"The Grandmaster" is Beautiful, But Flawed
Release Date: August 30, 2013
Cast: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Song Hye-Kyo
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Studio: Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Films, Sil-Metropole Organisation, Bona International Film Group
Distributor: Sil-Metropole Organisation, Bona Film Group, Annapurna Pictures, The Weinstein Company
Genre(s): Wu Xia, Drama, Action
Let me be clear, this two-star rating is for the US released version of The Grandmaster, and not the original Chinese version released in January. If I had to give the original Chinese release a score, it would have been a three star rating. I saw the original release earlier this year with my parents, and when it was booked to release in America, I wondered how they would change the film for American audiences.
Wong Kar-wai is one of my favorite directors. I love In the Mood for Love and 2047, and The Grandmaster definitely had elements of Wong’s style. The wu xia martial arts are beautiful and the cinematography is wonderful. The story of Ip Man bringing together Northern and Southern martial art styles is interlaced within movement and dialogue.
Wong’s signature is all over this and although the combat scenes are gorgeous, the movie is incredibly slow. There is a lot of silence and a lot of slow movement, and those who are fans of classic wu xia might not be on the edges of their seats.
The plus side to having this as a movie with English subtitles is that instead of having to hear Tony Leung dubbed over in Mandarin or Zhang Ziyi dubbed over in Cantonese, is that I got to hear both of them speaking in their original voices and in their own dialects. It emphasized the message of the story between Northern and Southern China.
As far as the story goes, one thing I did enjoy about the US cut was the extra clips that they put in to explain the general story to American audiences. As an American born Chinese, I often get Chinese history confused along with the past culture, and having the clips explained a lot to me. However, the cut was 22 minutes shorter than the original, with adding in extra scenes, it seems like the American version had cut out over half an hour.
A lot of the personal story of Ip Man seemed to have been twisted in the editing to sensationalize his relationship with Gong Er. Honestly, it felt insulting to Ip Man’s memory to cheat the viewer out of the relationship he had with his wife in order to propel some false extramarital affair between he and Gong Er. It cheapened the film.
Ultimately the huge change in the personal relationship Ip Man had with Gong Er ruined the movie for me. What I loved about the original was his committed relationship with his wife and how they played on that along with his love for martial arts.
The introduction and appearance of The Razor, the master of Bagua (a martial art that is paid heavy attention to in the film), is brief and severely underdeveloped. He could have had a larger role playing foil to Ip Man, but the movie played heavy emphasis on his romantic relationship as well as his time in Hong Kong. Personally, I think they should have left Razor out, instead of giving it a half-assed story.
It’s suppose to be a story about The Grandmaster, but it ends up being a convoluted tale about Gong Er more than even Ip Man. There is so little concentration to martial arts, that I find myself searching for more action rather than the stinted romantic hints between the two. I enjoyed the focus on Gong Er and her character, but even the translation of her storyline to English in effect, erased a large portion of her storyline. Ultimately the story feels lost in the woods in translation, maybe even lead hand-in-hand to be lost.
Final Thoughts: All in all, the story is disjointed and feels like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been forced together. It’s beautiful and it’s worth more than the chop-shop job that was done by The Weinstein group. If you are a fan of Ip Man, wait for or search out a copy of the Chinese version to watch. If you are a fan of Wong Kar-wai, then check the movie out just for the gorgeous aesthetics. But if you are neither, this is a movie you can skip.