The Grandmaster (2013)

TGM teaser 1sht

Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure

Cast: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi

Synopsis: A film about the life of Ip Man and how he romanced Zhang Ziyi by trying to beat her up.

I included The Grandmaster on my list of best films in 2013 so you know it’s going to get a good review. I can’t really beat around the bush with this film so I’ll make it plain, simple and quick: Zhang Ziyi smacking guys around while wearing fabulous fur coats in the snow is bloody good. I have an unusual love for women beating up men (I swear it’s not a sexual thing) and this film satisfied that love whilst fulfilling my need for a satisfying narrative.

On one hand, this film is very Wong Kar Wai. On the other hand, this film is not. When I think of Wong Kar Wai I think of the beautiful yet quiet intimacy of In the Mood for Love. The Grandmaster, however, takes a very different approach because it is a martial arts epic. Lingering looks and ennui are replaced here with a fist to the chops or a train to the face. It’s interesting to see Wong Kar Wai step outside of his comfort zone and try something new but lovers of the director need not fear because The Grandmaster has his trademark love for gorgeous cinematography and style. Slow motion fights in the rain and snow and close-ups feature prominently in this film. However, it’s the beautiful human drama and the pant-tightening chemistry between the two main characters, Ip Man and some chick who knows how to skin a cat and make a beautiful coat, which makes this a true Wong Kar Wai film.

Body language also plays a similar role in this film as it did in In the Mood for Love. Each movement from Ziyi and Leung is pure poetry in motion and their sizzling chemistry is shown through their exchange of punches and kicks as much as it is through their conversations. It does help a little that the fighting style used in this film is spectacularly beautiful but even if it wasn’t I think Ziyi and Leung would make it beautiful and erotically charged. Hell, they could be playing the spoons and it would still be sexy thanks to Ziyi’s dance background and Leung’s background as a devilishly sexy man.

If I had to level criticism at the film it would be this: it’s too fucking long and it can feel like a really long time between scenes in which something important happens. I guess that makes the film a little more life-like…I mean, lord knows I’m not pushing people into speeding trains on a daily basis…that’s more of a weekend kind of activity. Still, the fighting was so beautiful I wanted to see more of it. I hope this isn’t Wong Kar Wai’s last attempt to do a martial arts opera…or he should at least pop down the local pub on a Friday night and film a knife fight and make it beautiful.


  • Beautiful cinematography and wonderful costumes. I’m against fur in principle….but damn it looks good…and it saves lives when you’re on the run from Japanese forces. Seriously though, beautiful scene.
  • Exciting and innovative fight scenes…including one involving a cake.
  • The characters share a great deal of chemistry.


  • Too long.
  • A somewhat romanticised portrayal of bound feet. After reading Wild Swans, I’ve learnt that women with bound feet could barely walk and would not have been able to kick guys in the nuts.


While it’s not as good as In the Mood for Love, The Grandmaster still has some of that Wong Kar Wai charm that’s oh so great when you’ve got a buzz going on. If you like dramatic films with an exciting action twist then you’ll like this movie. If you like beautiful visuals, then you’ll like this movie. I think the only people who won’t like this movie a members of Peta. Also, there is a pet monkey in this movie. Yeah, if you’re a member of Peta you won’t like this movie.




Filed under Action/Adventure, Drama, Great

4 responses to “The Grandmaster (2013)

  1. nasen75

    As I said in your 2013 highlight list, I LOVED this movie because of its audio-visual flourish, but it lacked the humanity of Wong’s other movies like In the Mood for Love or 2046. That said, it did have the bonus of having Zhang Ziyi, who in my opinion is basically one of the most beautiful women to have ever existed.

  2. nasen75

    And if you like seeing Zhang Ziyi kick the crap out of guys (who wouldn’t?), you should totally see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which I personally felt was more successful as a martial arts movie than The Grandmaster was.

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