Yi dai zong shi [The Grandmaster] (2013)

(On Cable TV, March 2015) I will always have a soft spot for visually-sumptuous martial arts movies, and at first glance The Grandmaster seems to fit the category.  A romanced account of the life of legendary martial artist Ip Man, this is a film that reaches back in relatively recent Chinese history to present a romanced biography that just happens to be filled with beautiful moments and many, many fights.  At first glance, this seems like an easy sell.  Unfortunately, there are a few disconnects in The Grandmaster, or at least the Americanized version I saw: The fights are beautiful (the opening gang fight in the rain is particularly impressive, and so it another fight set during winter near a train.) and the story has moments in which it is compelling, but the film as a whole feels long, disconnected, often-incomprehensible and maybe even focused on the wrong person when the story of Gong Er seems even more fascinating.  Tony Leung certainly is credible in the lead role, as is Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er.  Writer/Director Wong Kar-wai does great work in short bursts, but what I’ve seen (allowing for the usual butchery of americanized versions as handled by the Weinsteins) struggles to present a unified experience or even a coherent entertainment experience.  Too bad, because the best moments of the film could feature in a martial arts anthology sequence.

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