The Japanese martial arts film The Grandmaster (2013) is a sweeping tale following Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) as he tries to merge Japan’s north and south styles of fighting. Later on in life, Ip Man would be the martial artist that would go on to train Bruce Lee. It has been estimated that the director, Wong Kar Wai (In The Mood For Love (2000)) has worked on this film over the past 12 years. Looking over the intricate storyline and amount of metaphors included within the film, it is safe to assume that there is more to it than first meets the eye.
During portions of the film there is very little dialogue and flows like a visual poem. The majority of the opening act revolves around the different fighting techniques IP Man learns during his sessions within different rooms of the area’s brothel. Apparently, the brothel is like the local watering hole for all kinds of masterful martial artists back in the early 1900s. As Ip Man moves from room to room, he is constantly showing others his wit and talents in an effort to take over and became a grandmaster.
During Ip Man’s training period at the brothel his final fight was with one of the current grandmaster’s daughters, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi). The two have a connection that borders on romantic during their fight. After the two dual, they go their separate ways and are later both affected differently by the war that soon breaks out between China and Japan.
All fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and the atmospheres created in the scenes are electrifying. However, after close to an hour of choreographed fights throughout the brothel, the scenes become mundane and the intricate fights become more like an elaborate game of paddy-cake.
Overall, the film is great to watch, but I don’t think I have enough knowledge of marital arts and Japanese history to truly appreciate the film in its entirety.
130 mins. In Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese.