The Grandmaster (2013)

Remember When I Told You That There is Nothing to Regret in Life?

The Grandmaster (2013)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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Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010)

Master, You Really Can Fight Ten Men at Once.

As I come towards the end of my first year of reviews, I came to realize that I had started a few things that I had left unfinished.  The first one I realized was a movie I had reviewed, but had not reviewed the sequel.  And, I coincidentally noticed it because I felt like watching the movie again.  I had reviewed the first movie back in November, and I also raved about it being one of the better martial arts movies in recent history.  Solid storytelling mixed with fantastic fight scenes and some good performances as well.  I had been told about how that one was a great martial arts movie so I decided to give it a watch, but I accidentally watched the lesser prequel instead.  I still liked the prequel so much that I instantly went out and purchased the first movie and today’s movie.  How did that work out for me?  We’ll find out in my review of Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster, written by Edmond Wong, directed by Wilson Yip, and starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Darren Shahlavi, Huang Xiaoming, Lynn Hung, Charles Mayer, Kent Cheng, Fan Siu-wong, To Yu-hang, Ngo Ka-nin, Simon Yam, Calvin Cheng, Lo Mang, Fung Hak-on, and Brian Burrell.

After the events of the first movie, the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) moves with his family to Hong Kong to open a school.  At first, it’s slow going, but then a young man named Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming) comes along and becomes his student, and soon more follow.  And with these new students comes trouble when Wong Leung gets held hostage after getting into a fight with members of another martial arts school.  When Ip Man goes to rescue him, he comes into contact with Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who tells Ip Man that he must fight the other masters before he can teach in Hong Kong.  Also, a western boxer named Taylor “The Twister” Milos (Darren Shahlavi) is coming to Hong Kong for an exhibition, and that’ll probably turn into something as well.

One could argue that Ip Man 2 suffers from roughly the same problems as most martial arts movies, but it also benefits from the same things they do.  The story is pretty basic.  It’s a fantasy version of Yip Man’s actual life, taking things that are told about the man and amping them up so that they’ll make for an interesting martial arts movie, and it accomplishes that very well.  It boils down to two fairly common stories from martial arts movies put together.  It starts off as the regular old “My Martial Arts is Better Than Your Martial Arts” storyline that is the root of so many martial arts movies.  Then it turns into an equally as common “West vs. East” storyline to round out the movie.  All stuff fans of the genre have seen before.  They have a little bit of a personal story going on with Ip Man and his family, and the threats of his poverty, but none of that’s really mined for emotion.  They do spend enough time with each character that we’re supposed to care about, so I guess they can be lauded for that.

What they really deserve to be lauded for is the martial arts.  I love the fight scenes in the Ip Man series.  They’re all spectacular.  I still think the fight with 10 guys from the first movie is the best fight scene in the series, but there are still plenty quality ones to be found in this movie.  The first big fight in the fish market pretty spectacular because of the number of people involved, but the choreography of the 10 man fight still impressed me more.  The same goes for the fight with the various martial arts masters on the table later in the movie.  Pretty cool, interesting idea, but not quite up to the high bar they already set.  A good contender would be the final fight with “The Twister” Milos.  It was the only fight that it seemed that Ip Man could possibly lose.  Granted, you know he’ll win because he’s the hero, but you need a little danger or emotion to really get a fight up to spectacular status.  It’s still always a pleasure to watch Donnie Yen do that machine gun style punching he does as Ip Man.  I could watch a .gif of that all day long.

The performances all do their parts nicely, but it never really requires that much out of them.  Donnie Yen performs his few moments of emotion very well, but who really cares about that?  He punches faces great.  I had the same problem with Lynn Hung as I had in the first movie in that she was always a bummer and a buzzkill, but she wasn’t around that often.  Sammo Hung is always interesting to me.  He just does not look like a guy that should be a martial arts star, but the guy knows what he’s doing.  He’s really good at directing action as well.  I’ve usually liked his work.  Like in Game of Death when he had a similar fight to the one he has in this one where he’s outmatched by the white dude, but this time it actually had significance to the story.  Darren Shahlavi could be knocked for being over the top in his portrayal of the bad guy, Taylor “The Twister” Milos, but it’s kind of what the role calls for.  We have to hate this guy, and we wouldn’t really hate him too badly if he accidentally killed someone in a fair fight that he had not started.  He’s got to be a sociopath that starts all the fights by randomly hating Chinese people, and then he’s got to beat one to death with his hands and try to cheat later on.  Now we can hate you.  They even have a bit in the end of the movie where a little boy shows up as Bruce Lee, who Yip Man actually trained.  The kid goes a little overboard with the Bruce Lee impersonation, but he does look eerily like I imagine Bruce Lee would at that age.

