MRR Review: "The Grandmaster"

Photo Credit: Annapurna Pictures

MRR Review: "The Grandmaster"

Rating: PG-13 (violence, language, drug use)
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2013
Directed By: Kar Wai Wong
Genre: Action/Biography/Drama

"The Grandmaster" is perhaps the most highly anticipated foreign film of the year. Director Kar Wai Wong takes the helm in this martial arts masterpiece that chronicles the life of one of the most legendary figures in martial arts history. Ip Man was a Chinese martial artist known for his influential role as a mentor and martial arts instructor to Bruce Lee, his considerably more famous pupil. Bruce Lee learned nearly everything he knew from Ip Man, and while Lee's instructor remains a legend in the martial arts community, many casual consumers of martial arts films have never heard of him. Kar Wai Wong successfully thrusts Ip Man into the spotlight he deserves, focusing on his life and career from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Ip Man, born and raised in China, quickly rose through the ranks of street fighters. The film opens with a visually stunning street fight between him and numerous other martial artists. Ip Man begins by describing his simple philosophy of battle, which states that the last man standing is always in the right. The rest of the film chronicles Ip Man's rise to prominence and fame in the martial arts community, taking note of the obstacles he faced along the way. For instance, he winds up contributing significantly to a conflict resolution between the Northern and Southern traditions of kung fu.

Later on in the film, Kar Wai Wong takes a look at the various people and changes in Ip Man's life that came as a result of the Sino-Japanese war. The film takes an intimate look into this period in Ip Man's life and draws attention to an event in Chinese history that is often forgotten by the west. Not only does "The Grandmaster" shine a light on the life and mind of this brilliant martial artist but also on the history of China as well. From picturesque landscapes and bustling mid-century cities to the subtle and thoughtful cultural commentary laced throughout, "The Grandmaster" is a must-see film for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating era in Chinese culture.

Director Kar Wai Wong is known for his ability to blend romance and action-packed thrills into one seamless film, and "The Grandmaster" is no exception. Ip Man gets a fictional love interest named Gong Er, portrayed by Ziyi Zhang, the legendary Chinese actress who starred in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." As with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Grandmaster" weaves plenty of romantic tension and star-crossed love into an otherwise violent tale of revenge and battle. Gong Er is far from the standard damsel in distress though, being the daughter of a legendary martial arts grandmaster and possessing considerable skill of her own. In fact, she proves to be an equal match for Ip Man on more than one occasion, first as a foe and then as an ally.

"The Grandmaster" begins by following Ip Man's life closely, but the film gradually transitions to a focus on Gong Er, who represents the next generation of martial artists. Although Gong Er is unable to carry on her father's legacy as a grandmaster due to the gender roles enforced by Chinese society in the 1950s, that doesn't stop her from honing her skills and pushing herself to the next level. Ip Man is both perplexed and impressed by this extraordinary young woman, and an unrequited romance begins to develop. This tension continues throughout the film, even as Ip Man becomes well known as a martial arts teacher and gains the recognition he has longed for over the years. Ip Man may be the main character, but "The Grandmaster" is truly a love letter to kung fu itself, transcending the format of a traditional biography to become something far more meaningful.

It is truly a cinematic masterpiece on a par with such classic martial arts films as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Enter the Dragon." It is unusual for such an artistic and visually stunning film to be so proficient in the form and practicality of the art of kung fu, but Kar Wai Wong manages to craft a film that is equal parts beauty and precision. Whether you are a devoted fan of the martial arts genre or a casual film lover, "The Grandmaster" offers up a visual and emotional experience unlike any other film in the box office this summer. Step back into time with a legendary figure who had a large role in making the world of martial arts what it is today, and let the brilliant acting, watery visuals, and hypnotic fight scenes immerse you into a beautiful world that is both old and new.

Rating: 3 out of 5