A few years ago, one of my favorite martial artists named Donnie Yen portrayed the legendary Ip Man, the infamous trainer of Bruce Lee, in two action-packed movies simply named Ip Man and Ip Man 2. Just when you thought the legend of Ip Man was exhausted, at least for the time being, yet another film about the legendary man appears in Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster.
While it may not be as action-packed as those previously mentioned films, this unusual take on such an fascinating character is still mesmerizing in its own way.
Wong Kar Wai (In The Mood For Love, 2046, My Blueberry Nights) has been known to be quite the perfectionist when crafting his films, and his reputation for taking years to make them is well deserved. His latest epic, The Grandmaster, is no different, as it was announced nearly a decade ago and spent a year in editing before finally making its way to theaters around the world. The end result is a fantastic looking, more poetic take on the life of Ip Man (Tony Leung), which takes place during his life in the 1930’s and follows some key moments such as making his way through the events surrounding the Sino-Japanese War, to his final calling of becoming a martial arts instructor in his later years.
That’s the main point of the story in a nutshell, but it’s pretty difficult to discuss the plot of the movie, as its told in a non-linear fashion that may baffle and confuse most. It plays more like a collection of stories and memories of Ip’s life told by different people in different ways, which all combine to create a wonderful yet confusing legend of its own. I’ve also read this version of the film has been edited / trimmed from 130 minutes to 108, as to try to make the story more linear and less confusing for those who may not be as fanatic about Ip. Purists will want to seek out the original Hong Kong version to see the director’s true cut, though you would think it would be included on this Blu-ray as well.
While some may feel differently, I actually enjoyed the slower pace of things. Several shots were filmed beautifully, such as the epic fight in the rain, and also how some moments were slowed down to either capture critical moments or martial art strikes, or just to give more drama to Ip Man and other characters such as Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) doing mundane tasks such as walking or practicing their martial arts. The action isn’t thrown together like some chop-socky kung fu flick, but the scenes showcased here are wonderfully choreographed by the infamous Yuen Woo Ping (Wing Chun, The Matrix, Kill Bill) and serve as a treat to break up the slow pace every now and then.
Anchor Bay has done a great job with the Blu-ray transfer, as the high-definition visuals and audio come in clean and clear. For those who don’t want to watch the movie in its original Cantonese with subtitles, there is an English dub you can select on here. There’s also a few extras to enjoy after the fists and feet flying are over, such as “The Grandmaster: From Ip Man to Bruce Lee” that gives a behind the scenes look at the making of the film along with interviews with cast members, director Wong Kar Wai, and even a few film critics as they give their take on the movie. “A Conversation with Shannon Lee” has the daughter of Bruce Lee sharing some little known facts about her father, such as his interest in dancing and how this affected his martial arts among other things.
Rounding out the extras are “The Grandmaster According to RZA” that has the famous rapper giving his take on the movie, a behind the scenes documentary on the film that’s in Cantonese with english subtitles and more.
While sure to confuse many with its non-linear flow and slow pacing, those who can overlook these things and absorb what it has to offer about the Yip Man legend will enjoy The Grandmaster. Wong Kar Wai has assembled one of the most vivid, though at times difficult, takes on the legendary martial artist yet seen on the screen yet, though I’m certain it won’t be the last. Featuring a superb cast, beautiful cinematography, and breath-taking martial arts, this is a new classic all dedicated fans will want to flow and adapt its way into their collections.
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