The Grandmaster

Prior to this, the only Kar Wong Wai movie I had seen was 2046, which I confess I didn’t get. I found out recently from @SueSkyBluez that it was a sequel, which may have had something to do with it. Also, it was about time travel. Fictional time travel. I mean, it was about a story that happened in the future that was being written by someone in the present which may or may not have actually been going to occur. Er. Well, you can see it still confuses me.

Fortunately, this movie is essentially easy to follow, though subtle in its own way, and reminded me very strongly of 2046.

This is the story of Yip Man (or Ip Man, depending), the legendary martial artist who fought for justice (maybe?) and trained Bruce Lee. There are about six different versions of his story that have been made in Shanghai over the past couple years and this is one of them.

One of the other renditions was a trilogy, the third movie of which showed up in theaters about a week after this one, and was focused on his post-War, post-Communist years, but this movie takes a wide, philosophical scan of his adult life and turns it, essentially, into a love story. Or, if you will, a story of love versus duty, which the Chinese are so fond of.

As such, while there are some fun and beautiful fight scenes, gorgeously choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, famous here for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, these scenes are not what they appear. For the most part, they remind me of Sun Tzu, who advocated a sort of bloodless, philosophical kind of war, where generals maneuvered their pieces, preferring to concede defeat when outmatched strategically, without resorting to something as grotesque as actual combat.

I have a feeling that a lot of the movies we see out of China these days are somewhat skewed by an inability to address the elephant in the room, but here we are.

Anyway, the tension in this movie comes from Ip Man’s need to unite the two martial arts scenes in sort of an East-Cost/West-Coast thing (except it’s North and South) while not consummating his love with his soul mate, the daughter of his teacher (who, by virtue of being a daughter, can’t be the grandmaster).

The pacing is poetic, not chop-socky, and there’s a real beauty to the proceedings—in other words some hardcore martial arts film fans might be disappointed. The Boy and The Flower both enjoyed it quite a bit, though.

I liked it a lot better than 2046, and it held my attention even if I felt like I didn’t quite understand what was going on. In any event, it was a lot better than the next Chinese movie we would see, the opaque A Touch Of Sin.

Martial Arts Movie legends in their own right Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang star.

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