The Grandmaster

Directed by Wong Kar-wai

Starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang and Chang Chen
In UK Cinemas December 5th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

With three versions of this film in circulation – a “Chinese Cut” a “Berlin Film Festival Cut” and “The Weinstein Cut” – it is difficult to know at which point The Grandmaster got lost in its grandiose ideas of what a modern Martial Arts blockbuster film should be.  Six years of pre-production and three years in-the-making, this film takes epic to a new level in the sprawling story Ip Man, the legendary Kung Fu master who trained Bruce Lee and is credited with popularizing Wing Chun into the mainstream.

Perhaps the original edit is a more impressive feat as its reviews imply, but whatever it is that is being released in UK cinemas on November 28th is confused about what type of film it is trying to be, and even more confused about the story it is trying to tell.  Protagonist Ip Man (Tony Leung) begins as the central character, a glorious fighter and advocate for Wing Chun, representing Southern China in the world of Martial Arts.  Halfway through the movie the focus completely shifts to Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) leaving this reviewer to wonder what the point of integrating Ip Man into The Grandmaster ever was.  This film is Ziyi Zhang’s.

The film plays host to numerous beautifully choreographed fight scenes reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon if it were to have been directed by Michael Bay rather than Ang Lee.  In spite of being full of masculine adrenaline à la Bay, The Grandmaster is beautiful to watch, hyperreal to listen to, and operatic and over-the-top in all of its delivery.  The characters are two dimensional, the story sprawling and unfocused, but anytime Ziyi Zhang is on screen all of this changes.  She is a beauty, a talent and an artist and while the film eventually shifts focus to her character’s path for a fleeting moment, it is not enough.  A fourth edit would truly aid this film to rid of the story of Ip Man altogether and focus solely on Gong Er and her family’s honour.

For fans of Wong Kar-wai or modern Martial Arts films, The Grandmaster will prove to be a disappointment.  While there are moments of fascination and awe, it seems that indulgence and nonsense has got the better of the otherwise highly regarded Chinese director.  This film is an unfulfilled potential greater than what The Weinstein Company are capable of editing together.


Leave a Reply