Wong Kar-wai is the greatest living Hong Kong auteur, who made his international breakthrough with the stunning Chungking Express in the ’90s. He’s probably best known for the multiple award-winning In The Mood For Love. However, whilst not as widely known, Days of Being Wild, Ashes of Time and Happy Together are just a few of a string of great films he’s made. His films are epitomised by their rather unique visual style and strong emotional pull. In recent times, his output has noticeably slowed, whilst his profile has grown. The Grandmaster is his first feature film in 6 years; retaining most of the characteristic elements, whilst losing much of the power.
The Grandmaster documents the earlier period of Wing Chun master Ip Man’s (Tony Leung) life. After years of study and practice, Ip Man becomes an expert in his discipline and is happily married with children. His quiet existence is threatened by the arrival of Northern Grandmaster Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang). Gong announced his retirement and that Ma San (Zhang Jin) will be his heir to the North, but decides that he should choose someone to represent the South as well. Ip Man is selected and defeats Gong Yutian in a battle of philosophical wits. Gong Yuitan’s daughter (Zhang Ziyi) challenges Ip Man to regain her family’s honour and wins. The pair agree to a rematch in the North, but wars and poverty take their toll. When the pair meet again in Hong Kong, they’re very different people.
The Grandmaster isn’t the first representation of Ip (Yip) Man on the big screen. Wilson Yip’s eponymous trilogy goes into much more depth, and whilst nowhere near as stylish as The Grandmaster, has much more depth and power. Wong Kar-wai gravitates towards the Yimou Zhang approach to martial arts films. Whilst it’s beautifully made and emphasises the intellectual and artistic aspects of the disciplines, it feels more of a case of style of substance. The Grandmaster is painted in vivid colours, but they sadly soon run.
The Grandmaster is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Metrodome on March 30.