Written for RAF News Dec 2014
The Grandmaster follows revered martial artist Ip Man (Tony Leung) as he sets out to the different provinces of a China divided by Japanese invasion, seeking Grandmasters of different fighting styles so that they can exchange knowledge through hand-to-hand combat.
Ip Man was a Chinese Grandmaster whose legacy can be seen in the widespread practice of Wing Chun – a martial art that he popularised – and in his best known student Bruce Lee, though now his legacy has been transposed to cinema: The Grandmaster being the fifth film to centre on him in the last decade.
The fight scenes are met with director Wong Kar Wai’s distinctive aesthetic style. From the inward twisting of ankles of the Wing Chun stance, there is a dance like elegance that accompanies the fight scenes. Though this is not a particularly new idea it dovetails perfectly with the romantic stylisation of Wong Kar Wai, showing the fluidity of martial arts in slow-motion, punctuated with the sound of cold hard thuds as fists connect and bodies are thrown.
Giving very little away, the taciturn Ip Man lets his craft speak for him, possessing a coolness that borders on smug through his permanent half-smile. Those interested in seeing a regular martial arts genre film may be caught off-guard by the philosophical turns in-between fights, and may very well feel cheated when there is no big fight finale, instead presented a montage of a young Bruce Lee.
While the films beauty is undeniable it can feel disjointed when changing pace to the deliberately slow and thoughtful exchanges between characters – perhaps due to the cuts forced on the film to bring down its running time. It may be that the visual style isn’t enough to hold together a film that attempts to cover an entire era in Chinese history.