Release Date: August 23, 2013 (limited)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Screenwriter: Wong Kar Wai, Haofeng Xu, Jingzhi Zou
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung, Hye-kyo Song, Chen Chang, Yuen Woo-ping, Shun Lau, Siu-Lung Leung
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language)
Official Website: Not Available
Review: 6/10 rating
Plot Summary: Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, “The Grandmaster” is an epic action feature inspired by the life and times of the legendary kung fu master, Ip Man. The story spans the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty, a time of chaos, division and war that was also the golden age of Chinese martial arts. Filmed in a range of stunning locations that include the snow-swept landscapes of Northeast China and the subtropical South, “The Grandmaster” features virtuoso performances by some of the greatest stars of contemporary Asian cinema, including Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.
Wong Kar-Wai’s 10 years-in-the-making of the so-called Ip Man biopic is exquisitely photographed and blessed with some dazzling fight choreography, but THE GRANDMASTER is mostly a scattershot mess of unfocused direction.
When director Wong Kar-Wai first announced the project way back in 2002, I bet a lot of die-hard fans are eager to see how the critically-acclaimed art-house director is going to do a big-screen treatment of the legendary Ip Man. Fast forward to 2013 (after a string of delays and whatnot), THE GRANDMASTER has came and gone with mostly favorable reviews and successful box office runs. However, after finally watching it, I must say that THE GRANDMASTER turns out to be an overrated effort after all.
Likewise, Wong Kar-Wai is always meticulous when comes to distinctive visual flair. Philippe Le Sourd and Song Xiaofei’s sumptuous cinematography is nice to look at, while beautifully framed Yuen Woo-Ping’s fight choreography with such balletic mix of slow motion and various camera speeds. The rest of the technical credits are equally ace — ranging from its elaborate production design to its detailed costume design. On the plus side, the first half is particularly engaging. As for the cast, Zhang Ziyi excels the most as the hotheaded, yet emotionally frustrating Gong Er.
The second half is hastily stitched together, while burdened by terribly inconsistent pace. It’s understandable that Wong Kar-Wai’s movie is always fragmented but this time, THE GRANDMASTER is way uneven yet unfocused. Another biggest problem here is the sudden change of focus from narrating Ip Man story to Gong Er story. If that’s not insulting enough, the introduction of Chang Chen’s The Razor character feels vague and needless altogether. Apart from Zhang Ziyi’s exceptional performance, it’s rather surprising to see the usually-reliable Tony Leung Chiu-Wai doesn’t impress much as Ip Man. Although he is charismatic enough, he fails to expand his Ip Man character with a satisfying emotional center other than looking cool or broods a lot. Popular Korean actress Song Hye-Kyo is sadly neglected in a thankless role (thanks to Wong Kar-Wai for cutting off most of her scenes in the editing room) as Ip Man’s wife, Zhang Yongcheng.
It’s quite sad to see what could have been another classic Wong Kar-Wai movie-in-the-making turns out to be a disappointment. Strictly for die-hard fans.