Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013)

„In Martial Arts there is no right or wrong, only the last man standing.“

The Grandmaster chronicles the life of Ip Man Wing Chun (played by Tony Leung), in Foshan in the 1930s and his flight to Hong Kong after the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Ip Man’s peaceful life is threatened by Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), a retiring martial arts master from the north, is doing anything but encouraging the friendship with the south. Meanwhile his newly appointed heir Ma San (Zhang Jin) turns out to be up to no good and kills this master. His daughter, the beautiful Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), is determined to avenge his father’s death, but of course to do so she’ll have to renounce a happy life with Ip Man. 

Wong Kar-wai’s tenth feature film is a return to form for the Hong Kong auteur. The Grandmaster looks stunning, courtesy of cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd’s incredible vision. Wong once again plays with slow motion, distorting the image, filming through glass and creating a dynamic and immersive picture. This film is a visual spectacle. You could turn off the sound and still have a great experience, but don’t do it, because Frankie Chan’s score is a pleasure to listen to: engrossing, in the quiet scenes and epic, in the climactic scenes. The acting is definitely high-caliber, like you would expect from a Wong Kar-wai film, and Zhang Ziyi is just dazzling.

Personally, I don’t have much knowledge or interest in the martial arts subgenre, which is why I was amazed by how much I enjoyed this film. I am a big Wong Kar-wai fan though and he manages once more to subvert genre expectations.
From the gorgeous opening titles and the grandiose opening scene I was on board with this film. I usually get lost with the plot in films like these, but fortunately as with most of Wong’s films the story is not the most important thing. His writing is top-tier and surprisingly focused. I thought the fights looked badass and well choreographed. The use of different film stock adds to the historical angle and looks really cool. Knowing Wong’s films I was expecting more in terms of the romantic storyline, but reflecting on it now, I understand that he was going for a less is more approach in this one.

All in all, a very good film that can be appreciated by kung fu genre aficionados as something different and refreshing; Wong Kar-wai fans of course, for his distinctive style and people who are just looking for something to feast their eyes on.

Rating on First Time Viewing
(on my laptop)
7.5 out of 10


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