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The Grandmaster Reviews

Page 1 of 30
KJ P

Super Reviewer

February 28, 2014
The cinematography, no matter what the screenplay is like, how the acting is, or even if the direction was awful, really sold me on this film. Everything technical needs to be praised before any negativity, because this films' visuals will blow your mind. I could not look away from the screen at any moment during the fight sequences, because the choreography and camera work was so beautiful and deserves it's Oscar nomination. Now on to the story. It is a very well-told and well-paced screenplay, but the film is a lot of style, and seems like it overshadows everything. To me, it took me out of the film's messages a bit, but that is always why it has it's nomination, so it's a bit of a tug of war. The acting is very good and the direction is not bad, although it seems he left it up to the cinematographer to plan the action sequences for him. At it's core, this film centers the Ip Man, who would move onto his later years after this film, to be Bruce Lee's trainer. I will definitely recommend this film to people who enjoy true stories or martial arts, but I think that is as far as it will reach. I really enjoyed watching this film though!
Carlos M

Super Reviewer

February 18, 2014
Kar Wai seems only concerned about his irritating aesthetics in a huge unfocused mess that even includes a useless narration and inexplicably irrelevant characters like The Razor - not to mention the use of a theme from Once Upon a Time in America for no clear reason.
sanjurosamurai
sanjurosamurai

Super Reviewer

December 31, 2013
the storytelling was disjointed, the locations limited, and the characters were dull and underdeveloped. this film suffered from a lack of awareness of time and environment. however it was saved by some stunning fight sequences and solid performances. overall, solid watching but missed a chance to be great.
c0up
c0up

Super Reviewer

September 14, 2013
'The Grandmaster'. The most beautiful action film in who knows how long. Wong Kar Wai's direction is still, kinetic and always purposeful.

Zack Snyder could learn a million things for Wong Kar Wai's use of slo-mo and close-ups. The quick cuts to the feet and hands showcase the balance plus inertia used by martial artists in a way I haven't seen before. A real treat to take in. The slow movements across landscapes, Leung's and Zhang's faces are equally captivating.

The story, so-so.
Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

August 30, 2013
More like a poem than a movie. The camera work is splendid. The acting beautifully stylized and the action sequences delicious.
Cinema-Maniac
Cinema-Maniac

Super Reviewer

March 21, 2013
It's seem Yip Man is now in the same league as famous Martial Artists Wong Fei-Hong and Liu Zhensheng (Chen Zhen in films) with each of the mention having films made about them. It's because of these films these Martial Artist will be immortalize in the genre and very doubtful they'll disappear from the big screen anytime soon. Films based around Yip Man still have a long way to go before they can surpassed what Donnie Yen films brought to the table.

The Grandmaster chronicles the life of the Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man from the 1930s in Foshan, his flight to Hong Kong after the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the events leading to his death. I waited a good two hours for some resemblance of plot to appear, but it never came. What you get is a series of excuses for fight scenes. Two people arguing over money equals fight scene. A women wants to reclaim her family honor is resolve with a fight scene. How did good is our protagonist Martial Art by introducing him with a cliche flashback fight scene in the rain where he takes down dozen of combatants. A woman is told by her elders not seek vengeance which her dead father told to but who cares about mature storytelling add another fight scene defeating the point that long dramatic scene. The film is simple to follow, but the dialogue is always on martial arts or philosophy make it difficult to make sense of what's going on. I don't mind learning about Martial Arts, but conversations solely around Martial Art won't tell your film story. It would have also be nice if the film characters talked about others thing beside Martial Arts, philosophy, and love. Maybe that's why the film needed cards to tell us happened to Ip Man because the writers themselves can't. The characterization for master Ip Man is great, but supporting character are forgettable. It's a more story oriented film than the previous films based on Ip Man and managed to make that a bad thing. When your film is based on Ip Man and does not concentrate on the technique he's most famous for or IP Man himself your writers have done something seriously wrong.

