The Graceful Grandmaster
My Angel, my own love for you has forever been unrequited.
During a thunderstorm in a dark alley one man with a white hat named Ye Wen (Tony Leung) stares down more than a dozen men. They are armed with chains, hooks and clubs. They attack him in different directions. In a flash he kicks punches and throws all of them. It doesn’t take long but the dozen or so men are subdued. A more skillful attacker: Iron Shoes (Cung Le) watches from above. Soon he crashes out a second floor window and confronts Ye Wen. Iron Shoes throws a powerful kick, which Ye fortunately sidesteps. The kick lands on a concrete wall and smashes a portion of it to pieces.
THE GRANDMASTER starring Zhang Zhi Yi of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and Tony Leung of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE can be seen for free at Shang Cineplex, Shang Rila Plaza until February 22, 2015. It is only one title among many that is part of the Spring Film Festival.
Director Wong Kar Wai has been a multi-awarded filmmaker having earned Cannes Best director for HAPPY TOGETHER and nominations for IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, 2046 and MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS (starring Norah Jones) also from Cannes. He’s known for his romance and dramas more than action. But then neither was Taiwanese director Ang Lee but met tremendous critical and commercial success with CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON. The same can be said for the extremely successful THE GRANDMASTER earning 10 major nods in 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards. Zhang Zhi Yi earned Best Actress from the Golden Horse and Hong Kong Film Critics as well.
Wong Kar Wai has a more recognizable visual style than Ang Lee. Wong has a penchant for the film noir look, which dominates a lot of the scenes here. This approach highlights the philosophical, conceptual even religious aspects of Kung Fu that is the theme of the film. Kung Fu here transcends movements and the display of strength and is more a way of thinking. The extreme close ups, moody images were shot excellently by French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd who was nominated in the Oscars along with Costume Designer William Chang Suk Ping.
This isn’t to say that action fans won’t be satisfied. The opening scene above includes UFC fighter Cung Le as Iron Shoes who has Vietnamese roots but grew up in the U.S. His real world martial arts abilities are in full force. Chang Chen who played Dark Cloud in CROUCHING TIGER has another cool moniker here as The Razor.
Fans who crave for complex ultra fast action sequences will get their fill. The way that Wong Kar Wai directed them however, emphasizes the grace of movement rather than the violence. There’s also a conscious decision to inject political history as opposed to fantasy or hyperrealism/comedy such as KUNGFU HUSTLE.
Normally as a film reviewer I would be more conscious of spoilers, or not revealing elements that may ruin one’s cinematic experience. But in this case a more detailed background on the story will help viewers. Sometimes reading subtitles can either slow down or change one’s understanding of dialogue. And I suspect that even if one is completely fluent in Mandarin it’s still not going to be easy to understand, as there is very liberal use of metaphor and poetry in the script. In this film the main character is addressed Ye Wen the Mandarin version but is pronounced Ip Man in his native dialect of Cantonese and is the title of other more action oriented versions. THE GRANDMASTER is far more sophisticated and refined in terms of storytelling and visual treatment.
The story is about how Ye Wen a humble student of Wing Chun kung fu became one of China’s Grandmasters. Played by Tony Leung it traces the time when he is forced to confront other challengers to represent Southern kung fu to the northern masters. Early in the 20th century there were a lot of competing martial arts academies and clans in China. After the Second World War he lives in Hong Kong and establishes his own Kung Fu academy. One of his many renowned students is Bruce Lee. Here we find out that Bruce Lee’s generosity in teaching Kung Fu and sharing knowledge originally came from his life long mentor Ye Wen.
Again, this is where THE GRANDMASTER departs from IP MAN starring Donnie Yen. While there have been a number of titles featuring the same real life character, this is where Wong Kar Wai’s treatment distinguishes itself as showing Ye Wen as more human. Perhaps this is the most real as well revealing an emotional side.
