Starring: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Running Time: 108 mins
The Grandmaster is a Chinese/Hong Kong film about the story of kung fu master Ip Man, and his career through the years as he fights rivals from the North, and sees his hometown devastated by foreign invaders.
While it’s certainly an eye-catching watch, The Grandmaster doesn’t quite have the historical intrigue or powerful emotional depth to prove a thoroughly riveting watch. And as much as it entertains and impresses with great action, it’s punctuated by less-than-stellar drama that really drags throughout.
I’ll admit straight up, however, that martial arts movies really aren’t my cup of tea. Of the many I’ve seen, only Ip Man and House Of Flying Daggers have really impressed me, bringing both spectacular action and fighting along with captivating drama and storytelling.
As a result, I can’t speak for fans of the genre, because I’m sure that, with its stunning action and regard for the history of martial arts, The Grandmaster will prove a satisfying watch.
Saying that, however, Ip Man, which details the life of the same historical figure, does a far better job with the same story compared to The Grandmaster. This film frustratingly spends a little too much energy on its action set-pieces and undeniably dazzling cinematography, all coming at the expense of real dramatic intrigue.
That’s the biggest difference between the two films – the idea of style over substance. Of course, that’s not to say that The Grandmaster is an entirely superficial film, because it still features moments of captivating drama and a whole host of excellent performances, as well as a gritty and high-stakes atmosphere reminiscent of Ip Man.
But The Grandmaster never really gets to grips with its characters in the same way, and the character drama that punctuates the fight sequences throughout drags painfully at times, lacking the blend of riveting history and real emotional poignance that the story can bring.
The action is undeniably excellent, as director Wong Kar-wai brings his inimitable visual style to martial arts action in thrilling fashion, using cutting-edge slow-motion and gorgeously detailed cinematography to beef up the sleek intensity of the fight sequences.
Those action sequences don’t quite have a real emotional resonance, and are a far cry from some of the powerfully striking fights in Ip Man, but they are at least an impressive spectacle to witness, and easily the most memorable part of the film.
Overall, The Grandmaster is an odd blend of fantastic action and spectacular visuals with disappointing and uninteresting drama. Telling a story that’s been delivered in far more captivating style before, the film never really hits home as it ought to, even if it’s a visual delight throughout, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.