The film benefits from very high production values. The costuming, the music, and the sets are top notch surpassing most films in this genre. The fights scenes will not be as famous as Donnie Yen films but they are noteworthy. They are nicely choreographed, but the director screws them up. The director will zoom in on a small detail in slow motion and at times just slow motion breaking the momentum of the fight. It's difficult to enjoy these fight scenes given they lack gravity. This film is going for a more realistic and gritty take on the famous Martial Artist but the fight scenes destroy that realism. Last time I checked no person in real life can squish a carriage with their bare hands and be consciously fine when their face is punched into a moving a train. The editing is clearly noticeable in these fight scenes to hide the fact the lead actor know no Martial Art. Which is shame since Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi perform impressively given their lack of a martial arts background. The months of training to get them prepared physically for their respective roles paid off in the grace and confidence by which they execute their moves. There was no need for to over edit their fight scenes if they moved like actual Martial Artist. At leas the film is pretty to look at, but comes with a price when your more interested in how it looks than what actually going on half of the time.

The Grandmaster is my first major disappointment of this year. The films focuses to much on other character instead of the one the film is based around on. It doesn't tell it story well and given how much of Ip Man life it chronicle it's a shame the film couldn't have a better script. The fight scenes also suffered from bad editing and the director breaking the momentum for his visuals. At best it's an alright film having better production values than most and focusing heavily on its story, but that goes to waste on plot that forgets whose story it's telling and how to to properly tell it.
Christopher H

Super Reviewer

March 2, 2014
Kung-fu is not a genre of action film that I am often drawn to. Even when I saw the trailer for "The Grandmaster", I wrote it off slightly, but the pacing, the storytelling, and the lore of Ip Man achieves greatness no matter what the genre. Nominated for two Academy Awards, in Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography, the film reaches admirable levels of both, but reaches much further, producing amazing performances and an intriguing story of a nation divided and a man that is less a hero and more a temple of martial arts knowledge. A man that weathered the storm and went on to teach the greats, including one of the most popular martial artists of our time, Bruce Lee.

Beginning in the pouring rain, we are subject to witness Ip Man (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) fight a number of combatants. Kung-fu is hard enough to catch on film correctly, but it becomes a dance for Le Sourd, involving the camera movements gliding gracefully along the masters as they battle one another from room to room from street to street. With the camera dancing alongside the fighters, producing rich visuals throughout the choreography of fighting, it's hard to deny the actors in these roles, convincing the audience that they are grandmasters, indeed. Soon, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) from the North arrives in the South to announce his retirement and his successor, but places a challenge for a South successor as well. With Ip Man picked to represent the other grandmasters, the passing of knowledge from a handful of fellow grandmasters commences in one of the most appealing bouts of storytelling of the film. Along with Gong Yutian comes his daughter Gong Er, played by the gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi of "House Of Flying Daggers" and "Memoirs Of A Geisha" fame. Let the untouchable romance begin.

A battle of wits ensues between Ip Man and Gong Yutian, leaving Ip Man victorious. Sharing a few moments together, Ip Man and Gong Er decide to keep in touch, despite Ip Man already being married. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 breaks out in the South, forcing Ip Man to take work in Hong Kong, never actually keeping in touch with Gong Er. The rest of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. To top it all off, this entire film is based on some sort of fact, mythology if you will, despite its fantastical nature. With a convincing cast and visual styling that breathes authenticity, you forget you're watching a film and begin to experience the feeling of watching archival footage play in front of your eyes. The costumes are memorable in "The Grandmaster", especially that of the women, and in particular, the leading lady and her fur coats. But the costumes become part of the story as Ip Man brings to the audience's attention that he never wears suits, except for a single ID photo and the winter coats he purchases but then has to sell to feed his family. Zhang Ziyi, alone, is worth viewing the film for, on top of some of the most amazing displays of martial arts you'll ever see on film. Filled with impressive kung-fu battles and with some stellar scenes in the pouring rain, there is a distinct feel to the visuals in this film captured by Philippe Le Sourd and for that, "The Grandmaster" becomes a kung-fu film that breaks its boundaries and produces a period piece action film that I highly enjoyed.
Lane Z

