Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, smoking and brief drug use
In Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Yip Oi-dor (1893-1972), aka Ip Man, was a legendary martial arts teacher perhaps best remembered for some of the prominent protégés who attended his kung fu school, most notably, Bruce Lee. But this influential icon has finally been getting his due in recent years as the subject of several reverential biopics.
The latest, “The Grandmaster,” directed by Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love), is a majestic epic chronicling Ip Man’s life from the womb to the tomb. He’s very capably played by Tony Leung who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to President Obama, for what that’s worth.
At the picture’s point of departure, we learn that Ip hailed from Foshan, a city in Guangdong province where he started studying martial arts at an early age. By the time he was a young man, he had already developed a reputation as a formidable fighter, and was enlisted by his region’s elders to represent all of Southern China in a match against Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), the best from the North.
Yip prevails in a showdown more mental than physical by employing an innovative combination of his trademarked “Spade,” “Pin” and “Sheath” techniques which prove to be far simpler than the 64 moves relied upon by his aging opponent. Soon thereafter, Gong finds himself dealing with dissension in the Northern ranks, between being betrayed by a disloyal heir apparent (Zhang Jan) and disappointed by his daughter’s (Zhang Ziyi) decision to practice medicine rather than follow in his footsteps.
That enables Yip Man to fill the void and eventually emerge as the greatest grandmaster in all of China. Director Kar-wai resorts to flying harnesses, slow motion and other state-of-the-art trick photography to showcase his hero’s considerable skills. If you’re familiar with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you have a decent idea what to expect in terms of gravity defying kick and fisticuffs.
The overly-ambitious production’s only flaw rests with its occasionally-confusing editing, which unnecessarily resorts to flashbacks in recounting the decades-spanning tale when the movie might have worked just as well if allowed to unfold chronologically. Regardless, this comprehensive combination history lesson, love story and action flick features all the fixin’s necessary to entertain any fan of the martial arts genre.
Yip Man lives!