Wong Kar Wai has something of a spotty reputation among normal cinema goers. Most of his movies are very slow, shot in peculiar ways, and riddled with flashbacks. I enjoy his movies when I go in with the attitude that I will be watching a piece of artistic expression, rather than a story directly intended to entertain. And this is exactly the mindset you need when you watch his latest movie, The Grandmasters.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grandmasters
Starring Wong Kar Wai stalwarts Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, The Grandmasters is billed as a film about Ip Man, the grandmaster of Wing Chun. If you're expecting another high adrenaline beatdown as presented by Donnie Yen in Ip Man and Ip Man 2, you will be disappointed. The Grandmasters is, in fact, a drama that tells the story of martial arts masters in China and Hong Kong during the 20's, 30's and 40's, as seen through the eyes of Ip Man. Partially biographical, largely fiction, it describes the path taken by Wing Chun master Ip Man, and how it crosses with the disciples of an old and esteemed internal martial arts master.
The Grandmasters' filming style is very lush and dreamy. When this comes out on blu-ray I am going to watch it over and over to steal stuff! The dialogue is full of facial closeups and the action drifting with slow motion. The pace is slow, but even so, the action scenes are exciting and quite authentic. I recognize many real moves from internal martial arts, including Bagua, Hsing I, and Baji. Interviews with Wong Kar Wai say that he spent months interviewing old masters as research for this movie.
There appears to have been a significant amount cut from the final movie. A whole subplot involving Zhang Ziyi's character, and a renegade Baji master called 'The Razor', seems to be missing. You only know it should have been there because of three scenes involving The Razor which do not connect directly with the plot at all. It would be great if there was an extended version, maybe even in two parts like Red Cliff, that bring back the things that were obviously lost. An interview with Zhang Ziyi states that half of her scenes were not included!
I saw this on a huge cinema screen in Hong Kong, and the image quality and sound was just amazing. Sometimes I felt that Wong Kar Wai shot a bunch of set pieces and vignettes and used the movie as an excuse to string them together! So often I felt like there was a severe style vs. substance issue, what with all the slow motion rainfall and extreme facial closeups. I certainly admired the cinematographer's techniques, but the editing seemed kind of odd.
All in all, enjoyable if you are in the mood for an impressionistic drama about martial arts masters, love and loss, and the passage of time that renders all men equal. Not cool if you want a fast paced, linear action movie about a master kicking ass and taking names, although a fair amount of ass kicking does occur.