The Grandmaster is Masterful!

By Henry Bailey

I don’t see many movies in theaters anymore these days. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the cinema – I’m just in the camp of people who have begun to find more enjoyable (and more affordable) entertainment elsewhere. Of course, for my movie needs, I tend to wait until something pops up on my Time Warner On Demand service, or any number of streaming options like Netflix, HBO Go, etc.

The truth is, though, most of my entertainment time is now sucked into thrilling games and activities. I might spend a whole afternoon sifting through Betfair Casino for an appealing poker tournament or new arcade option to put some real money on the line with. This online casino, to me, brings more interactive pleasure than the average movie experience coming out of Hollywood today, not to mention a more diverse range of entertainment. But this past weekend, I was tempted into a film by a review from Peter Travers, and I have to say – “The Grandmaster” is worth every penny of my matinee ticket (not to mention the $12.50 my popcorn and drink cost me).

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “The Grandmaster,” it’s something of a pseudo-biographical film depicting the well-known (at least in martial arts and martial arts movie circles) Ip Man, the legendary martial artist master who trained, among many esteemed proteges, Bruce Lee. The film was directed by Wong Kar Wai, and stars the increasingly legendary Tony Leung as the Grandmaster himself.

If you heard the film’s tagline – “The Grandmaster will be revealed” – saw the trailers, and generally paid attention to the basic concept, you were probably expecting (as I was) yet another martial arts movie that vaguely struck a note as a years-later follow-up to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” I don’t mean to belittle the genre by any means, but Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger” was just so good – and so original – that many fine martial arts films since have felt like lesser versions of the same idea.

What will strike you if you see “The Grandmaster” is that it’s so much more. This is a film about history and love as much as it is one about martial arts, and as such Wong is able to make it a film that completely removes you from real life for a few hours – which, really, is exactly what we want the cinema to do for us, and exactly why this movie is worth the price even in today’s world of advanced home streaming services. Following Ip Man (Leung) through his defeat of a rival and semi-attraction/ensuing rivalry with his daughter (played by the always wonderful Ziyi Zhang), the movie gives you a true sense of Chinese history in the high age of martial arts, and shows you breathtaking and varied scenery along the way.

All in all, “The Grandmaster” is not perfect as a narrative experience, but as a movie meant to showcase not only a genre but the history behind it, it truly is masterful.

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