Yi dai zong shi [The Grandmaster] (2013)

Yi dai zong shi
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writer: Wong Kar Wai, Haofeng Xu, Jingzhi Zou
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi ZhangJin Zhang, Chen Chang, Qingxiang Wang, Hye-kyo Song

Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is a master of Wing Chun kung-fu, looking back on his life. In the 1930s, his until then rather uneventful existence was disrupted with the arrival of Gong Yutian (Qingxiang Wang) – who managed to unite the martial arts from in Northern China, for which he has chosen an heir, Ma San (Jin Zhang). He now also wants to find a representative for Southern China. Ip Man is chosen to battle him, and by winning his life and the life of Gong Yutian’s daughter Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) have become forever entwined.

The Grandmaster is a beautiful, beautiful film with great leads and I loved it. Unfortunately the plotting is a little weak. But it’s great to have Wong Kar Wai back.


It’s always difficult to make biopics. Lives usually don’t cohere to narrative structures and standards. People appear, are important and disappear again without explanation. Other people are never that important but they stick around. Events happen and nothing comes of it. Things happen for no reason and come out of nowhere. To translate this into a story that works on screen is hard.

And that’s also this film’s weakest point. I’m still unsure what the whole thing with Razor (Chen Chang) was about, for example. And the way Ip Man’s wife (Hye-kyo Song) is treated, isn’t great either. [SPOILERS] So, their daughters die. Ip Man says, “I have lost my family.” And it’s only like 30 minutes later that it’s clear that his wife actually survived and is still around, only to be unceremoniously dumped again by the movie. And Ip Man. [/SPOILERS] I mean, I know it’s all about the tragic love story between Ip Man and Gong Er, but that is just no good.


Admittedly, even if it goes at the expense of Ip Man’s wife, that love story is amazing. Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang have crazy chemistry. Most of the time they just look at each other and it’s hotter than most of the sex scenes we get in films. I’m basically still wiping sweat of my brow. Generally they were great, also when they weren’t eye-fucking.

But what works even better are the movie’s visuals. The fight scenes are stunning things of beauty. The set design, the entire arrangements, the old photos that are staged in between. Everything down to the weather (what they do with snow! and rain!) conspires to give you one visual orgasm after the other, supported by an awesome soundtrack. Everything went just straight to the heart.


Summarising: See it. And make sure it’s on the big screen, if there’s any way!

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