Remember When I Told You That There is Nothing to Regret in Life?
My inspiration to see today’s movie started years ago when I saw a movie called Ip Man. This movie was so awesome that it drove me to then see the sequel and the prequel. In fact, it seemed to inspire me to see anything that had to do with the character that the movie was based on. I watched more Bruce Lee movies because Ip Man had trained him. I even researched the man … on Wikipedia. Where I research everything. When I started in my Film Criticism class, the teacher pointed out similarities between some movie and today’s movie, which I had not yet heard of. When I looked into it, I found out it too was based on the life of Ip Man. I’m in. Let’s see how that turned out as I review The Grandmaster, written by Zou Jingzhi and Xu Haofeng, co-written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, and starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Wang Qingxiang, Zhang Jin, Song Hye-kyo, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Xiaoshenyang, Cung Le, Lo Hoi-pang, and Yuen Woo-ping.
Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) was a dude that was good at martial arts, but bad at deciding if he wanted his name to be spelled “Ip” or “Yip”. A martial arts master named Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) announces that he’s going to retire and leave Ma San (Zhang Jin) as his successor. Representing the South, Ip Man agrees to fight Gong Yutian, but they instead dance around a cookie and talk philosophy. Not a joke. Yutian’s daughter, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), decides to challenge Ip Man because her family has never lost a fight OR a cookie dance, and she manages to defeat Ip Man on a technicality. But the two of them remain on friendly terms and may or may not have been in love with each other even though Ip Man is married to Cheung Wing-sing (Song Hye-kyo). Then some other stuff happens and Ip Man trains Bruce Lee to be awesome.
I suppose I would have to reach the conclusion that I liked this movie, but I did spend the majority of it being bummed because it wasn’t anything like what I expected/wanted it to be. But my expectations for this movie kind of confuse me. Basically, I wanted this movie to be Ip Man. But if I really want a movie to be Ip Man, I can make a movie Ip Man by popping in the Blu-rays that I already own. But I feel like it was a mistake for them to make the movie seem like a martial arts movie in the trailers when it was really more of a drama or biography. On the other hand, I paid for a ticket, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a mistake after all. Another problem I worried about when comparing this movie to Ip Man was that this movie might be spoiled by having seen Ip Man, but the stories really weren’t that similar. Plus, the second half of the movie feels more like the Gong family legacy and barely involves Ip Man at all. And some of it is also a history and explanation of different forms of Kung Fu, like when the three different masters showed and explained their styles to Ip Man for no discernible reason. I found it interesting, but I wasn’t here to watch the History Channel’s documentary on martial arts.
The real problem I kept having with this movie was with the fighting. There was not nearly enough of it, and when it happened they were too in love with making the movie artsy fartsy to make sure we could watch the thing. They did have a couple of fights in this movie, but they spread them out so much that I felt like I wasn’t getting nearly enough. And some of what they might consider fights were far from it. Like the different masters showing their techniques. That’s more a demonstration than a fight. And then when he fights Gong Yutian they were really just dancing around a cookie. It really did feel like there were more scenes of people sitting down to have their picture taken than there were scenes of fighting. When they had actual fights, they were pretty good from what I could make out, which was hard to do since they took the Hunger Games style of action editing by being too close to the action to see most of what was going on. And they go into slow motion for them way too often. How awesome was Ip Man without bothering with any of that artsy bullshit? Answer: Very! I still would say I liked the fights, but I would also like to say that I’m no doctor, but I think that getting your head slammed into a moving train – even if it was the side of it – would probably keep you from speaking directly afterwards as you’d probably be overcome with a serious case of death or retardation.
I do acknowledge that they were going for something different with the look of the movie and that apparently overrode their desire to show their action scenes. And it was very stylized and pretty. Lots of fights happening in the middle of a rainy day, because apparently Foshan is the Seattle of the Orient, but it makes it look good and Yuen Woo-ping showed us in the Matrix Revolutions that he loves fights that happen in pouring rain. They did a lot of slow motion outside of the fights that started getting on my nerves because it was really jerky, as if the movie was glitching out. I don’t know what they were trying to say with that jerkiness, but I just assumed that they didn’t film it to be in slow motion and did it after the fact because their movie was too short.
I had no problems with the performances in the movie, but as always I have problems with the characters. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai played Ip Man very well. I also know that he wasn’t meant to be a perfect hero in the movie and so was meant to have flaws, like the fact that he’s married but still having an emotional attachment to Gong Er. But was it custom at the time that no one mention the fact that he’s married and coming dangerously close to cheating on her? If he was in the presence of Cheung Wing-sing, the movie acted almost as if Gong Er didn’t exist, and vice versa when with Gong Er. The only time I recall them even bringing up the scenario was when Ip Man was with his wife and brushed the hair out of her face and she looked like Gong Er, but I can’t blame him for that. Asian people look the same to me too. The only other time they dealt with it was when Gong Er was telling Ip Man that she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore, to which Ip Man should’ve just responded, “That’s cool. I’m married with two kids anyway, so I’ll still get mines.”
The Grandmaster was a fine movie that bummed me out for not being what I hoped it would be. I wanted it to be a martial arts movie, but it was really more of a love letter to the guy that trained Bruce Lee. It worked well enough as a drama, but the low number of actual fights and the emphasis on the artistic value of fight scenes at the expense of the fight itself kept it from working as the martial arts movie I wanted it to be. I guess I would say this movie is worth watching if you go in wanting drama and biography more than martial arts. If you want a martial arts movie along these lines, just watch Ip Man. The Grandmaster gets “If life had no regrets it would be really boring” out of “No news is news.”
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