Monday, August 19, 2013

Grand Visual Master

The Grandmaster (2013) - Wong
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Wong Kar Wai fans who's been waiting for this since it's first announcement back in...when was it, won't be disappointed. Even though it was Wong who initially started this Ip Man craze, given his notoriety for procrastination, his Grandmaster is the last to open after a series of Ip Man franchise. And since it's a WKW movie, Grandmaster is less about the famous martial arts master but the extreme visual fetishization of his life. There is not one frame of the film that are not screengrab worthy. Every frame, a work of art. As far as pure visual porn goes, it surpasses last year's Dredd (detractors, now is the time to speak up!)

Much like In the Mood for Love and 2046, theme-wise, we are safely in Wong territory: Unrequited love, lost chances, eternal beauty, etc. Unfortunately, because the film is based on a real life character, Wong has to resort to title cards for dates (as the timeline is heavily jumbled), hence, cramping his perfect sense of style. The unrequited love between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Lady Gong (Zhang Ziyi) is fluidly meshed together even though they have very little screen time together. It's as much Ip Man movie as it is Lady Gong movie, who is the real tragic figure in the story. Wong paints Gong as a woman who fell victim of its time and place: she takes the burden of revenging her father(master Gong)'s death, which consumes all her strength, despite everyone's advice to walk away from the man's world and 'settle down'- no time for love, no time for life. It is that short sparring between her and Ip, that fleeting moment when their bodies mingled like two dancing flames that she cherishes cheesy.

Seriously, that fight scene is not even the best one. The best is the one between Lady Gong and Ma San, the former pupil of/who killed papa Gong at the snowy train station, Leone style. Wong employs slightly slower shutter speed in seriously dark (the whole movie is dark dark dark) fight sequences where actors' faces and moving hands get accentuated against velvety black backdrop. The effect is close to an elegant ballroom dancing rather than kung fu. The worst are the ones in the trailers in the rain which is nothing more than an exercise in super slow-mo for a tire/windshield wiper commercial.

Since it's about these two lovebirds (who are not really lovers), everything else is just window dressing. Ip's wife and two kids never once factor in to the picture, nor does the Japanese Occupation and unfortunately, nor the Razor (Chen Chang) who takes up three meaty scenes which never develops into anything. My guess is his scenes are severely cut due to its length (the version I saw was already 2 hrs 10 minutes and seemed long). Since it's a Wong movie, I wouldn't be surprised if there already was a redux version or director's cut in the works.

All in all, it's a rapturous visual experience and on par with his later works on every level. Too bad I don't find joy in his films anymore. At some point he traded off his playfulness with static elegance, coquettishness with stoicism, humor with slow-mo raindrops. He might be back in form, but I'm not interested in what he's selling anymore.

**It's been said that the version I saw is different than the US version. The US release is shorter and more linear in structure. Keep that in mind, folks.

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