To fully appreciate this Chinese movie, you probably need to understand the language, the culture, as well as the martial arts within. It is not unusual for the olden day Chinese to speak in metaphors. My dad still does too. The English subtitles can be quite misleading at times. What if you don’t understand Chinese but you are curious about The Grandmaster? I suppose even if you can only get the essence of it, it may still be worthwhile provided that you enjoy watching art house type of movies or you are a fan of the leading actor and actress.
The backdrop is enticing. A story told from Yip Man’s perspective (he who was Bruce Lee’s teacher). From Yip Man’s age of 40 till his old age. Upon the then-grandmaster’s retirement, while the northern China’s grandmaster title was given to Ma San, it was of the old grandmaster’s wish to pass the southern China title to a southerner. Hence the introduction of Yip Man.
Tony Leung is quite possible one of the best actors I have seen. He truly can act with just his eyes. That heighten alertness in face of a real challenge, confidence with a hint of playfulness during a friendly duet, that moment of being mesmerized by the opposite sex, pain and despair, heartache and resignation, or simply that pair of weary eyes having seen too much in life. It is a real treat to see him act as Yip Man. This movie has provided him much opportunity to shine.
Zhang Ziyi plays the role of Gong Er, the daughter of the then-grandmaster. While the range of emotion given is not as wide as Yip Man’s role, Zhang Ziyi has certainly chilled me with her coldness, pained me with her rare tenderness. Her acting too is convincing.
The martial art scenes are pretty impressive. With modern technology and the extreme slow motion close-up playback, the action is exciting to watch. But here lies the problem. The director Wong Kar-wai has cast this film in an art house setting (like his last movie My Blueberry Nights). Take away the breathtaking action and the engaging acting is a series of artistic shots such as water peddles and street scenery, Buddha statues and candles. The gaps can be extremely slow. I found myself wanting to see the next action or acting scene and skip the excessive artistic frames.
One good example is the character Yixiantian “The Razor”. The film has devoted quite a bit of airtime to develop The Rezor. He has absolutely zero contribution to the main story except that one interaction he has with Gong Er on a train. Even that does not materialize into anything. The story goes on telling more about The Razor – humorous I must say – whereby taking all in, I wouldn’t miss a thing if the director has decided to cut this character away. Maybe I am missing something significant here. I don’t know.
Also, the resolution between Yip Man and his wife (played by a Korean actress Song Hye-kyo) appears to be fuzzy. Is it because there is a lack of real life documentation of his marriage? Or is it the director’s intention to have us thinking? I thought for a bit. Then I gave up.
Another of his movie that is low in entertainment but probably high in artistic value.