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Early Reviews: Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' Is a Dazzling and Contemplative Martial Arts Epic (UPDATED, TRAILER)

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood July 25, 2013 at 1:33PM

Discussing his new film "The Grandmaster" at the Academy on July 22, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai ("2046," "My Blueberry Nights," "In the Mood for Love") described the alchemy of image and sound in cinema: "It isn't one plus one. It's chemistry."

Despite a structure that confuses at times, a subplot that adds little beyond a scintillating fight, and a running time (130 mins) that could be trimmed, it’s a combination hard to beat commercially, which is no doubt why the film has already proved so successful in China, and why Harvey Weinstein is willing to make business again with Wong’s executive producer Megan Ellison, with whom Weinstein has had issues. (from Berlin):

A lush visual epic based loosely on the life of Ip Man, the legendary martial artist who trained Bruce Lee, “The Grandmaster” – like all of Wong’s movies – is meticulously made and extraordinary to look at. Leung makes his entrance fending off a slew of challengers with his bare hands, during a downpour no less. As he swirls, kicks and jabs amid the raindrops, the Panama hat he’s wearing turns damp and soft, yet it still looks great, a bit of Hollywood glamour that can’t be destroyed even when left to the elements. Leung and his cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd capture it all with the utmost care, and if it had been possible to choreograph the movements of individual raindrops, they would have.

But the self-serious precision of “The Grandmaster” may also be its greatest enemy. This is a story told in shards; Wong is so obsessed with visual details – faces refracted as if in a broken mirror, or fragile arcs of blood being traced out on the pavement by the feet of two feuding kung fu masters – that the story he’s trying to tell is partly obscured by them.

The House Next Door (from Karlovy Vary):

[The film] gives us compositions filled with slowly, sensually unraveling smoke; fight sequences that are breathtaking in the rhythmic precision of their shot construction and sound design; many shots of feet (because, as Ip Man explains, it's important to remain standing in martial arts, whether you're vertical or horizontal); tableaux so carefully textured and colored that the eyes go mad trying to register it all; and, of course, much slow motion.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Wong Kar-wai, The Grandmaster, The Grandmaster

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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.