Ip Man 2 is still a really good martial arts movie.  I’d say that the first movie was probably better, but both of them have solid stories, both of them have solid performances, and both of them offer fantastic fight scenes.  I’d say that the first movie proves itself a little bit better in the fight category, but this one does not disappoint.  If you’re a fan of the martial arts genre, this is a movie you should see.  You could do worse than watching it even if you’re not a fan of the genre.  I have this movie on BluRay, and I’ll let you figure out where you can find it if you want to watch it.  Not like Netflix or RedBox are paying me.  Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster gets “No need to tell me all this.  Let’s just fight” out of “Doesn’t matter.  He’s better than you anyway.”

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Ip Man (2010)

The Ass-Whoopinest Movie I’ve Seen in a While

I was somewhat in a hurry to pick the movie for today’s review because of my work schedule, but I think I’ve picked a good’n, at least if’n you like a good ass-whoopin’.  It is loosely based on the life of a famous grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts.  And, though he may not be nearly as famous to Americans, I would wager every one of them knows the name of one of his most famous students, Bruce Lee.  This movie is called Ip Man, based on the life of Ip Man, and was written by Edmond Wong, directed by Wilson Yip, and stars Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Fan Siu-wong, and Shibuya Tenma.  Good luck pronouncing THOSE names!

In 1930’s Foshan, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a master of whoop ass.  He’s the greatest martial artist in a town full of martial artists, and is also very rich so he has no need to train pupils, though he will, on occasion, have a private sparring match with one of the town’s masters.  One day, a bunch of assholes from up North come into town and start challenging all the masters.  The head of the group, Jun Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong), takes on the masters one by one and beats them handily.  But then he hears about Ip Man and decides that this is the ass he needs to kick to gain enough respect to start a school in Foshan.  Ip Man beats that ass.  We then montage our way through the Japanese invasion of 1937 and Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), and their son are now poor and Ip Man is forced to take a manual labor job to keep his family fed.  Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) has been sending out his people to find martial artists to fight for his enjoyment, and occasionally with him, offering a bag of rice as a prize.  When one of Ip Man’s friends disappears after such a tournament (having been beaten to death by Miura), Ip Man goes to investigate, only to see a fellow master get shot by Miura’s deputy Sato (Shibuya Tenma).  Ip Man whoops up on 10 dudes and leaves.  Miura becomes obsessed with defeating Ip Man, but Ip Man doesn’t want to.  But Miura has ways of making Ip Man change his mind…

To put it plainly, this is one of the most awesome martial arts movies I have seen, and I have seen a great many martial arts movies.  Typically, a martial arts movie will be fairly light on story (or just make it a retelling of some ancient myth), but be driven by it’s fights.  I guess you could say Ip Man is kind of both.  The story is fine (albeit a little typical for a martial arts movie), but I doubt I would be that interested if there weren’t fighting in it.  It’s not uncommon in martial arts movies to have a lone martial artist change the nation with the power of his fist.  It’s also not that uncommon for a movie to have someone rich become poor.  Typically, a martial arts movie’s hero will also be the one who is best at the art of combining foot and ass, and in this movie that person just happens to be Donnie Yen.  It’s said to be based on the life of the real Ip Man, but it’s got very little in common to his actual life from what I’ve read.  Not that I care, though.  I probably wouldn’t have known who Ip Man was were it not for this film, and after it, I think he’s an epic badass.  His real life would probably have been much less badass, and would have made a much less interesting movie, so it’s for the best.  As it stands, it’s admittedly light on story for a movie, though probably a little above average on story for a martial arts movie.  The settings of this movie are mostly gorgeous in the first half and pretty much what you’d expect, and everything gets darker and less colorful as harsh times fall on Foshan.  The movie was filmed very well, making me buy it in BluRay so I wouldn’t lose anything.  But let’s face it, you wouldn’t watch this movie for the story or the cinematography, would you?

