of government occupation and to anyone who enjoys martial arts.

  • Adrian Pollard

    “The Grandmaster”

    A lot of times in the east, directors of international films try to cater to western crowds as well as their own to ensure popular success. In this, they sometimes tone down or sacrifice the history and philosophies of their own cultures to accommodate western critics. Luckily, we have directors that love their culture so much that they are willing to take cinephiles through the world of western civilization that is so foreign to us. The artsy and talented director Wong Kar-Wai brings China and Kung Fu to the masses in the unadulterated true to form flick, “The Grandmaster”.

    Starring Tony Chiu Wai Leung (Ip Man), The Grandmaster opens up with a fight scene in the rain that indicates to its audience the fluidity and intricacies of Kung Fu thanks to the amazing The Matrix choreographer Woo-Ping Yeun (Chan Wah-Shun). The film starts to take us through an amazing story of Ip Man & Ziyi Zhang (Gong Er) paths as they use Kung Fu as not just a physical fighting style, but also a way of life. The Gong family Master withholds a powerful and sacred style known as the 64 hands that his temperamental student would eventually use to fight and destroy his master. Gong Er would then begin a quest for redemption, as Ip Man would simultaneously fight for hope and love of his country to keep stability after losing his family and wealth to war from a Japanese invasion.

    The director pulls all of this off with deep-thinking dialogue that makes you ponder so deep about life itself and most importantly honor. The movie demonstrates hope, time, and the motivators behind nurturing them. It was very amazing that the cinematic direction would be so storytelling such as during the fight scenes. Wong Kar-Wai and Woo-Ping Yeun are power teams as they make every item that breaks in the fighting environments seem important because of its age and traditional style. By far one of the best Kung Fu movies I’ve seen do to its strong and various ways of story telling. A must see if one is able to understand the philosophical viewpoints within the breathtaking piece of cinematography.

  • Nicole Ochal

    The Grand Master

    The Grand Master is an iconic Kung Fu movie that expresses the determination and the dedication the Kung Fu world requires. The movie starts off with so much stimulation with a fight in the middle of the pouring rain. This to me was a really good look at the choreography and how well everything was planned. There was not a moment in the fighting scenes that were not realistic. This is what the creator of this movie does best; he makes it so all the moves flow and was timed to perfection so they don’t show they are worked out.
    This movie had a very strong leading roll, that was a women and she was kickass. Miss. Gong was a Kung fu master that was married to Ip man who was striving to be the grand master. Miss. Gong comes from a long line of Kung Fu, her only flaw was that she was a women and could not completely be a grand master or even taken seriously in the field. Although she was probably just as good as Ip man, she lost the respect that her father had brought to her family, and she tries to get it back and is successful. This is important because of how iconic and how strong this women really is, she started a family with Ip man, but when he was becoming the grand master he had to leave and things were broken. This broke her heart and she turned to drugs. Since she was such a heart filled person she put her everything into the things she does, and that caused her to get addicted.
    The fashion in this movie was so iconic I could not believe it. Ip man and Gong were always dressed to impress, and I think that that was such an important part of the movie, toward the end of the movie you see the outfit that Gong is wearing perish and it shows how she is loosing control and she is about to break.
    I loved this movie so much and this is probably my favorite movie of all the movies we watched. There was not a moment when I wasn’t watching, and the language didn’t even trip me up, it just added to the effect and made it so much more authentic and real to me. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and loved watching it.

  • Mia

    The Grand Master by Wong Kar-Wai was a beautiful work of imagery. While the story/plot was okay, for me I could have watched this movie without dialogue because that is how visually appealing this film is. Wong Kar-Wai really takes us back in time with his sets and costumes. I loved how the Chinese women looked in this film, with their porcelain faces, black crescent moom painted eyebrows, short wavy black locks, and their traditional Chinese dresses and accessories. The sets were even more fascinating. There were fantastic, meaning they literally seemed to be constructed out of fantasy rather than actual history. I think that is beautiful, considering Wong Kar-Wai’s motive to preserve the past and I can see why the past attracts him because he persuades us to as well with his magnificent set choices.

    Wong Kar-Wai also uses his sets masterfully in his fighting scenes. He uses the moving train as a key elect in the train station fight, making the scene even more thrilling. I loved the first scene in the rain as he gets many close up shots of the water moving as the fighters move. The rain coming off the brim of Ip Man’s hat was a great touch.

    Overall, like I said, the plot was okay for me. Honestly, if I ever watch this film again, I’m turning the subtitles off so it doesn’t distract my eyes from the beauty of the film on screen. The cultural barrier was high, but didn’t discourage me. Yes, I was very confused about many things, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the plot. It just couldn’t equally compare to the visuals, in my opinion. However, it did inspire me to watch several other kung fu films afterwards at home. So The Grand Master must have had an incredible impact on me, considering my admiration of the visuals and music, while the actual plot did not inspire me. But that’s okay! I don’t care if the about the plot as long as something about the film keeps me mesmerized and wanting more.

  • Torrance

    Grandmaster epic movie very great fight scenes, dir by Wong kar-wai, some critics would say that this movie is too choppy how it moves from scene to scene to scene, but I think that’s what the director was trying to do to give you a feel from different errors of his life that led up to him opening up a school in Hong Kong, one thing I really like about this movie is how it slowed up to show you the punches and the kicks and the impact that it did to the arrival fighter, this is art at its finest and entertainment for all aspect of movie watchers, you get a little bit of love scenes action and drama, can not get no better then that, if you think about how big of a movement that was by learning confu at that time in the error to how it made it impact on the world it is today art opera and MMA fighting professional fighting, I love this movie and will watch it again, 5 Cheer’s on this film!!

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