There’s a bunch of critically acclaimed films that have gone under many of our radars. In response I have started gathering a few friends together to watch some of these movies with me and then spend time afterwards arguing whether they merit the praise. The ensuing arguments will then be fed into reviews. To kick things off, Wong Kai Wai’s ‘The Grandmaster’.
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Genre: Martial arts drama set in the early 20th century
Starring: Tony Leung & Zhang Ziyi
Rating system: This is my own little rating system: I consider 3 aspects of the film. Firstly the script, secondly the whole production and finally how strongly the film impacted me and provoked powerful ideas and intense conversation. In each category I give marks out of 10.
‘The Grandmaster’ has some things you’d expect from a kung-fu film including a final battle against an honourless villain, and some things you’d expect from a Wong Kar Wai film, namely an artful and quietly tragic love story. But what happens when these two genres collide?
Well, the mixture of styles and moods make for an odd but palatable film. ‘The Grandmaster’ has all of Wong Kar Wai’s signature quirks: melodramatic music, carefully placed visual poetry, ripples of regret and great cigarette smoking.
The fight scenes are stunning, but Wong Kar Wai seems averse to making a super-slick film –– some shots change speed (on purpose) midway through gradually becoming flickery. He chucks a pale blue, solarizing effect on some of the shots, which I can’t remember ever seeing before in a feature film, because it’s just weirdly unrealistic.
Thematically the film mourns the loss of ancient Chinese traditions and wisdom. There are some cracking quotes in it:
“Kung fu – two words – one horizontal, one vertical. If you’re wrong, you’ll be left lying down. If you’re right, you’re left standing.”
Repeatedly ‘The Grandmaster’ asks the viewer to consider what a well-lived life in tumultuous times might look like.
What I probably liked most about the film was that I only realized its pivotal scene, a beautifully choreographed battle, WAS the pivotal scene until much later. As the narrative progresses the two fighters evidently reminisce over that encounter, deftly coaxing me into their sorrowful nostalgia.
Yes, it’s an introspective kung fu flick about honour, regret, revenge and loss.
Your chance to respond:
Have you seen The Grandmaster? Or other Wong Kar Wai films like Chung King Express? What do you make of them?
Joel Wilson is a film maker, writer & rap lyricist. He loves unearthing and telling great stories and bringing out the best in my collaborators.