The Grandmaster

Dec 29, 2013

Less about its hero and more about the beauty of kung fu.

The Grandmaster

Grade: B

Director: Kar Wai Wong (In the Mood for Love)

Screenplay: Wong (Chungking Express), Jingzhi Zou, Haofeng

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai (In the Mood for Love), Ziyi Zhang (Till Death Do Us Part)

Rating: PG 13

Runtime: 108 min.

by John DeSando

“My father would always say people who practice martial arts go through three stages: seeing yourself, seeing the world, seeing all living beings.” Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang)

The Grandmaster is not so much a biography of the master, Ip Man (Tony Leung, resembling Barack Obama) ,who trained Bruce Lee, as it is a romantic impression of the dreams of lordless ronin warriors and those who still believe in good winning  over evil. This is not the film to see if you wish to relive the glory days of kung fu in Eastern and Western pop culture; rather It shows humanity in its glory and depravity, always beautifully, but never fully enough to get us inside its protagonist.

Ip Man emigrates from Foshan in Northern China to seek an heir for Gong Yutian in Southern China. IP Man falls in love with flat-out beautiful Gong Er, who is seeking to regain family honor by revenging her father’s death.  This couple is meant for hard times as they are separated by fate only to be reunited at the end in Hong Kong while she has unfortunately taken a vow not to marry. As romantic as their separation and chaste reunion are, the writer/director has so carefully drawn his plot as to make their longing a metaphor for a kung fu never to achieve its past glory.

The Grandmaster is a beautiful, impressionistic rendering by acclaimed director Kar Wai Wong about the fading glory of warriors and the masters who shaped their legacy.

Master IP Man is a visual delight but a tease about its hero, who reveals little to us about himself as if we were to engage him in combat.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at