With visuals so spellbinding and enough fast-paced martial arts fights that your eyes cannot keep up with, it comes to a shock that The Grandmaster turned out to be dull.
Produced by the Weinstein Company, the biographic drama tells the story of martial arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. The film begins in South China, 1936, but takes you around the country showing the turbulent times and the hostility the countrymen felt toward the Japanese.
The riveting visual effects are expected for a household name in the industry such as the Weinsteins and work well to amplify the film's kung fu battles, but there is not much else capturing your attention. The film opens with music that gets you in the element - strong drumming mixed with a tender violin that has your heart pounding - but that captivating element is gone once the story itself begins.
The fight scenes, which are excited to watch for technique and seeing them beat the hell out of each other, are wasted because they don't hold your attention until the end. In fact, fight scenes drives the entire story from start to finish with nothing else in the passenger seat for support. The brawls also don't do enough; don't go far enough to amaze the viewer.
Honor, reputation, family struggles and a hint of love engross the lives of the lead stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Ziyi Zhang as Ip Man and his lover/friend Gong Er. The characters all talk in riddles about codes of honor and discipline, which is also a bore to listen to for 123 minutes. There is a line about the symbolism of breaking a cookie that really went over my head.
It is also impossible to care of these characters or connect with them, which almost dares the audience to fall asleep in the theater.
There are title cards explaining how the story progresses but the main story is as follows: when Japan was invading China, the different styles of kung fu were determined by geography with north of the Yangtze one way and south was another. A great martial artist known as Ip Man married together the two styles and mastered them, becaming a visionary in the field.
When the Japanese army takes over Ip Man flees to Hong Kong. He joins a training school as a teacher and puts on a good show when he fights some of the students to prove his expertise. In town he reunites with Gong Er and the only other exciting part from there on is part of a flashback where she gets in a fight with a guy trying to steal her family's honor.
Throughout the film you only watch the beautiful scenery or the swift motions of the hands and legs as the characters battle it out - though they never battle it out to the death, which again, is boring.
Gong Er says growing up "the sound most familiar to me was that of bones breaking." We understand martial arts takes discipline but oh, if only there were more bones breaking in this film.