Super Reviewer

September 2, 2013
I have already seen the first two Ip Man movies, which starred Donnie Yen, and they were great. The Grandmaster seems more like an overall explanation from beginning to end of Ip Man rather than devoting one movie to a certain time period. Thank goodness this movie was subtitled. I can't stand foreign flicks that are dubbed or in chopped English.
The beginning fight scene was a bit overwhelming in the rain. It was difficult to follow the camera movements. Every other martial arts scene was well crafted and done with pinpoint accuracy. I've knocked it down a few pegs because of the storyline. It starts as a journey about the arts, then turns into a love story, and comes back to the arts. It still leaves you wanting a more thorough conclusion to the arts side of things than the love side of the story.
Tony Leung was perfectly fine as Ip Man. Ziyi Zhang is the go-to actress for anything martial arts and Chinese. Good to see her do a film again that was released here in America.
Overall, the cinematography and camera direction will keep you admiring the Grandmaster, it just may slow down to a crawl in too many parts for some.
Jason C

Super Reviewer

September 1, 2013
One of the most visually stunning movies with some of the best fight sequences I've seen in a long time, The Grandmaster ultimately becomes a dud because of the choppy story and garbled timeline. In this film, around 15 years go by and nobody ages. The lack of explanations of some scenes makes The Grandmaster even more difficult to follow. The fight scenes were pretty random. It's worth seeing for free down the road for the fighting and beautiful backdrops and cinematography, but you won't get enthralled in the story. I wouldn't say you have to see it either.
Michael H

Super Reviewer

August 29, 2013
Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first; The Grandmaster is the most breathtakingly beautiful martial arts film ever made. Crafted with exquisite precision by famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, the lush, passionate flourishes of his earlier dramas now romanticize the brutal art of kung fu. There are so many images here that will be burned into memory, each battle moves with such balletic grace they make Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon seem as if it's standing still. From a visual standpoint, Kar Wai has outdone himself. But as a film that is meant to chronicle the life of Wing Chun master Ip Man (Tony Leung), the man who famously trained Bruce Lee, it never quite measures up.
Harvey Scissorhands strikes again! That's pretty much been the cry since Weinstein edited a shorter cut of the film specifically for American audiences, one that dropped about 20 minutes of crucial backstory. While I'm not one of those to slam ol' Harvey for his butchery of the studio's foreign film slate, the impact of his choices are obvious with The Grandmaster. What should be an across-the-board chronicle of Ip Man's tumultuous life in 19th century China, is more like the Cliffs Notes version, lacking substance and emotion until the next fight can break out.
The film begins with what can only be described as an astonishing rain-soaked battle, probably the scene that had Weinstein salivating in the first place. Ip Man is just a regular man in a time when tensions have ripped China into factions from the North and South, a split that has also affected the regional schools of kung fu. In an effort to unite both sides under one leader, Ip Man is chosen to challenge the northern grandmaster, but ends up falling hopelessly in love with his daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), who has inherited his style known as the "64 Hands". Yes, this is one of those movies where all of the techniques have wild names and they are announced with vigor before they're used in combat. Kar-Wai basks in that world, creating dreamy, atmospheric settings for impeccable action that is easy to get swept up in.
That's unfortunately all there is to latch on to, however, as we learn very little that is new about Ip Man, a figure who has had multiple movies and TV series devoted to him already. We barely get a glimpse of his family life before he loses them after the Japanese occupation, and the film meanders aimlessly when he hits Hong Kong to...well, basically meander aimlessly. We see his rise to prominence against the backdrop of China's demise, then his fall from grace, but none of it has a clear focus. Not helping are jarring shifts in perspective as we get treated to thumbnail explanations for major events in his life and that of Gong Er, as they supposedly pine for one another over the course of ten years. Leung and Ziyi do sorrowful longing better than almost anybody, so when together it often feels like you're in one of Kar-Wai's passionate masterpieces like In the Mood for Love or Lust, Caution. But we don't actually see them together that often, and there's simply not enough of a shared emotional connection. Having seen the fuller version, it's these crucial back story elements that have been excised for the benefit of smoother transition to the action. What Weinstein doesn't recognize is that providing richer characters only gives the fights a deeper impact.

