Monday, September 9, 2013
Mark Ahn Knows Kung-fu: The Grandmaster
Please note that the following review is based on the North American cut of the film rather than the longer domestic Chinese and “international” versions.
The characters all live by a code derived from their shared discipline of martial arts, but the differences come in how each of them interpret what that code means. Sometimes the people who are most dedicated to a code or a certain lifestyle still experience doubts or look back to wonder upon missed opportunities, and Wong Kar-wai dwells, as he tends to do, in these more ambiguous places of the heart; it is a movie built on an atmosphere filled with smoky rooms, steady gazes, grainy sepia (which didn’t always work for me, admittedly), and nattily dressed people in suits and furs throwing punches and kicks. Everything prim and proper on the outside to hide the turmoil inside. Wong juxtaposes these understated and conflicted characters with carefully composed shots of a China which is changing rapidly because of political events; for both the characters and their country, time is slipping away, and change is coming whether it’s wanted or not.
Zhang Ziyi is noteworthy for her standout performance. I’d speculate that most Western audiences still remember her in roles marked by a girly, coltish energy, which makes sense since she was in her early 20s when she was making Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Rush Hour 2 and Hero. She’s 34 now, far removed from playing petulant adolescence, or wide-eyed naivete, and her age suits the more mature character of Gong Er, a strong woman who is resigned to bearing her wounds gracefully, rather than as excuses to lash out at the world.
That said, I sincerely hope that this movie finds an audience, if only for comparing this one to the potentially better version that could be out there, but also for enjoying a movie from a gifted director meditating on one of his primary concerns.