Man has become a transcendent hero. All
the films and stories about him are true, even when they contradict each other,
because we need his example of heroic humility.
Ip was a master of the southern style of kung fu known as Wing
Chun. Settling in Hong Kong after the Communist
takeover, he became the city’s most prominent martial arts teacher. He often lived a hand-to-mouth existence, but
he attained a measure of immortality through his celebrated student, Bruce
Lee. Posterity will not be so kind to
the northern school, for classically tragic reasons revealed in The Grandmaster (trailer here), Wong Kar Wai’s
eagerly anticipated take on Ip Man, the man and the legend, which opens this
Friday in New York.
to a life of privilege, Ip Man has become the leading proponent of the Wing
Chun school of kung fu. For Grandmaster
Gong Baosen of the northern 64 Hands school, Ip is a fitting sparring partner for
his grand retirement tour. In observance
of custom, challenges are made and met with grace. However, Gong’s intensely loyal daughter Gong
Er is determined to take matters further.
When she and Ip spar, it makes a profound impression on them both. No longer mere rivals, an ambiguous but
palpable mutual attraction develops between them. Ip plans to travel north to see Gong and her
64 Hands style again, but the Japanese invasion rudely intervenes.
occupation years will be difficult for both non-lovers. Ip and his wife Zhang Yongcheng will mourn
their children who succumb to starvation, while Gong Er watches in horror as Ma
San, her father’s last great pupil-turned Japanse collaborator, usurps the 64
Hands. Years later, Ip Man and Gong Er
will meet again in Hong Kong, but their wartime decisions will continue to keep
how long fans have waited, it is almost impossible for Grandmaster to live up to expectations, but happily it comes pretty
close. Although separate and distinct
from the Ip Man franchise distributed by Well Go USA, “Little” Tony Leung Chiu
Wai has the perfect look and gravitas for the celebrated master, nicely finding
his niche as the experienced leading man Ip Man, in between Donnie Yen’s young,
confident Ip and Anthony Wong’s elder statesman Ip. Pushed and prodded by Wong, Leung arguably does
some of his best martial arts work yet, but he also conveys the essence of the
acutely disciplined Ip.
good as Leung is, Ziyi Zhang more or less takes over the picture and that’s
totally cool. She even gets the big pivotal
fight scene, which delivers in spades. A haunting and seductive presence, she
brings out genuinely Shakespearean dimensions in Gong.
a martial arts film, Grandmaster offers
plenty of show-stopping sequences, clearly and fluidly staged with only a hint
of the extreme stylization that marked Wong’s Ashes of Time Redux.
Surprisingly though, the film is as much a lyrical epic of love and
yearning. Indeed, the snowy northern
climes and train station settings call to mind Doctor Zhivago more than Enter
the Dragon. Of course, Wong fully
understands the power of a passing glance and incidental touch, exquisitely conveying
the perverse satisfaction of denial.
a very good film that should please genre fans and art house audiences in equal
measure. It is probably the Ziyi Zhang,
Tony Leung, and Wong Kar Wai collaboration we have hoped for since 2046. A sensitive but muscular portrait
of Bruce Lee’s great master, it is a worthy addition to the Ip Man canon. Highly recommended, The Grandmaster opens this Friday (8/23) in New York at the
Angelika Film Center and the AMC Empire.
Labels: Ip Man, Martial arts cinema, Tony Leung, Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Ziyi