Monday, October 7, 2013

Film Review: Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster

Every year, I post a most anticipated films list here on my site.  Back in 2011, the film that topped that list was Wong Kar-wai's much anticipated Kung-Fu epic, The Grandmaster.  But alas, 'twas not to be, as was the case with the Asian auteur's masterpiece, In the Mood for Love, its follow-up, 2046, and his American debut, My Blueberry Nights, Wong went about his typical forever post production, editing rituals, and we did not see a release in 2011.  Okay, so we moved on to 2012, and once again, at the top of that aforementioned most anticipated films list, sat WKW's The Grandmaster, now even with a teaser poster available to the world at large, but alas, once again, the film never made it into theaters, and once again, I would feel the necessity to move the film forward, as it were, to the following year's list.

So, cut to January 2013, and that oft-cited most anticipated films list, and guess what?  Yep, that's right, for the third year in a row, Wong Kar-wai's wouldbe new masterpiece sat atop that damn list.  But this year, things would be different, I just knew that had to be true.  And yes, after releases in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and an international debut at February's Berlin Film Festival, The Grandmaster was finally (finally!) poised for an American release, and then, in August, the great city of New York finally (finally!!) had itself a brand new Wong Kar-wai film.  Granted, it took it a few more weeks to wind its way to other parts of the country, though as of the writing of this review, the film still has not seen a truly wide release (and has yet to play in my hometown of Harrisburg, Pa), but yes, the film, so long in the waiting, and so so long in the anticipation, was finally (FINALLY!!!) here dammit.  Granted, it is being released in the US with 20+ minutes edited out of the foreign cut, so perhaps we still need to wait for the director's cut.  Dammit, I'm sick and tired of waiting.  But I digress.

I suppose now you expect me to critique its merits and/or flaws, huh?  Give you a what's up on the film as a whole.  Basically, now you expect me to do my job, eh?  Jonas Mekas, the crazed purveyor of underground cinema, once said that it was not his job to tell you what a film was about, but instead to get excited by it, and show you that excitement.  I suppose I take that as my motto of sorts (so much so that the actual quote is proudly displayed on my website) and therefore will go no further with a description than letting you know that the film is about the great Kung-Fu master, Ip Man, the man who would eventually come to train Bruce Lee, and his life and times over several tumultuous decades of Chinese history.  I could get excited though.  That I could very easily do.   And even though nothing I could say would be any surprise to anyone who knows and loves Wong Kar-wai and his cinema (or for that matter, knows my tastes in film), excited I shall get.

I could tell you how Wong, along with his DP Philippe la Sourd (in his first real challenge as cinematographer) and his long time production designer/editor, William Chang (pretty much every WKW film can be seen on his list of credentials) have made the film flow with the most subtly rich and luscious manner of visual narrative succulence.  I could rave about the central performance of another long-time WKW collaborator, Tony Leung, and how he once again brings a Wong character to heartbreaking life on the big screen.  I could go on and on about the overall look and feel of the film - a film that only plays at its martial arts roots, but a film that is truly a tragedy on a surprisingly intimately epic scale (yeah!) - or how Wong's use of slow motion and the way raindrops beat off of Ip Man's hat in the opening fight scene, are enough to bring chills to any cinephile worth his salt.  I could rant and rave all night long about the merits of this gorgeous film, and even though it is not Wong at his best (In the Mood for Love will always weigh the heaviest in this critic's soul), and there is still that aforementioned director's cut to be on the lookout for, this would not be a difficult thing to do.  I will instead, leave it at this: whatever you do, see this film.  End of review.

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