Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster is a Chinese martial arts film, and is subtitled. If that's not your thing, you're welcome to stop reading.

This movie is beautifully shot - there is real artistry in the camerawork. If you wanted a Jackie Chan film, or even a Bruce Lee film, this is not the right movie. This is an art film which has fight scenes. Those fight scenes are excellently choreographed, smoothly executed, and well filmed. The camera is very close in most of the fight scenes - and, indeed, in most of the dialogue scenes as well - but I was able to follow the moves and the flow of the fighting without difficulty.

As is expected with a Chinese martial arts film, the fighting is stylized, and there is some amount of wire-fu. It's not fantastically over the top, but is definitely exaggerated. Romanticized is probably a good way to describe the feel of it.

Between the fight scenes, and sometimes during them, the movie is very contemplative. It dwells somberly on the philosophy of martial arts. This is not a happy movie, nor does it have significant comedic elements. Nor, oddly, does it bear significant resemblance to historical events.

This is strange, because the main character is based on a real person - Ip Man, who was Bruce Lee's teacher. Instead of telling a factual account of his life, however, the movie uses elements of history to tell a story of the path of Chinese martial arts from the 1930s through the 1950s. Mostly it's an evangelistic propaganda film, for Wing Chun in particular and Kung Fu in general.

In service to this message, the film takes significant liberties. (Minor spoiler alert - skip to the next paragraph to avoid it). For instance, Ip's removal to Hong Kong and subsequent exile is blamed on the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of his home town in China. Actually, he went to Hong Kong because he supported the losing side of the Chinese Civil War that ended in the Communists taking power.

Tony Leung does a fine job in the lead role. He is dignified and competent, and his movement is lovely. He was also apparently told not to show any expression through most of the film. The emotionlessness that results, while impressive, makes the character somewhat distant.

Zhang Ziyi acts well also, but her character is a mess. Most of the characters are very shallow. A character who should have been important, and on whom some time was spent early on, was casually thrown away part way in.

So, this is a flawed work of art - pretty, but more of a martial arts recruitment reel than anything else.

1. Much Ado About Nothing
2. Now You See Me
3. The World's End
4. Despicable Me 2
5. Star Trek: Into Darkness
6. Oblivion
7. Iron Man 3
8. Pacific Rim
9. Kick Ass 2
10. Man of Steel
11. Jack the Giant Slayer
12. Beautiful Creatures
13. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
14. RIPD
15. Oz the Great and Powerful
16. Epic
17. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
18. The Wolverine
19. Elysium
20. Monsters University
21. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
22. The Grandmaster
23. The Great Gatsby
24. The Lone Ranger
25. This is the End

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