The Grandmaster

Film, Action and adventure
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The Grandmaster
The Grandmaster

For a while, Wong Kar-wai was the answer to all film lovers’ prayers: he offered a heart-stopping camera style, a mature interest in raw, unrequited passions and a genius for tapping magnetic turns. So strong is his ‘In the Mood for Love’ (2000) that it summed up not just a decade of lush Asian impressionism, but the entire first century of the movies.

So what’s this most exquisite of directors doing making a martial-arts flick? All props to Bruce Lee, King Hu and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, but the genre, even at its most thrilling, puts limitations on the subtler filmmaker. ‘The Grandmaster’, five years in the making, feels like a waste of Wong’s talents. Sure, it’s loaded with foot-to-face combat, gorgeously photographed and edited, as the plot leisurely unpacks the true-life tale of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the ’30s-era kung fu master whose style would affect a generation of fighters to come. But there’s only one tone to these impeccably crafted sequences: bone-dry solemnity. Wong’s fans will miss his sophisticated humour, his thoughtful reach.

When he’s not kicking people, Ip circles Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), the lethally skilled daughter of a revered talent handler. Their flirtation at one point takes the form of a stairs-bound duel; elsewhere, they recite poems or stare at each other longingly. Wong has done this dynamic better in virtually all of his past work, there’s a pretty dullness here that shouldn’t be confused for mastery.

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Release date: Friday November 28 2014
Duration: 130 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Kar Wai Wong
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Zhang Ziyi
Chang Chen

Average User Rating

1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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2 people listening

I saw The Grandmaster when I was on holiday in Belgium last year. I was totally mesmerised by the poetry of the film, the beautiful scenes where each image is a painting, the philosophical one-liners, the sadness about the end of a grand era, the beauty and pain of lost love, the overall melancholy that so much characterizes Wong Kar-Wai's films. I was surprised when I read the review above. Was this review about the same film I saw? 

I saw the film again in a local Odeon this week and I was absolutely baffled. No, this was not the same film I saw last year. The alarm bells should have gone off when the Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Weinstein logos appeared at the start of the screening. Yes, this was the American 'Weinstein cut'. Shorter then the 'original' Hong Kong version; with shorter duels between the Grandmasters that omit the Arts in martial arts; whole scenes cut,  characters reduced to nothing (e.g. the enigmatic Razor character has only 1 scene with Ip Man and a scene that 's not in the Hong Kong version), parts of the music score are different and more 'tearjerkery', the ridiculous written messages in between the scenes and the overly explicatory newly added scenes... This all changes the pace and the tone of the film in such a drastic way. It reduces the film to a linear boring history class. But worst of all is the poor, dry, appallingly soulless English translation.

This is another example of the very very very sorry state of affairs of the film scene in London where the same sausage factory films are distributed on a weekly basis in every cinema in the city, where the only foreign films still screened are either feel-good comedies (the French Potiche-style) and films of the more established directors, or a bunch of one-off screenings crammed in mini-festivals. It's very sad that the 'original' more challenging version of a film from an established art-house director can no longer be shown in cinemas in London, and that distributors choose for the Americanized crap. How many other films have I seen that were adapted for the 'sleepy brain' audience? The Channel is widening and the Atlantic Ocean shrinking.

The Hong Kong version gets 5 stars.