The Grandmaster Is A Masterpiece: Wong Kar Wai Heir-Apparent to Visconte and Lean

To watch Wong Kar wai’s The Grandmaster is to experience a visual, operatic masterpiece. Every frame is stunning. Throughout its 130-minute run, I found myself short of breath and grasping with astonishment.

The breath of its visual vocabulary is wide, deep, and completely satisfying. A sweepingly-grand narrative, gorgeously stunning vistas, balletic gestures, set to a most-effective soundtrack. I have not seen this type of grand, epic-sized film making since the likes of David Lean and Luchino Visconte. References to Lawrence of Arabia and The Leopard were expressly apparent to this viewer. Surely, Mr. Wong Kar wai stands on the shoulders of these European masters, but with a new, 21st century Asian style. This is the New World in cinema indeed.

The Grandmaster
Kar Wai Wong
Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang
Release Date
23 August, 2013
Influx Grade: A+

Typical of cinematic masterpieces, the storyline takes a backseat to the visual communication. Here, Wong Kar wai tells the real-life story of the legendary Ip Man within the narrative context of the unification of Kung Fu styles in the first half of Twentieth Century China. To this western viewer and non-Kung Fu enthusiast, the characters and nationalistic conflicts involving martial arts forms of 20th century China was secondary. More importantly, the film focuses on the determination – the mental, physical and spiritual strength – of a most-impressive man of courage, integrity and magnanimity. Tony Leung as Ip Man is mesmerizing. Equally, Ziyi Zhang as Gong Er, the female martial artist counterpart to Ip Man, is stunningly effective. To me, she is the new Audrey Hepburn. Svelte, drop-dead gorgeous, and that glowing skin! Both artists are breathtakingly beautiful, and their acting and balletic poses deliver retinal stimuli I have not experienced since The Matrix.

The cinematic results achieved by Wong Kar Wai in The Grandmaster — by his deft culling of such wide and skillful artists for his film — is a wonder. The actors are all superb. Philippe Le Sourd and Song Xiaofei’s cinematography is a wonder. Not since the days of James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Gordon Willis, and Kazuo Miyagawa have we seen such stunning images in the cinema. Yuen Woo-Ping’s fight choreography is top-notch. William Chang’s editing, production design and costume designs are Oscar-worthy. (As you listening Academy members?) Every level of this production is masterful – the music, sound, art direction, set design, visual effects – the best in today’s cinema. Don’t miss this masterpiece on the big screen.

Review by Armin Callo, Influx Magazine Contributing Editor