Let’s talk about the reason you should see this movie: the utterly epic ass whoopings.  Because Bruce Lee’s style was less Wing Chun and more Jeet Kune Do by the time I became familiar with him, I had never seen Wing Chun in a movie before.  And, if this fighting style is anything remotely like it is in this movie, I wanna learn them shits.  I’m definitely not qualified to try to define the style for you people, but suffice to say my favorite part is the rapid-fire, machine gun-like punches to the face.  I’m going to recommend you see this movie, so I won’t bother trying to describe Wing Chun.  A lot of this movie’s fights are one-on-one fights and there are a couple with weapons such as a sword, a blade on the end of a staff, and the deadliest of all: the feather duster.  Though there are a few fights after it, the pinnacle of the movie (for me) happens around the end of the second act, when Ip Man witnesses his friend and fellow martial arts master get shot in the head for “cheating”.  He demands to get into the tournament area and challenges 10 men to a fight.  The entire movie up to this point had shown Ip Man as a very polite, reserved fellow, even in the worst of times.  People had to sometimes tell him to fight back in his duels because he would prefer to play with the person instead of humiliating them.  But that Ip Man was a little happier.  Putting on his grumpy pants, Ip Man thoroughly thrashes these 10 dudes like nobody’s bidness.  He breaks a bone or two, punches the shit out of some faces, and leaves 10 dudes in rather uncomfortable positions on the floor, having been untouched himself.  Then he walks off without taking his rice, which is Chinese for “Go fuck your grandma, Miura!”  If you don’t want to watch the whole movie (which I think is your mistake to make), do yourself a favor and try to find this scene on YouTube or something.  I love this fight, and all the others.

Generally, I wouldn’t expect very much acting from my martial arts movies, but this one does surprise you on occasion.  Donnie Yen takes a few emotional turns in this movie (as I described in the last paragraph), and even breaks into tears at one point.  Add that to the fact that the man had to learn a whole new fighting style for this movie and executed both his performance and ass whooping very well, and I say this is Donnie Yen’s best movie that I’ve ever seen.  Lynn Hung, as his wife, annoyed me for the greater majority of the movie because she didn’t want her husband to fight people.  Look, I know that fighting people COULD get him hurt, but I don’t think the guy even got touched by an opponent until the last fight in the movie, so maybe stop worrying and let him do his thing.  It is wrong for you to get in the way of someone doing something they are so epically awesome at.  But she also had a few well-performed emotional scenes, so I don’t hate her.  Fan Sui-wong did well as the asshole from the North, but didn’t have to stretch very much with the acting chops here.  Hiroyuki Ikeuchi was an interesting character, but kind of seemed like the writers couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with him.  He was a bit of an asshole and definitely didn’t have the Chinese’s interests in mind, but he was also pretty respectful of other martial artists.  He scolded his deputy for shooting the martial artist that lead to the 10-man ass whooping, and also wanted a fair fight with Ip Man for the last scene of the movie, but then ruined it by telling his deputy to shoot Ip Man if he were to lose.  But at least he didn’t stab him in the kidney-ribs before the fight like in Gladiator.  I guess I’ll just have to split the difference and call him an honorable asshole.

This movie is currently available to be instantly streamed via Netflix, so I will recommend that anyone with Netflix streaming check this movie out.  It’s a decent story with solid performances, but the ass-kicking is top notch and worth the price of admission.  If you don’t like martial arts movies, this movie may not have a lot for you, but I’m pretty confident that even you wouldn’t hate it.  If you like martial arts movies, how haven’t you seen this shit yet?!  You’ll have to wait for their eventual reviews, but there’s also a sequel and a prequel already available for this movie, and I recall both having pretty awesome fight scenes as well.  Ip Man gets “I wish to fight ten men” out of “Somebody come clean up your ten men.”

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