Ziyi Zhang Tony Leung
From the beginning graphics to the end of the film, The Grandmaster is work of art. The cinematography paints the picture and the dialog and action conveyhighe drama, beautifully accompanied by music of the cultures and time periods on screen. Acting by Tony Leung (Ip Man) and Ziyi Zhang (Gong Er) are central to the film’s success.
Grandmaster begins with abstract, colorful graphics that serve as a preview of the action to come, which is different forms of kung fu within a backdrop of pouring rain or snow, the drops and sheets making their own designs. That and subsequent fights are all choreographed with precision, captured by cameras that modulate the speed of action so the viewer misses little. Cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd is outstanding.
The story by the film’s director, Wong Kar-Wai, proceeds like a Shakespearean tragedy flavored by weighty statements that sound like Buddhist koans, just one example, along with the music, of the film’s success in blending Eastern and Western cultures. The film is narrated by Ip Man, the Wing Chun grandmaster from the 1930s in Foshan in southern China, telling the story of his life. (Ip Man in real life is the one who trained Bruce Lee.)
Ip Man represents the early part as spring when he is a wealthy, happily married family man. At the pinnacle of his life, he takes a Kung Fu challenge from northerner Gong Er, as she steps up to protect her aging father. Ip Man’s master advises him against it in the interest of keeping the north and south unified. Nevertheless, he takes the challenge and finds Gong Er a most worthy opponent, and their mutual attraction is obvious in their kung fu encounters, some erotically charged. In their exchange of philosophical ideas, she declares him the winner, but when they actually fight, he breaks part of a wooden step, and as a result, she is declared the winner. He then challenges her to a follow-up competition, but about that time, the Japanese invade China, and he loses everything because he will not give obeisance to the invaders. The rest of the film follows his life in Hong Kong, where he has had to move in order to survive. Gong Er’s struggle to regain her family’s honor is portrayed, as well, along with Ip Man and Gong Er’s final, poignant meeting.
The Grandmaster is completely absorbing in every aspect of its production, gives a good overview of different kinds of kung fu, and will leave the viewer contemplative and wanting to discuss what he/she has just seen.
By: Donna R. Copeland