Apparently the film took nearly 6 years to make and it also marks Wong Kar Wai’s (Happy Together, 2046) most expensive to date. The reason for this long development – lead actor Tony Leung broke his arm training in Wing Chun to take on the lead role of Ye Wen (Ip Man) and the painstaking collaboration between the production and mainland China agencies through whom the film was produced. Though I don’t know how or why this took so long?
The Ip Man story is already a franchise of films with Donnie Yen that has 5 films in its series so we’re not treading new ground at any point in The Grandmaster. (I so wanna do this in the Screen Junkies voice over) Prepare to delve into the back story of Ye Wen, the boy who would grow up to become Ip Man, China’s most renowned martial artist and instructor of one Bruce Lee.
There’s lots of meat to gnaw into with the Ip Man story, there’s the socio-political backdrop of the fall of China’s last great dynasty, the Republican movement and its subsequent impact on Chinese provincial way of life alongside the stringent disciplines of become a martial artist. There’s also drama in the form of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Ziyi Zhang as a protege hell bent on revenge for her families honour, of course, Woo-Ping Yuen is on board choreographing the action sequences. The pieces are all there…
But none of it it is given any real depth or credence. It feels muddled and unfocussed and doesn’t amount to anything but an incredibly pretty borefest.
Wong Kar Wai has always been a visual aesthetics guy, his back catalogue is a testament to this and he has produced so beautiful films but for The Grandmaster he is hellbent on the visual without supplementing it with story. So much time is spent in lavish sets, special & practical effect heavy camera work, ultra stylised movement of both actor and cinematography that the story itself is rendered completely insubstantial.
Instead of cheering for Ye Wen, pining for Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) or being amazed by the dazzling martial acrobatics on display, The Grandmaster becomes an insufferable bore of muted nothingness tacked together without fairly arbitrary fight sequences using tricks we’ve seen photocopied time and time again from The Matrix. The film is so trapped by its own sense of style not even the invested performances of the principle cast can save it.
This is such a disappointment.
THE GRANDMASTER releases SEPTEMBER 4, 2014 in AUSTRALIA through ROADSHOW FILMS