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The Grandmaster (2013) Movie Review

August 31, 2013

Movies, like martial arts, have many styles. Action, though powerful, will not inspire contemplation. Just as over time masters combined martial arts styles, “The Grandmaster” beautifully combines stylish action with cerebral philosophy. While there is enough action to satisfy the young, there is plenty of beauty and elegance to instill wonder in the older crowd.

The film focuses on the life of IP Man as he moves from promising young upstart to master and teacher. Every frame is purposeful in its execution, showing the skill of a master cinematographer. Fights are interspersed with slow-motion close-up shots of the environment and the fighters’ clothes to offer perspective rarely seen.

The film was modified slightly to prepare it for the American audience. 20 minutes were cut and some explanations added. I was ready to criticize the changes going in. Fortunately the film felt complete and I appreciated the explanations. I may watch the original Chinese version sometime in the future but I no longer feel any rush to do so. Director Wong Kar Wai made most of the changes himself and it shows.

Musically the film makes good use of existing pieces and shines with original score. Composer Shigeru Umebayashi worked with Nathaniel Mechaly on the film. They wrote some elegant themes and percussive action music. The main theme for cello is hauntingly beautiful and fits the characters well.

If you enjoy Chinese martial arts films, “The Grandmaster” is worth watching for the bone-crunching action and historical perspective. Just be sure you are ready for reading subtitles and thinking throughout.
4.5/5

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