What ends up happening is that you'll be waiting patiently for another altercation to break out, because that's when the film truly comes alive. Leung makes for a perfect choice to play the stoic Ip Man, a man of peace and a walking weapon, who wrestled with that dichotomy every single moment. Nobody knows how to capture Zhang Ziyi's ferocious beauty better than Kar-Wai, and the film's most memorable, poetic images have her as the centerpiece. Ultimately she steals the entire film away from Leung as we begin to focus on Gong Er's journey to reclaim her father's legacy; a quest that ends with an unreal train station fight as the snow softly drifts.
A decent Wong Kar-Wai film is still going to be miles ahead of other directors' best work, and chances are you're not going to see better martial arts action than what The Grandmaster provides. Perhaps it's fitting that it ends with a sizzle reel of Leung beating up other stage fighters, because basically what The Grandmaster turns out to be is a highlight reel on Ip Man's legendary life.
Ivan D

Super Reviewer

May 11, 2013
Yip Man, whose life is a common favorite among filmmakers to interpret and is also perhaps the Asian cinematic equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, headlines yet another film about his chain-punching exploits. But this time, we've got a cinematic heavyweight at the helm in the form of Wong Kar-wai. Plus, we've got the Asian king of cool Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Yip Man himself. Despite the question of "The Grandmaster's" true necessity as a biopic (the 2008 Donnie Yen-starrer "Ip Man" may have already sufficed), the film has nonetheless sparked immediate interest among cinephiles because, why wouldn't it? It has Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in it, not to mention that Zhang Ziyi (Zhang Ziyi!) is also part of it. It also has an amazing cinematography and an obvious promise for some solid, kick-ass martial arts action. Now who would not figuratively jizz all over such a project?

Set in Foshan a few years before the Japanese occupation (but then again, so was the Donnie Yen film), "The Grandmaster" chronicles, through Wong Kar-wai's trademark, quasi-poetic visual style, Ip Man's well-deserved rise to high esteem as a martial arts master and sudden fall as a wartime-stricken citizen. The film also fascinates by highlighting the fact that a brothel, named the "Golden Pavilion", has been the favorite haven among martial artists (and also the most preferred venue for their fisticuffs) during the time. Well, let's just say that it's kind of like the early 20th century equivalent of those modern, organic coffee shops and the masters themselves as the hipsters that inhabit them. Things indeed just recur.

In a nutshell, well, the film is basically about this bunch of high-flying, philosophy-uttering bohemians who fight for some obsolete sense of pride, respect and discipline, even amidst a time of guns, bombs and widespread hunger. Surely, it was a fascinating thing to tackle, especially since the earlier "Ip Man" film is so much more focused on a bombastically illusory narrative (its title should have been "Ip Man vs. Japan") more than Yip Man's intensely spiritual personality. But still, "The Grandmaster" is, after all, supposed to be a martial arts film, and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, basically, is supposed to kick some ass. Heavy philosophizing, for me, should belong in other films. Hell, even his eventual student Bruce Lee, who also had his share of martial arts movies, would certainly agree. You don't mix forced dramatics, contrived verbal symbolism and uncalled-for romance with some good ol' bone-cracking action because, sooner or later, it would definitely overwhelm what the film is really destined to be. And alas, that's exactly what happened with "The Grandmaster".

