The Grandmasterfollows the life of the legendary Yip Man a/k/a Ip Man. Kar Wai Wong not only tells us the origins of Ip Man in this film but also gives the viewer a deeper look into his personal life and the choices he made that shaped the expansion of Wing Chun and lead him to become the teacher of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
The Grandmaster, while similar in subject matter is very different when compared to the Donnie YenIp Man films. Director Kar Wai Wong merged amazing cinematography and martial arts choreography with a very deep and rich story and the end result was not only a visually impressive film but one that was a visual masterpiece. Tony Leung (Ip Man) and Ziyi Zhang had amazing chemistry onscreen and the martial arts sequences between them felt more like a ballet than a fight which I am sure fans ofCrouching Tiger Hidden Dragonwill understand. I will say that those looking for immediate violence will be a bit underwhelmed since the fights in this film, while magnificent, were used more as a medium to move the story versus the more forced encounters seen in more action-driven martial arts films. Visually, this film was amazing with rich colors and amazing use of slow motion. Kar Wai Wong did amazing work with the speed throughout the film and really allowed us to experience every aspect of kung fu in a very rich and layered fashion. The fight between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) is a perfect example of this.
It was cool to see Cung Le make an appearance in a fight sequence against Ip Man and honestly was a pleasant surprise. Cung Le's fight with Ip Man was less fluid but exhibited a ferocity that actually made the fight more realistic. The underlying love story will definitely raise red flags as will the fact that this film is not dubbed and has subtitles, which many people in the theater I saw the film were not expecting.
If there is one negative I must mention is the pacing of the second half, which while solid from a fight standpoint felt disjointed from a story perspective. The changing of story focus and narration really hurt the film quite a bit since it was truly abrupt. One minute you are entrenched in Ip Man's story then the film switches focus to Gong Er. Gong Er's story of vengeance was fantastic but again ruined by abruptness and disjointed pacing. Obviously a lot of the story is Hollywood storytelling at its finest but Ip Man's story is still a story worth seeing onscreen.
Fans of Shaw Brothers style films that are high on fighting and light on storytelling may find the slow pace of the film not to their liking in which case I recommend you check out the Donnie Yen versions. If you enjoyed the rich storytelling and fantastic choreography of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon then I recommend you set aside two hours and enjoy this visually appealing interpretation of Ip Man. The Grandmaster is more about the philosophy of martial arts and Yip Man's life with some sprinklings of romance and fighting to tie this big screen adaptation together and frankly it will not be for everyone.