In the age of dynasties, Kung Fu was as regional as dialects. Masters from the north battled masters from the south, all seeking to perfect techniques and create new and deadlier arts.
Among the Southern Masters, a rising star, Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai: The Silent War), is chosen to take on the Northern Grandmaster. A rich man with time to practice his craft, Ip Man is the embodiment of Kung Fu: he is confident and kind with a good sense of humor.
Ip Man meets his match in the Northern Grandmaster’s daughter, Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang: Dangerous Liaisons). Boy meets girl; girl challenges boy; girl kicks boy’s butt. A lifelong attraction and rivalry is born from their first encounter, but fate disrupts the budding relationship.
The Japanese invasion ruins Ip Man’s fortunes and keeps him away from Gong Er. Destitute with a starving family to support, he leaves the south for Hong Kong to seek his fortunes. There, he fights his way, literally, to the top of the Kung Fu teaching academies and becomes a legendary master.
Will Ip Man ever become the true Grandmaster? Will he find Gong? Who on Earth is repairing all the damage these elaborate fights cause?
Filled with gorgeous cinematography and fluid fights, The Grandmaster is more like a ballet than a film. Dialog is stilted, which is not unexpected in a movie that’s been translated into English. But the performances of Zhang and Leung Chiu Wai transcend the language barrier.
The true story of the man who trained Bruce Lee, The Grandmaster is actually two stories: the legend of Ip Man and the story of Gong Er’s quest to preserve her family’s Kung Fu style. The movie feels disjointed at times, jumping between the diverging stories.
Though the film isn’t a perfect story, it is a great example of Asian artistry. Each frame could be a painting. Fight scenes are carefully coordinated for maximum fluidity and style, making each resemble a grand ballet rather than a brawl. Attention to style and artistry save this film; spectacular fights, beautiful scenery and two knockout performances make it worth a trip to the movies.