Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'The Grandmaster' Packs Powerful Tale

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'The Grandmaster' Packs Powerful Tale

Article excerpt

Only two movies have come close to wringing water out of these old tear ducts of mine this year. Both featured actresses in performances that were so luminous that I considered myself lucky to be alive to enjoy them.

One was by Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine," Woody Allen's best film in three decades. The other belonged to Ziyi Zhang in Wong Kar- wai's meditative martial arts biopic "The Grandmaster."

As Gong Er, a doctor who practices "64 Hands," a lethal form of martial arts, she isn't even the movie's star. That honor belongs to Tony Leung, who is equally compelling and distinguished as Ip Man, the master of the Wing Chun school of Kung Fu and the Grandmaster of the title.

Ip Man is a name that is familiar to fans of Bruce Lee. He was that martial arts master's teacher in Hong Kong and the one credited with steering him from the path of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s.

In the past decade, Ip Man has become something of a cottage industry in China. He's the focus of dueling multipart movie biographies and TV shows, with each iteration of his life on the big screen taking him further down the road into the same legendary fog that engulfed his most famous student.

Now Ip Man (also known as Yip Man) is a mythological figure whose system of self-defense was considered so perfect that it was impossible for friend or foe to catch him in a moment where he was anything less than poised.

Certainly as portrayed in "The Grandmaster" by Mr. Leung, Ip Man is the epitome of dignified stoicism but also happens to be capable of explosive action at a moment's notice. His is a life that spans the indolent last days of the Qing Dynasty to the brutal Japanese occupation of China to self-exile in Hong Kong in the '50s after disasters have decimated his family.

The film opens with the wealthy but disciplined Ip Man fighting off a contingent of attackers in the rain. He wears a hat and a full- length coat that barely ruffles during the fight he dominates easily. It is a brutal but beautiful set piece that alternates between balletic and bombastic thanks to the film's director of photography, Philippe Le Sourd.

Audiences are soon escorted into a world of ceremonial challenges and elaborate duels between rival martial arts schools from the northern and southern regions of China. …

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