While there is no such thing as a perfect, genre-transcending cinematic offering, some films are such perfect examples of their respective genre that one cannot help but be in awe.
Presented by Martin Scorsese and Samuel L. Jackson, “The Grandmaster” is one such offering. Set in the Foshon province of China during the 1930s,”Grandmaster” tells the tale of legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man. In the age of the Internet the term “legendary” is often over used, but can one ever over state the martial arts contributions of the man who is credited with training the late Bruce Lee?
The story begins as Ip (pronounced Yip) is beating the brakes off of a group of a dozen or so combatants. The scene, and the entire film, is spliced with beautifully shot flashback sequences in which the viewer learns of the motivations and sensibilities of Man-played by Tony Leung. The film is in subtitles, but that does not take away from its ability to communicate intricate ideas and complex emotions to the non viewer. Actress Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Rush Hour 2” “House of Flying Daggers”) is always a joy to watch on the big screen. Each of the characters she portrays is uncompromising in their femininity, but the better of most men when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. Ziyi plays Gong Er, the daughter of Gong Yutian-the grandmaster of the north. Gong Yutian is on the verge of retiring but decides the south should have its own grandmaster prior to doing so.
He calls forth Ip Man as he is “the Man”, and the south’s hand picked champion. Ip passes a test of intelligence, agility and dexterity and is named grandmaster of the south. Gong Er initially wishes to fight Ip in her father’s stead, but is forbidden to do so because she is a woman. However, after Ip is named grandmaster of the south Er invites him to a friendly test of skills from which she emerges victorious. Gong Yutian names Ma Son, his top pupil, as his predecessor.
Ip plans on moving his family to northern China, but the second Sino-Japanese war erupts. His family descends into poverty and he loses two of his daughters to starvation. Ma becomes an official in the puppet government set up by the Japanese occupying army. This brings him into conflict with his teacher, Gong Yutian. Son kills Yutian in combat and Gong Er vows to never have children or to marry until she visits vengeance upon her father’s killer. The martial art scenes in the film are realistic and masterfully choreographed. If you’re expecting characters to glide on air or balance themselves on the tops of bamboo shoots then this is the wrong film. But if you’re looking for a well-scripted, beautifully shot, masterfully acted film set during some of China’s most turbulent times then “The Grandmaster” is for you. Not only does the film capture the essence of the times that were contemporary to Ip Man, but it places martial arts into a historical context as well. “The Grandmaster” is a masterful cinematic experience. “The Grandmaster” opens in theaters nationwide Friday, August 30th.