Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Grandmaster

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Grandmaster (the American Cut) - dir. Wong Karwai. 2013. Angelika.

The life of the martial artist Ip Man from the 1930's through the late 1950's, covering his ascendancy in the world of martial arts, the war with Japan, and his exile in Hong Kong. Parallel plot about his star-crossed, long-distance, strictly emotional love affair with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the eponymous grandmaster, and her struggle as a woman in the martial arts world to preserve her father’s legacy and avenge his (spoiler alert) murder.

I asked my friend Axel, who saw the international cut of the before me, how it was, whether WKW had sold out. Axel said, don't worry, "It's about feelings." He was right. A lovely film, occasionally moving, occasionally poetic, mostly just entertaining.

WKW is a sensualist, a stylist, an expressionist, a romantic, all frills and fireworks. His films are so spectacular, so saturated, they work best when there is a tension between form and content. Otherwise they can be a bit exhausting. His films can make small things seem monumental and makes the world-historical poignantly personal. At their best, their style does not simply express, in some simple or one-to-one way, the interior states of the characters but stands in dynamic relation to them, trying to draw out and amplify what the characters conceal. This is what makes In the Mood for Love, a story of repressed love, more interesting than Happy Together, a story of a love so hot it burns itself out. In the former, the film magnifies the tiniest cracks in the facades of two characters doing everything in their power to hide the way they feel. In the latter, the film acts as a megaphone for the already larger-than-life emotions of the two lovers.

This being the case, the heart of The Grandmaster is not Tony Leung, who has little to do besides smile beatifically and act like a gentleman, but Zhang Ziyi. The whole film around her is singing a fucking aria of emotion, and she is as cold and hard as an ice statue--and just as liable to at any moment break into a thousand pieces.

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