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Early Review Roundup: Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' Strikes a Balance Between Haunting Style and True Kung Fu

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 9, 2013 at 11:31AM

Two early reviews for Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's highly anticipated and long-gestating "The Grandmaster" have hit the web, both praising the film's deft balance between being a "beautiful" kung fu genre movie and a stylish exploration of many of the director's career-long themes. Complaints include that the film has been cut drastically from its intended length, and that actor Chang Chen is given too little screen time, while muse Tony Leung "lacks his usual intensity." Highlights below, updates to be added as more reviews come in.
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"The Grandmaster"
"The Grandmaster"

Two early reviews for Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's highly anticipated and long-gestating "The Grandmaster" have hit the web, both praising the film's deft balance between being a "beautiful" kung fu genre movie and a stylish exploration of many of the director's career-long themes. Complaints include that the film has been cut drastically from its intended length, and that actor Chang Chen is given too little screen time, while muse Tony Leung "lacks his usual intensity." Highlights below, updates to be added as more reviews come in.

"The Grandmaster" will have its European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

Variety:

Venturing into fresh creative terrain without relinquishing his familiar themes and stylistic flourishes, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai exceeds expectations with "The Grandmaster," fashioning a 1930s action saga into a refined piece of commercial filmmaking. Boasting one of the most propulsive yet ethereal realizations of authentic martial arts onscreen, as well as a merging of physicality and philosophy not attained in Chinese cinema since King Hu's masterpieces, the hotly anticipated pic is sure to win new converts from the genre camp.

Leung, the helmer's frequent muse, lacks his usual intensity here: His Ip Man reveals few distinct characteristics in the early scenes except humility, and shows little emotional variation even as he falls on hard times. Even less satisfyingly handled is the peripheral character of Razor (Chang Chen), a violent and enigmatic drifter whose purpose in the story is so underexplained that he could easily have been excised, despite figuring into one fabulously shot and fought action scene.

Twitch:

There is clearly a much longer film here. Reports abound that until very recently, Wong had a four-hour cut of the film, while the version that goes on general release in Hong Kong and China this week clocks in at about 130 minutes…

Many of the recurring themes that Wong allows to permeate his work resurface in The Grandmaster. Characters have fleeting encounters that are never built upon, but which continue to haunt them for years afterwards. Time proves once again to be everyone's greatest enemy, not only causing people to grow old, but also to forget the things they held most dear - and in this film particularly, the idea that age makes them weak, and less able to defend themselves plagues them relentlessly. Because, of course, for all its melancholy musing and forlorn contemplation, this is a film about martial artists and The Grandmaster is one hell of a beautiful kung fu movie.

This article is related to: Reviews, Wong Kar-wai, The Grandmaster, Berlin International Film Festival


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.