HORIZONTAL VS VERTICAL
“The Grandmaster” ( or “The Grandmasters” depending on your location ) is director Kar Wai Wong‘s first attempt at the kung-fu genre. His most notable successes have mostly been about the pain of lost romance ( “My Blueberry Nights“, “2046” and “In The Mood For Love” instantly come to mind ) so it’s no surprise that “Yi Dai Zong Shi” is a mixed bag of good and bad.
The story spans a few decades, starting in the early 1930′s. The premise of the movie is simple enough:Gong Yutian ( Qingxiang Wang ), a renowned master of China’s Southern and Northern styles of martial arts, comes to town to celebrate his eventual retirement. It’s at the Golden Pavilion, the number one brothel in the region, that he decides to make the big announcement.
Now, the Golden Pavilion is a safe haven, of sorts, for the countless masters and would-be-masters of this domain. Amongst them is a calm and friendly character named Yip Man ( Tony Leung Chiu Wai ) who seems rather interested in picking up where the old man is leaving off. But, also in attendance that evening is the newly appointed Northern successor of Gong Yutian, Ma San ( Jin Zhang ). Ma San is a brutal man with little regard for customs or decorum.
So it’s no surprise that he makes an ass of himself during the ceremony and incurs the wrath of his master who promptly banishes his student. From there, the movie keeps trudging along until many years later, Ma San starts co-operating with the Japanese during the invasion of the North.
As for the rest of the cast, I really enjoyed the brief contribution of Benshan Zhao as Gong Yutian‘ brotherDing Lianshan. I also give a pass to Ziyi Zhang‘s role as Gong Er. Not the worse, and certainly not the best. There are moments when she almost conjures up the type of performance that made her a star in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but sadly, it’s too much for her role to handle. The best performance comes from the lead, Tony Leung Chiu Wai. At first glance, he doesn’t seem like the right man to cast in a movie like this but he handles himself exceptionally well.
One complaint I have regarding “Yi Dai Zong Shi” is the somewhat herky-jerky editing process. The flow between each scene is quite irregular in my opinion. For example, the opening sequence is a brawl between Tony Leung Chiu Wai‘s character, Yip Man, and Cung Le‘s character, Tiexieqi. Why? Who knows. What happens next? The Golden Pavilion scene. So what’s the connection? Who cares, really. Without properly developing the backdrop to certain characters it becomes nearly impossible to care about what motivates them.
Poor Cung. You don’t even get to hear his name before he smashes through a window and gets pummelled against an iron gate. Then he mysteriously disappears for the length of a bible. I mean, I get it. If you can substitute a normal grunt for an actual MMA* fighter, why not go for it? Well, to be perfectly honest, I would much rather see a nobody get creamed rather than feel like you’re shoving a semi-UFC**-star down my throat. And here’s why: I know, because I’ve seen, how Cung Le truly fights. So when you’re giving me a watered down version of his actual skills, you are in fact taking something away from the action. And that’s a damn shame.
*MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts.
**UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Fighting for fighting’s sake sucks in films. But when you do it for a good reason, well, all you need to do is add a dash of originality and you’ve got a winning formula. At one point, I thought Kar Wai Wong had nailed it. Around the 25-minute mark, there’s a brilliant sequence of fights where Yip Man gets tested by his friends and comrades. I seriously thought at that point that I was in store for something absolutely amazing. To wrap it up, on one hand, I’m glad that those scenes and the ending were solid. Unfortunately, a couple of flashes of brilliance is not enough to make a great movie. And no one is more disappointed about that than me.
[embedvideo id=”nLCCG4oC8bA” website=”youtube”]