The Grandmaster Blu-ray Review
“Don’t tell me how well you fight or how great your teacher is or brag about your style. Kung fu, two words: vertical, horizontal. Make a mistake, horizontal. You win if you’re standing up.”
Those are the only words Ip Man (Tony Leung, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) really needs. The rest is in how he carries himself and how he moves. Ip Man grew up in Foshan, where he studied the style of martial arts known as Wing Chun. He lived many years of spring with his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Song Hye-kyo, THAT WINTER, THE WIND BLOWS), trained under his master, Chan Wah-shun (Yuen Woo-ping, who also served as action choreographer), faced off against the gorgeous Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) and went on to become the trainer of none other than Bruce Lee.
Most of this will be familiar to those who have seen any of the numerous cinematic interpretations of the story, which include Wilson Yip’s IP MAN/IP MAN 2 and Herman Yau’s THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN. 2013 alone saw three movies centered on the man: Yau’s IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT, the Chinese television series IP MAN (with Kevin Cheng) and now this one.
Wong Kar-wai’s THE GRANDMASTER isn’t inventive in its approach to the subject matter—it takes a very basic approach, with Ip Man reflecting on his life via flashbacks and narration, the lines of which come off as sound bites—but it is still fresh. That is primarily due to the extremely effective meshing of the lead’s abilities and the crew’s achievements.
Tony Leung is an excellent choice to portray Ip Man and gives a performance that shows that he wasn’t just cast because of his bond with the director, but because he knew how to bring the character to life like never before. (Tony Leung and Wong Kar-wai’s collaborative relationship goes back to 1990’s DAYS OF BEING WILD and also includes 1994’s CHUNGKING EXPRESS, 1997’s FALLEN ANGELS and the aforementioned IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.)
All around Leung is a world and atmosphere that, in addition to making the viewer marvel, aid in creating the strong and skilled character that Ip Man was. Take the opening scene, in which Ip Man takes on a horde of unnamed fighters while rain beats down. This scene doesn’t just show Ip Man as one of the most talented of all martial artists, but someone who can maneuver through raindrops while staying focused enough to come out the victor.
One of the major companions to the fight scenes (choreographed by Woo-ping Yuen, who also worked on KILL BILL, IRON MONKEY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, to name a few) is the gorgeous cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his work. Although sometimes the directorial choice to add slow-motion effects takes away from the camerawork, it is still clear that Le Sourd’s contributions are one of the key achievements in the film.
Much of the story won’t be new to those familiar with the character, but, through excellent technical achievements and a strong lead performance, THE GRANDMASTER stands as the best of the Ip Man films.
THE GRANDMASTER BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. THE GRANDMASTER is presented in a very strong high-definition transfer that features excellent details in the sets, costumes and skin tones, as well as deep blacks.
Audio: Mandarin Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles in English and Spanish. The audio transfer offers clean dialogue (in both Mandarin and English) but is at its best in the fight sequences, with every soundtrack cue and landed strike coming through the speakers with punch.
THE GRANDMASTER: From Ip Man to Bruce Lee (23:01): This featurette looks at martial arts, some of its more notable figures and various aspects of the movie’s production.
A Conversation with Shannon Lee (6:55): The daughter of Bruce Lee (and sister of Brandon) discusses her late father.
THE GRANDMASTER: Behind the Scenes (50:32) is divided into seven sections, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Wong Kar Wai’s Journey Into Martial Arts,” “Focus on Fighting Style,” “Recreating Imperial China,” “Tony Leung,” “Zhang Ziyi,” “Director Wong Kar Wai” and “What Makes a Martial Artist.”
THE GRANDMASTER According to RZA (5:23): Wu-Tang Clan member and THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS director RZA chats about THE GRANDMASTER.