Expressionistic filmmaker Wong Kar-wai takes on kung fu

Zhang Ziyi is seen in one of the many beautiful images in "The Grandmaster." Credit: The Weinstein Company
Zhang Ziyi is seen in one of the many beautiful images in “The Grandmaster.”
Credit: The Weinstein Company

The martial arts legend and teacher Ip Man has birthed a veritable cottage industry of recent biopics that have pounced on every last second of his life — or at least his myth. This year alone already boasts “Ip Man: The Final Fight.” Because of that, the one made by expressionistic filmmaker Wong Kar-wai (“In the Mood for Love”) is free to do what it wants. It does and it doesn’t. Make no mistake: This is a film by Wong Kar-wai — that is, moody, free-form, more about interior life than action, albeit with just enough ass-kicking to get by.

Wong — making his first feature since 2007’s rickety “My Blueberry Nights,” starring Norah Jones — would seem an odd man to handle kung fu fighting. But he finds a middle ground. The scenes where Ip (Tony Leung) takes on foes exist precisely on the line separating smackdowns and grace. The tussles make coherent sense, but just barely. Every kick or hit is felt, and hard, but each blow comes punctuated with a sensuous slow-motion close-up — hands precisely, elegantly making contact, or rain drops flying from spinning bodies.

For the first half, the story is oddly coherent for Wong, too. He’s a filmmaker who often gets lost in his own films, losing the bigger picture to details, rituals and asides. It’s odd seeing him trace Ip’s rise from a nobody who’s been secretly practicing the Wing Chung style for years to his first brush with fame.

The Wong of old rallies in the second, which shifts to Ip’s relationship with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the headstrong (and entirely invented) daughter of a martial arts master. The two never consummate their passions, but passions do bloom. The duels in “The Grandmaster” are closer to dance, but the one between Ip and Gong is like hot sex. They seem to float as they pummel each other on a staircase, their noses almost touching as they spin past each other.

The version of “The Grandmaster” shown in America has been shorn of 20 minutes, by the infamous Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein, albeit with Wong’s aid. There’s slightly more action in this cut, and the last act is radically restructured to placate martial arts nerds. This kind of makes sense: The Hong Kong/Chinese cut becomes increasingly melancholic, mourning Ip’s transition from promising man of action to teacher. (The American version dwells on a young pupil, who is implied to be Ip’s most storied protege, Bruce Lee.) Attempts to punch up the ending make for some structural incoherence, especially since Gong eventually becomes more of a presence than Ip. In either cut, the film is imperfect — but no one does imperfect like Wong.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

'Five Star': A coming-of-age story about Brooklyn's gang…

'Five Star' tells a coming-of-age story about Brooklyn's gang culture at the Tribeca Film Festival.

National

New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for…

By David DeKokHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach"…

Local

NYPD detective shoots partner: DA

A New York City Police detective was arrested early Thursday and charged with driving under the influence while on the clock.

Local

Judge strikes down NY limits on donations to…

A federal judge on Thursday reluctantly struck down New York's limits on donations to independent political action committees as unconstitutional, potentially ushering in a new…

Movies

Tribeca: 'Goodbye to All That' star Paul Schneider…

Paul Schneider talks about his new film "Goodbye to All That," not acting too much and how he'd rather indulge in simple pleasures than play the scene.

The Word

Taylor Swift battles paparazzi daily at Tribeca penthouse

We're entranced by these photos of poor Taylor Swift leaving her Tribeca apartment.

Movies

'A Brony Tale' documents men who are into…

Ashleigh Ball, a voice actress on "My Little Pony," speaks to us.

Movies

Tribeca: Nikki Reed on going funny for a…

"Intramural" star Nikki Reed talks about being the straight person in a broad comedy, spending time in Austin and how "Thirteen" was a "miracle."

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

MLB

5 infamous pitcher ejections for cheating

Never fear Yankees fans, Michael Pineda is far from the first MLB pitcher to be thrown out of a game for cheating.

MLB

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda ejected for using pine…

Pineda was thrown out of the game against the Red Sox Wednesday for having pine tar on his neck -- for all the world to see.

NFL

Giants 2014 regular season schedule

The Giants will play five prime-time games — against the Lions, Redskins, Eagles, Colts and Cowboys.

Parenting

New study: Inside the wage gap between boys…

According to a new study, there's a wage gap between boys and girls, with boys earning more allowance for less chores.

Tech

From Apple TV to Fire TV, big changes…

Apple is set to launch a new generation of it's Apple TV, which grossed over $1 billion in 2013. But competition from Amazon and Google looms.

Style

Katy Perry releases a new Claire’s collection

Katy Perry expands her empire by releasing an accessories collection at Claire's.

Style

MAC & Proenza Schouler collection unveiled

MAC Cosmetics is releasing a new collection with Proenza Schouler.