Western critics loved this film about Bruce Lee's teacher even though most of them probably missed the numerous nods to the true martial arts lifestyle.
The Grandmaster (2013) is the first and only kung fu movie to come from Hong Kong film auteur Wong Kar-wai, but by no means does it suffer because of that. In fact, Western critics loved The Grandmaster — even though most probably didn’t grasp its full meaning. Wong is no noob when it comes to filmmaking. His resume includes Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000) and My Blueberry Nights (2007). So when he conceived of The Grandmaster as an authentic depiction of wing chun kung fu that features purposefully hidden martial arts nuances, it’s safe to say he knew what he was doing. You can’t blame the reviewers for failing to notice those concealed treasures. The truth is, anyone who’s not a martial arts practitioner likely won’t appreciate the subtleties of the film. Zhang Zi Yi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers) as the daughter of Gong Yu-tian. Before Wong Kar-wai started shooting the movie, he devoted several years to research, roaming around China in search of old kung fu masters. He even lived with a few so he could learn about and actually experience the traditions of the martial arts. During that time, many of those masters shared stories that otherwise would never have been told.
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Wong began to understand what it means to be a martial artist. Hint: It’s not about fighting or winning tournaments. The most important parts of the picture Wong discovered were intelligently inserted into The Grandmaster, as were the words that became mantra for the film: seeing, knowing and doing. That mantra is what inspired lead actor Tony Leung to practice kung fu for three years in preparation for the role. The first year of his training took place under the shadow of not even knowing who he would portray in the film. After suffering two broken bones, which served as his comeuppance into the real world of martial arts, Leung became concerned not that he’d be unable to execute the required film fights in a convincing manner but that he might hurt his opponents in the process. The Grandmaster loosely chronicles the life of Ip Man (also spelled Yip Man), the man who trained Bruce Lee. It starts in the 1930s, when Ip lived in China, continues through the events that caused him to flee to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover and ends with his death in 1972. The movie opens with Ip reflecting on martial arts, then cuts to a rainy scene in which he faces a dozen combatants. The water really tested Leung's mettle. He later said it was the toughest scene to film. For 30 consecutive nights, Leung and the stuntmen were soaked to the teeth. Each time, no one was allowed to change into dry clothes until filming wrapped the next morning. The Weinstein Co.) Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
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