The Grandmaster ( 一代宗师) dir. Wong Kar-wai. 2013.
“My father would always say, people who practice martial arts go through three stages: seeing yourself, seeing the world, seeing all living beings.”
Based on the life story of wing chun master Ip Man, The Grandmaster is an award-winning Hong Kong-Chinese martial arts drama starring Tony Leung as Ip Man and Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er. The film encapsulates Ip Man’s life, from his peaceful marriage in Foshan to his escape to Hong Kong after the Second Sino-Japanese War and rounding out with his founding of a successful martial arts school.
The Grandmaster can be considered an unorthodox action film. Rather than focus solely on the commercial thrill of violence, it depicts wing chun as an art of caution and intelligence and the personal battles of morality that define true fighting. For instance, when Ip Man challenges the martial arts grandmaster Gong Yutian, they engage in a battle of philosophy and wits, not fists. Ip Man is later challenged by Gong’s daughter, Gong Er, and the two clash in a fight of delicacy and precision, with the terms that whoever breaks a piece of furniture during the fight loses. Gong Er’s grapple with the values behind fighting insidiously tainted by wartime’s sprawling fear is front and center in the film. Wong showcases Ip Man’s intellectual and spiritual prowess, underscoring the thoughtful fluidity lurking beneath each swift movement.
In terms of production, The Grandmaster is known for having an extensive development time. Leung reportedly spent years training in wing chun for this movie and broke his arm in the process. The Grandmaster is Wong’s most expensive production to date, and Wong cites the quickly expanding Chinese film industry as the impetus driving the dissemination of more structurally advanced Sino features around the world.
“They say I spread wing chun throughout the world. I hope that’s true. I didn’t do it to acquire renown. The martial arts should be open to all, everyone should walk the same route. It all comes down to two words: Horizontal, Vertical.”My father would always say, people who practice martial arts go through three stages: seeing yourself, seeing the world, seeing all living beings.”