The Grandmaster Review

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That's right Ip Man. Turn, turn in shame!

Jonathan Gonzalez, Impact Staff

The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. For the past half year or so I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see The Grandmaster. And why not? It’s another film based on the life of Ip Man and the titular 2008 film is a movie that’s very near and dear to me. Not to mention the raving reviews and the fact that Martin Scorsese had a hand in it were all enough to make my mouth water in anticipation. Once the opportunity to see this film presented itself I immediately seized it… It was a moment I would soon come to regret. Ladies and gentlemen, every year there’s at least one film that is completely over blown, one that is praised and lauded for its greatness but in the end it is nothing more than a sham. If I had the rotten luck of seeing this tripe in theaters I surely would have named it one of the worst films I had seen in 2013, and you can take that to the bank!

 

The story for The Grandmaster is one of the sloppiest, lazy and severely underdeveloped stories I have ever had the misfortune to come across. The film opens by stating that the Japanese have invaded China and that all the martial arts masters have come together to do something about it but never once happens throughout the entire film. In fact the film barely touches the concept of World War II and the Japanese invasion of China. The film brings up the idea for a brief moment and then makes a mad dash for the events of Ip Man’s life in Hong Kong. In fact the writer seems to take sadistic delight in leaving the audience completely in the dark since there are numerous scenes that are given no explanation, go nowhere and only served to leave me horribly confused and angry. There’s a scene in the beginning where Ip Man fights off a group of attackers but damned if I know what the purpose is. Are they Japanese soldiers? A group of violent hooligans that Ip Man crossed? No explanation is ever given. Fights also seem to come out of nowhere during the story with no build up or reason which causes them to come off as sudden and jarring. The only sense of a linear story I could find was early in the film dealing with Gong Yutian, a retiring grandmaster from the north who has come to the south to find a second grandmaster. He finds one in Ip Man which does not please Yutian’s daughter Gong Er who has a brief rivalry with Ip Man which quickly becomes a close friendship. Though it’s the only part of the story that I can find some semblance of sense it still does a poor job of keeping my attention, in fact by the time the film fast forwards past WWII and into the 1950’s (which by the way is a little over a half an hour into the film) I realized that I had no emotional connection to the story or the characters at all and this disconnection lasted throughout the entirety of the film. It isn’t long before the story just prattles on about nothing in general until Gong Er takes the entire film hostage with her story of vengeance. And Ip Man, the titular Grandmaster of this film, sits on the sidelines and becomes a spectator in his own movie. The massive subplot that is Gong Er’s vengeance story is one that had no business being in this movie and could have easily have been it’s own movie entirely. Overall the story is revolting mess that refuses to explain certain things, goes on for long periods of time dealing with nothing, tossing our main character aside in the third act and having absolutely no life, emotion or even a soul to it.

 

The characters for The Grandmaster are virtually non-existent.

Ip Man has no real personality. He’s the walking afterbirth of Donnie Yen’s version of the character and the filmmakers seemed to know this since his only defining feature was his hat! The character is entirely forgettable not only because of how unbelievably dull he is but rather the lack of any emotion put into him. There are many aspects that could have led to him being somewhat of an interesting character, mostly dealing with his family. We’re given tiny bits of information about the relationship he has with his non-existent wife, a terrible tragedy that befell two of his non-existent daughters during WWII and how he was forced to abandon his non-existent wife when he went to Hong Kong. All of this could have created good character development and great moments of tragedy and turmoil for Ip Man. Instead the film decides to sweep all of these great story elements under the rug. After all we can’t have anything like character development and emotional attachment to the characters in this film now can we?

 

Gong Er had the potential to be a good character because of what he father does. She knows he father’s style of martial arts very well but he tosses her aside and picks two men to take his place because she’s a woman. The film could have seized this golden opportunity to create some social commentary on women’s rights in China but once again we can’t have anything interesting like that so instead we get an underdeveloped friendship between her and Ip Man and a story of vengeance that goes on for far too long and has not a scrap of interest to it.

 

Ma San is the closest thing we have to an antagonist and once again the film loses the chance to have an interesting character. Ma San is very confusing; early on he randomly attacks a group of men and then vanishes for some time. Later we find out that during the war he joined the Japanese because… Hell, I don’t know, the film thinks having sensible motives is for squares. The character does display some sense of guilt over what he has done from time to time but sadly these moments go nowhere.

 

Lastly there’s Razor, a character who has no bearing on the story one way or another. So why do I bring him up? Because again the film had a character that had such great potential and with Razor he had the greatest potential of all: The film mentions briefly that he was once an assassin and a body guard to the emperor of China. It then shows us a scene of Razor ferociously beating a group of men half to death in a vicious fight. Finally, a character that is not only immensely interesting but could provide a great fight scene at last! Guess what? His fight with Ip Man lasts seconds, ending only because of some philosophical malarkey about his knife clanging against another knife.

 

The fight scenes for The Grandmaster are the most unforgiving of all. But with such a terrible story and such underdeveloped character how could the fights be the film’s most unforgiving feature? Simple: The fights show how horribly arrogant this film is. During the fights the film uses some very nice moments of cinematography that look very artsy and very pleasing to the eyes. But that’s just it, these moments of interesting cinematography take focus away from the fights and virtually ruins them. The film thinks it’s the cock of the walk for doing what it does but it only takes away the one thing that could have been good and entertaining. Actually, scratch that last remark because I’m most likely wrong. The fight choreography itself is abysmal, coming off as weak, sloppy and lacking that feeling of impact. The cinematography doesn’t help either as it only pulled me further and further out of the already terrible fight scenes. What’s more the film relies heavily on wire work effects which take away any semblance of entertainment from the already emaciated fight scenes.

 

Final Thoughts: To anyone out there who thought The Grandmaster was great; please tell me what film you saw because I would love to watch it. The one that I saw has an abysmal narrative that lacks emotion and throws out any idea of the term “sense” by the second act, the characters are terribly underdeveloped, the action scenes are downright awful and this film is so arrogant, so pretentious, so full of itself that I want to spit in absolute disgust just thinking about it.

 

Verdict: This Movie Sucks