Sunday 21 April 2013

The Grandmaster [2013]

Five years in the making and a pet project of Wong Kar-Wai for long, the much anticipated The Grandmaster is one gorgeously mounted martial arts film. Though it wouldn’t rank among his best works, it does contain all the hallmarks of the Hong Kong auteur – themes of unrequited love and loneliness, melancholic tone, elliptical narrative and visually ravishing cinematography. It deals with the life of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the legendary Kung-Fu grandmaster and teacher, with his most famous student being Bruce Lee (that, though, isn’t the focus of the story). The film chronicles his staid marriage to his doting wife, his being chosen as a successor by a retiring grandmaster after a duel of wits, his platonic romance with the former grandmaster’s daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) who is a martial arts exponent herself, and his eventually settling-down as a teacher, with the turbulent socio-political events in China from 1930s to 1950s, particularly the Japanese-occupation of the country, at its backdrop. That said, this is anything but a conventional biopic; this deeply introspective and existential work was far more interested in the philosophy of martial arts, meditations on love, loss and coming to terms with one’s life, and underlying socio-political contemplations, than the minute historical details. Wong-regular Leung was brilliant as always, and Ziyi, too, was nearly as good. the lush production designs, the superbly choreographed combats, and in particular, the dazzlingly shot opening sequence following Ip’s quiet ruminations on what kung-fu means to him, were memorably done. The self-indulgent aesthetics and the muted melancholia, however, might make this a tad uneven viewing experience.

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Existential Drama/Action/Martial Arts Film/Biopic
Language: Cantonese/Mandarin/Japanese
Country: China (Hong Kong)