Sunday, September 8, 2013

Grandmaster (2013, Theatrical Release)

The first Kung Fu Romantic Documentary
Rating: 2 out of 5 of the 64 Palms

Review:  I am a fan of two things, superhero fiction (whatever form that may take) and kung fu movies.  Superhero movies I almost prefer to see alone if I'm going to go see one, I don't know why, it's just not an experience I'm keen on sharing.  But kung fu movies I really only want to see with someone else.  Again I don't know why but I find them to be more enjoyable with another person.

  As I left the theater last night with a friend we were discussing the movie we had just watched and I said that I was "struggling to define it", 12 hours later and I still struggle with that.  I guess Kung Fu Romantic Documentary would be the most apt description.

  The movie itself is good, not great but good.  It is also long.  But the visuals are quite amazing at times and I can't help but feel that every scene is steeped in symbolism that I can only begin to comprehend.  The acting is really well done be everyone involved and the kung fu on display is amazing.  I think it was Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan at one point saying that they have to slow down for the camera in order for the camera to catch everything that's happening.  There is one scene where a Master fights a room full of guys and I don't think they told the guy playing the Master to slow down because he moves faster than you can see and it was quite something.  The other fight scenes are choreographed immaculately and are some of the best fight scenes I've seen.  The pacing, the slowing down and speeding up, the forms and the skill on display are quite something and almost make up for the rest of the movie.

  The movie itself is weird.  I had a real hard time following the narrative and it almost seemed to me that we weren't supposed to care about the overall narrative but rather focus on one set piece at a time and take what we could from that.  But the basic structure was Fight Scene with Super Kung Fu - Character Scene with Romance - Big Block of Biographical Text with Narration - Fight Scene with Super Kung Fu - etc.  It's a hard to follow, herky jerky narrative.  One moment I'm watching two guys crush a car with the power of their kicks and the next I'm being told about the life of Ip Man and am watching his mundane interactions with the world at large after which I'm thrust back into a guy called "Razor" fighting in the rain.  He vanishes, we get a block of text about Ip Man and then we have Ip being offered a cigarette by a Tai Chi master and nothing happens, we instead get a block of text and then a fight scene.  All these scenes are brilliantly shot and acted so I almost didn't mind but by the end of the movie it started to wear on me.

  I was expecting a kung fu movie and what is there is mostly what I call "Kung Fu Romance" which sort of goes hand in hand with the concept of "Heroic Bloodshed" as something totally unique to the Hong Kong action film.  Kung Fu Romance is exactly that.  Not only does it refer to typical notions of romance, two people love each other, but also displays kung fu as romantic.  It is in love with kung fu, it talks about philosophy, about the people who practice it, it romanticizes the forms and the fights and the culture.  At one point Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) spar and it is almost treated as a sexual connection of body and soul that lasts their entire lives.  That is Kung Fu Romance, not just guys beating each other up but a focus on romanticizing everything about kung fu, making it this thing above all other things.  It might be worth a look at some point but I don't know if I'd rush out to go see it in the theaters or even buy it first day on DVD, I'd probably wait until it comes out on Netflix or Redbox or a movie channel.  But the cinematography, the kung fu and the philosophy espoused during the movie make it worthy of consideration just keep in mind that this emphases the ROMANCE in Kung Fu Romance.

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