[Film Review] The Grandmaster (2013)

The Grandmaster 2013

English Title: The Grandmaster
Chinese Title: Yi dai zong shi 一代宗师
Year: 2013
Country: Hong Kong, China
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin
Genre: Action, Biography
Director: Wong Kar-wai 王家卫
 Wong Kar-wai 王家卫
Zou Jingzhi 邹静之
 Xu Haofeng 徐浩峰
Nathaniel Méchaly
Shigeru Umebayashi
Cinematography: Philippe Le Sourd
Tony Leung Chiu-wai 梁朝伟
 Zhang Ziyi 章子怡
 Song Hye-kyo
 Chang Chen 张震
 Zhao Benshan 赵本山
 Wang Qingxiang 王庆祥
Max Zhang 张晋
Cung Le 黎烈弓
Julian Cheung 张智霖
Lau Shun 刘洵
Xiao Shenyang 小沈阳
Lo Hoi-pang 卢海鹏
 Shang Tielong 尚铁龙
 Lau Kar-yung 刘家荣
Elvis Tsui 徐锦江
 Jin Shijie 金士杰
Wang Jue 王珏
Lo Meng 罗莽
Zhou Xiaofei 周小飞
 Yuen Woo-ping 袁和平
Berg Ng 吴廷烨
Rating: 7.2/10 8.1/10

The Grandmaster 2013

As film buffs are all acclimatized with the fact that every Kar Wai Wong’s project has to endure an excruciatingly procrastinated process of filming and editing since IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000), an almost six-year gap between THE GRANDMASTER and his first misfired Hollywood foray MY BLUEBERRY NIGHT (2007) does manifest Wong’s perverse assiduity and forbearance on his own artifact, apart from the sporadic but stretching-out shooting spells, Wong is also universally distinguished for other idiosyncrasies such as script-less improvisations for his cast, the stylish oriental aesthetics dramatized by the over-sentimental score, larger-than-life characters uttering aphorisms with philosophic undertones and last but not the least, the cinematography brimful of vim and vigor (on this occasion, Philippe Le Sourd is the new DP).

I’ve been consistently vouching for Wong simply because he is my favorite Hong Kong director, albeit his perceptible slump of his career orbit in the noughties, even his less-successful esoteric saga-tale 2046 (2004) has won me over without a hitch. THE GRANDMASTER reunites Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang as rivals-cum-mutual-attracted-contemporaries Kung Fu masters Ip Man and Gong Er, spanning over 50 years in the tumultuous southern China from the beginning of 20th Century, despite of its 130 minutes length (I watched the Chinese theatrical version), the film somewhat stymies its audiences from getting a comprehensive grip on Ip Man, the nominal protagonist, instead, it leans heavily on the plot of Gong Er’s obstinate revenge for her father’s demise, maybe Chinese viewers have already fed up with a plethora of Ip Man on screen (notably Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series), so this approach lends Ziyi Zhang a rare platform to outshine Tony Leung in rendering a meatier portraiture of a woman’s fortitude and pluck in the male-dominant Kung Fu métier.

The dazzling action sequences are scattered wantonly among Wong’s slow-paced, micro-distant frames zero in his players’ amber countenances, the opening fight manages to achieve an ultra clarity of splashing raindrops in the Stygian night, and the subsequent ones are all meticulously shot with slow-motion interactions and two thumbs up for all the actors, name-checking Tong Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Max Zhang and Chen Chang for their strenuous endeavor in their martial arts training.

While Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi continues his collaboration with Wong, Stefano Lentini’s adaption of soprano piece “Stabat Mater” imprints on one’s mind profoundly in this otherwise over-scored Kung Fu spectacle. My first viewing may fall short below my much-hyped anticipation, the disjointed narrative (most obtrusively is the largely-subtracted subplot of Chen Chang’s Yi Xian Tian) and underdevelopment of Ip Man’s own story-line cast a shadow in Wong’s latest offering, one might compulsively wonder who is the real grand-master here, the taciturnly suave Ip Man or the intrepidly determined Gong Er?

Oscar 2013 - The Grandmaster


After a recent second viewing, I update my rating from 7.2 to 8.1, once you get the grip of the storyline, one can appreciate more of the artistry of Wong’s sublime elaboration of his ideal grandeur, each frame reflects its own luxuriant vitality and stylised composure, DP Philippe Le Sourd (who replaces Wong’s long-time collaborator Christopher Doyle) is fluidly congruous with Wong’s cinematic dogma, it blows my mind what a marvel the film is.

Ziyi Zhang is the MVP in the film, the belated confession of her affection towards Ip is soul-moving, and daintily nurtured under the aegis of Wong, from 2046 to The GRANDMASTER, we can see the progression of her bent as a more polished thespian. The film takes almost 7 years to manufacture (Wong’s script-less capriciousness and excessive re-shootings are his notorious hallmarks) and it had been a studied learning curve for Ziyi and Tony, to reincarnate themselves in the mindset of two real-life masters is a daunting mission but they are fearless and suavely awe-inspiring. Btw, Chen Chang himself is a bona-fide kung fu champion now after the dedicative preparation for this film, which is a terrific boon for him despite of most of his effort is left in the cutting room.

p.s. The film is back to my Top 10 list and Ziyi and Wong are within Top 5 in their categories.

Oscar 2013 - The Grandmaster (second version)


3 thoughts on “[Film Review] The Grandmaster (2013)

  1. Pingback: [Last Film I Saw] Ilo Ilo (2013) [8/10] | Cinema Omnivore

  2. Pingback: [Last Film I Watch] The Final Master (2015) | Cinema Omnivore

  3. Pingback: [Film Review] Black Panther (2018) – Cinema Omnivore

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