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Have you ever wondered who taught Bruce Lee before he became a martial arts legend? The answer is found in “The Grandmaster.”
The film spans decades of martial artist Ip Man’s life. The story begins in the 1930s before China’s war with Japan and continues as Man travels to Hong Kong to find work as a martial arts instructor after the war. It ends as he finds a new young student, Bruce Lee.
As many families in China developed their own forms of martial arts, Man’s specialty was Wing Chun. He fights and defends his style throughout the film while picking up styles from others.
His life is complicated by a woman, Gong Er, who defends her own family’s style.
“The Grandmaster” is promoted in American theaters by director Martin Scorsese. The opening credits state “Martin Scorsese Presents.” His name recognition might create a larger interest in a film that is in the languages of Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese with English subtitles.
But dialogue is not this movie’s focus. Audiences want to get a glimpse of the man who taught martial arts to Bruce Lee.
The fight scenes are artistically choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Matrix”) like a fine dance and are a highlight of the film. The swish of a coat or the way rain falls on the brim of a hat are as important to the fight as the moves of the fighter. If fighting can be described as beautiful, then the visuals in this film are beautiful.
But that’s also part of the problem. The film mostly is narrated by the main character in almost a docudrama style. Because the fight scenes are so artistic, it’s hard to imagine they actually happened that way, which takes out the sense of reality.
Although the film spans decades, the characters show little change in age, which also takes away from the movie’s believability.
The drama that fills the space between the fight scenes also is a little slow.
But the artistry of the film is wonderful and what makes it worth watching.
Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Hero”) and Ziyi Zhang (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) star in the film.
In a smaller market that doesn’t always get the opportunity to see foreign-language film offerings, “The Grandmaster” is a rarity in this area.
While it has some story-telling faults, the scenic images and the artistry in the dancelike fight scenes make “The Grandmaster” worth watching for film aficionados and a glimpse into modern marital arts history.