In some sense, the film has even lost itself halfway by not being about Yip Man anymore. Instead, it has problematically focused on what is an otherwise very sub-par revenge narrative instigated by what is otherwise a very forgettable character in the form of Zhang Ziyi's Gong Er. Now, that's two aspects right there that "The Grandmaster" has missed its mark on: first on being a true martial arts film, and second on being a memorable biopic.

As for the imagery, well, you really wouldn't expect anything short of brilliant from Wong Kar-wai. Dream-like in its execution and peppered with Wong's fevered slow-motion shots, the film's visuals flow like an achingly beautiful lullaby. Suddenly, shades of Zhang Yimou's more reflective martial arts films come to mind. But then again, "The Grandmaster" is too weak and indecisive regarding what its narrative really wants to cover and whether its fight scenes were there to really matter that the film ultimately achieved only a third of its potential greatness. Sadly, the film is an 'almost' masterpiece. And with 'almost', I mean stuck in a gas station two miles away from its supposed destination. It really could have been so much more.
meagann92014
July 10, 2014
Left me speechless. Heck, for a sec I pondered what it would be like to have trained Kung Fu in the 1930's and 40's.
April 12, 2014
Really enjoyed this, and, from what I've read about it, I'd probably like this more if I can seen the original cut rather than Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein's cut; apparently the major relationship in the film, between Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, is much more substantive. Any more added to that relationship would be a good thing for me. Anyone looking for non-stop action, you might want to check out the Donnie Yen versions of Ip Man instead; The Grandmaster is most definitely an "arthouse" martial arts movie. It's also an incredibly beautiful movie, visually and emotionally. I hadn't seen this at the time of the Oscars, but in hindsight I think the movie was deserving of the "best cinematography" award.
Hamee
March 17, 2014
Ip Man led an exciting and terrifying life. This was a fantastic movie and the fighting sequences were amazing.
March 10, 2014
This film puts the "art" back in "martial arts." Director Wong Kar-wai brings a dance-like interpretation of kung fu to the screen, often utilizing slow motion and a heavily romanticized musical score. It is a spectacle to say the least. I didn't care much for the story but this film has plenty of eye candy. The Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography is easy to see as the film unfolds. As the film opens with slow-motion kung fu in the rain, I couldn't help but feel that it was truly one of the most impressive things that I have ever seen. I also adored the sequence when Gong Er is practicing kung fu with such sensitivity that it nearly transforms into ballet. Unfortunately, the story is confusing as it jumps throughout time, never actually settling into a time that is the present. This made it difficult to figure out when the film actually ended, particularly because I was getting excited for an epic battle but then the credits started to roll. This film isn't going to rock your world (notice that it didn't even make the short list for Best Foreign Film), but the cinematography is awesome and it has some of the most artistic kung fu in any movie that you'll see.
March 10, 2014
Or the One Where Everything is Shot in Beautiful Slow-Motion and Dramatic Close-Ups...

I've never been much of a kung-fu fan, in fact, this might be the only one I've ever enjoyed. Besides the beautiful cinematography and perfectly choreographed fight sequences, I didn't find much to enjoy in this film at first. But by the end of the english-dubbed version I found the B-story captivating in a way that Ip Man wasn't. Thanks to some solid performances, and the perfection of Wong Kar Wai's camerawork, The Grandmaster is a moving kung-fu film.
March 8, 2014
You know Chinese cinema is in trouble when even the great Wong Kar Wai has to make a crappy kung-fu film about Ip Man. Boring and witless; had to turn it off after a 1/2 hour.
March 8, 2014
Chinese world fro m a different point of view for a change... It was alright. Portrayed the story well and was artistic but could have used more suspense.
December 29, 2013
Wong Kar Wai adds to his trademark emotional intensity, crisp direction and flawless casting a layer of mystery, great beauty of classic choreographed fight scenes and a soupcon of history.
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