Zhang Zhi Yi plays Gong Er, the daughter of kung fu grandmaster Gong Yutian (Qingxiang Wang). Gong Er meets Ye Wen in a demonstration of martial arts skills. Their battle is graceful almost like a dance. In one moment both are in mid air their faces nearly touching, lips kissing. Instead of inspiring hate in the match it sparks a flame of admiration in Gong Er’s heart. There is this unspoken bond that is shared between them since then.
Zhang has that perfect balance of beauty and even physical strength. Her roots as part of a famous Beijing Dance troupe was the perfect training for the monumental Kung Fu films she has made. She has recently been engaged to musician Wang Feng who famously proposed by sending the 9-carat diamond ring via a drone. In one scene in this film, elders trying to placate her wrathful vengeance said, “Some things are not in the hands of men but of fate.” She replies, “Well, maybe I am fate.”
Unrequited love seems to be a constant theme in the films of Wong Kar Wai. He specializes in little moments, displays of affection that are not necessarily erotic but becomes so in his films. Ye Wen is a devoted husband and father. When Ye comes home his wife wipes him off with moist towel. In turn He would wash her legs and feet.
Korean superstar Hye-kyo Song plays his wife Zhang Yongcheng. Song is famous for Koreanovelas: Autumn in My Heart (2000), All In (2003), Full House (2004), and That Winter, The Wind Blows (2013). She has gained such a reputation for beauty that she has graced the cover of VOGUE in China.
THE GRANDMASTER has taken director Wong Kar Wai who is also screenwriter almost a decade to finish. As a result several versions of the story have come out ahead of it. In spite of this the product speaks for itself. We have a greater understanding of Ye Wen, his culture, and environs, how he came to be. In a matching of wits he responds. “You see this biscuit as the realm of martial arts, I see it as the world. There is no reason to hide knowledge we must all share what we know.”
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This entry was posted on February 20, 2015 by jude bautista. It was filed under Fashion, Film, People, TV and was tagged with 10 major nods, 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards, 9-carat diamond, ADMU, ADMU Pres, All In, Ang Lee, animation film, Ateneo Celadon, Ateneo De Manila University, Autumn in My Heart, Beijing Dance troupe, Best Actress, Bruce Lee, Cannes, Cannes Best director, Cantonese, Ceasar Cheng, Chang Chen, China, Chinese Painting, conceptual, Confucian Inst, Confucius Inst, Costume Designer, Counselor for Political Affairs, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, Cung Le, Dark Cloud, devoted husband, dialect, director, Dr Ellen Palanca, Dr. Rosita Leong, drone, erotic, father, feet, film noir look, Fr. Jett Villarin, French cinematographer, Full House, George Uy, Golden Horse, Gong Er, Gong Yutian, Grandmaster, HAPPY TOGETHER, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Film Critics, Hye-kyo Song, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, Intl Studies for Chinese Arts, Ip Man, Iron Shoes, Jude Bautista, Korean superstar, Koreanovelas, Kung Fu, kung fu grandmaster, Lala Fojas, legs, Leong Initiative for Ateneo Internationalization, Liu Xiao Fang, Mandarin, Mandarin version, metaphor, multi-awarded filmmaker, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, nominations, Norah Jones, Oscars, P.R.O.C, Pan Feng, Philippe Le Sourd, philosophical, Poetry, Qingxiang Wang, religious, Ricardo Leong Center, Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies, Ricardo Leong founder, Second World War, Shang Cineplex, Shang Rila Plaza, Shang Rila Plaza mall, Shangri La Plaza, Shangri La Plaza EVP & Gen Mgr, Sidney Christopher Bata, Spring Film Festival, subtitles, Taiwanese director, That Winter The Wind Blows, the Confucius Institute at the Ateneo De Manila, the Cultural division of the People’s Republic of China, THE GRANDMASTER, THE LEGEND OF KUNG FU RABBIT, The Razor, Tony Leung, Unrequited love, visual style, VOGUE China, Wang Feng, William Chang Suk Ping, Wing Chun, Wong Kar Wai, Ye Wen, Zhang Yongcheng, Zhang Zhi Yi.