"The Grandmaster": Wong Kar Wai Takes Us to a Time Before Bruce Lee

In spite of what the marketing campaign suggests, Bruce Lee is not a character in Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster. For that matter, The Grandmaster isn't the only Hong Kong film in recent years to tell the story of real-life Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Tony Leung); it isn't even the only one with the word "grandmaster" in the title. But Wong's take on the story is the one getting a domestic release, and deservedly so, because it's a thoroughly gorgeous movie. One expects nothing less from a Wong film, but he's firing on all cylinders, with both fight sequences and non-fight sequences alike frequently making mesmerizing use of slow motion. They're often reminiscent of those HD "things blowing up in super-slow motion" videos, but not in a gimmicky way, instead finding genuine beauty in an action as seemingly simple as a foot lifting off the ground in the rain. Wong has re-edited the film for American audiences, not dumbing it down so much as de-emphasizing the minute attention to Chinese history that can be difficult for Westerners to follow; in the process he has created a more linear story. None of that detracts from The Grandmaster's sensual pleasures, though it's a shame Ip Man doesn't wear that excellent Raylan Givens-style hat for the whole movie.

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