Since the story of Ip Man - the famed instructor of Bruce Lee - reached the screen in 2008, there have been a number of interpretations based on the late Wing Chun master’s life. Celebrated Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai is the latest to throw his hat in the ring with The Grandmaster, showing at Queen’s Film Theatre this week.
In 1936 Ip Man (played by Kar-wai regular Tony Leung) is selected as a representative of Southern Chinese martial arts to challenge a grandmaster from the North. His daughter (Zhang Ziyi) in turn dedicates herself to reclaiming her family’s honour, while the Japanese invasion of China is ongoing.
Kar-wai and Leung’s partnership has resulted in some of the best films of the last decade (In The Mood For Love and 2046), but unfortunately The Grandmaster doesn’t reach those heights. The plot is often complicated and encumbered by an uninspiring political narrative.
There are flashes of style; the cinematography and action choreography are first rate. Leading lady Zhang Ziyi is flawlessly brilliant as always. However, overall I found The Grandmaster to be one of Wong Kar-wai’s weaker films. It’s worth noting that even Kar-wai’s lesser films still have something to offer.