“The Grandmaster” Blends Beauty with Bone Crushing

Monday, September 16, 2013

No martial arts movie is complete without the flick of a foot that sends a foe soaring across the room, physics defying speed and agility and the stolid face of the master, as he gracefully turns his opponents’ gall into respect or demoralizing defeat. Believe me when I say that “The Grandmaster” delivers. But fortunately, that is not all it offers the viewer.

As a lover of martial arts movies, I have seen my fair share of ass-kickery from around the world, including two previous “Ip Man” movies. So I came in with some history    and a fair amount of skepticism, to say the least.

With his  vision, Wong Kar-wai, the writer and director, has turned the tired plot line of a man ascending through the ranks of martial arts legend into a thing of beauty.

The texture of each scene is so real and intricately brought to life that the observer feels a chill viewing a frozen landscape and almost smells the cigarette smoke floating across 1950s Hong Kong. Yuen Wo Ping, a master of martial arts choreography, turns each fight in to fierce ballet between opposing forces.

Despite the stunning visuals, the story itself seems disjointed at times. Though it is sold as a story of Ip Man, the film’s more compelling story is that of Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), a fictional character and the daughter of the previous grandmaster.

Almost the entire second half of the film is about her quest for revenge, and simply put, Ziyi Zhang steals the scene. She has some mad kung fu skills; you may remember her from her “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

She is the only one who can rival Ip Man in a fight, but her real strength is the tenderness and complexity she brings to what could have been an emotionless story. By the end I cared for her much more than Ip Man

“The Grandmaster” is a film of two faces, those of Ip Man and Gong Er, in an epic kung fu battle with a vibrant, compelling story. While the plot may feel choppy at times, it will mesmerize the martial art fanatic as much as the lover of epic dramas. Since I happen to be both, I had a fantastic time taking in the beauty and bone-crushing.