video cover

The Grandmaster
(aka The Grand Master, The Grandmasters, Legend of Yip Man, First Generation Master)
2013; directed by Wong Kar-Wai

After working on the movie for six years, acclaimed film-maker Wong Kar-Wai (Happy Together, In the Mood for Love) delivers The Grandmaster, another in the seemingly never-ending series of releases about Wing Chun practitioner (and teacher of Bruce Lee) Ip Man. Though this may sound like a strange subject for the arthouse darling -- who is known for deep meditations on relationships -- to develop a movie around, Wong's unique style and a great performance from Tony Leung Chiu-Wai makes this a nice counterpart to the other recent pictures about Ip, as well as a very strong movie when taken on its' own.

The Grandmaster    The Grandmaster

Where Wilson Yip's (Ip Man 1 and 2) take centered on Ip Man, the fighter, and Herman Yau's (Ip Man: The Final Fight) told the story of Ip Man, the teacher, Wong's version looks more at Ip Man, the person. Yes, certainly, martial arts are showcased here. Action co-ordinator Yuen Woo-Ping is a veteran with sixty-plus film under his belt, including crossover hits such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the Matrix trilogy, is in fine form here, most notably in a showdown between Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Jin that is bracketed by a speeding train in the background, which comes off as one of the best martial arts scenes to come out over the past few years.

The Grandmaster    The Grandmaster

The strength of the on-screen kung fu is even more extraordinary when one realizes that few of the participants have had any formal training before production started. In one of the extras on the Blu-ray, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai remarks that, at forty-seven, he though he was too old to learn kung fu. While he won't be replacing someone like Donnie Yen as a martial arts icon, the years of training do pay off, as he looks very convincing in the fight scenes.

The Grandmaster    The Grandmaster

As good as the fight scenes are, it is the dramatics that set The Grandmaster apart from not just the other films about Ip Man, but kung fu cinema as a whole. Wong had already crafted a kung fu movie with 1994's Ashes of Time, a release that is regarded by this reviewer as one of the finest entries of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema, but can see the point many others have that the movie is too convoluted for its' own good. Here, Wong reins himself in a bit, making this an arthouse release that doesn't hit you over the head with the fact that it is, indeed, an arthouse release.

The Grandmaster    The Grandmaster

There are still all of the Wong Kar-Wai trademarks -- stop-printed photography, inner monologues, almost pornographic fetishization of cigarettes -- but the characters and their sub-plots are kept to a minimum. Basically, besides Ip, the only other major character is Zhang Ziyi's Gong Er, who is the Northern counterpart to Ip's southern grandmaster status. For reasons that soon become clear, Ip and Gong's relationship can never become consummated; Wong's often-used central themes of loneliness and unrequited love are in full force here. This is a film that gives pause to think as much as it exhilarates through action, giving one the sense of Ip, in a way, sitting on a empty throne, having power and fame, but no one to share it with -- yet he never becomes mopey. It's a testament to his character that becomes just as (if not more) inspiring than him being able to defeat a dozen opponents.

The Grandmaster    The Grandmaster


US Blu-ray cover

Blu-ray Information

Released by Anchor Bay and The Weinstein Company, the North American Blu-ray unfortunately only contains the international cut of the movie, which runs at 108 minutes, versus the Asian version that clocks in at 130 minutes. Beyond this, the film is presented well, with a lovely 2.35:1 picture in 1080p backed by soundtracks in DTS-HD Mandarin or Dolby 5.1 English. Subtitles (which do not appear to be dubtitles) are available in English, English closed captioning, and Spanish. There is approximately ninety minutes worth of bonus materials on the disc, most of which are in English, with the exception being a fifty minute making of featurette that is in Mandarin.

Clips from the bonus features:


The Blu-ray and DVD are available at Amazon.

Movie Reviews / Main Page