Maybe the evening of a lazy Sunday was not the right time to watch a Wong Kar-wai film. I will own up to that. The Grandmaster is pretty much what you would expect from the Wong catalogue of Tony Leung Looking at Things With Wounded Gravitas and Everything Being Shot Super Beautifully. I’m making fun, but it’s an interesting, beautiful film. The weird thing is that it’s about 50% of a kung fu movie as well.
I have said before that the habit of making movies about historical kung fu masters in the form of kung fu movies is a weird one, because their lives seldom fit that structure. But that isn’t quite what I want to talk about in this post.
As I have said before, Ip Man was basically a former cop who taught martial arts informally and opened a martial arts school in Hong Kong in the 50s. But most films about him don’t mention the cop thing. It looks like I didn’t review Ip Man on here, which surprises me — I’ve definitely seen it.
This is presumably because Ip was a copy for the Guomindang, the Nationalist party that ruled China until the 1949 revolution. This movie totally skips that, suggesting that Ip moved to Hong Kong to find work and leaving out the whole “fleeing the Communists” thing.
I guess that’s not surprising, but it is probably an additional factor in the way the story of Ip’s life — which was not all that exciting in the first place — gets warped even for a proper serious movie like this one (and warped into drug fantasy by some of the other Ip Man movies I have covered).
Aaaaaanyway, it is a good film, beautiful and thoughtful. But it’s characteristically languorous, and even the fight scenes are more impressive and dramatic than exciting. I haven’t mentioned the actual main plot, which is about Zhang Ziyi’s character. She’s got a quest to avenge her father and a sort of frustrated romance with Ip, and arguably she’s the actual main character of the story — she has the most noticeable dramatic arc anyway.