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
National

New Apple iPhone to have 'mobile wallet' function:…

(Reuters) - Apple Inc plans to enable its next iPhone to become a mobile wallet by allowing owners to securely make mobile payments in a…

Money

Second Shift: Balancing school, work and a side…

See how a Brooklynite balances getting her PhD while working two other jobs.

Local

NYPD: Early morning shootings reported along West Indian…

Several shootings were reported in the early morning hours before the West Indian Day Parade, according to the NYPD. A 55-year-old man was shot and…

Money

Investing: Buying low, selling high

Learn how rebalancing can help you be successful in investing.

Entertainment

Where to place the blame in a nude…

When a celebrity's private photos are leaked online, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that they only have themselves to blame, since they took…

Gossip

Security expert weighs in on 'The Fappening' and…

We speak to Rik Ferguson, vice president of security firm Security Research at Trend Micro, about the hundreds of hacked celebrity photos that leaked.

Gossip

Who is Ashlee Simpson’s new husband anyway?

Find out five things about Ashlee Simpson's new husband, Evan Ross.

Entertainment

Jennifer Lawrence and more: The big names on…

The names of more than 100 famous actresses, musicians and athletes were included in a list of purported hacking victims, nude photos of whom were…

NFL

Odell Beckham still 'weeks away,' Tom Coughlin angry…

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has fought a losing battle against the media all preseason over the status of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

Travel

10 free apps to make traveling easier

Finding the nearest bathroom, calculating currency exchanges and locating your departure gate must have been difficult for travelers of previous generations. But we wouldn't know,…

Travel

How to get a seat upgrade to business…

It used to be much easier to upgrade your coach seat to business or even first class, but rigid rules and tighter schedules have made…

Career

The number of telecommuters is expected to nearly…

Until a few years ago, telecommuting was not considered a realistic option at most companies. But with technological advances like high-speed Internet and smartphones, more…

Wellbeing

Your new food ally to ward off type…

For people who may be headed for type 2 diabetes, regularly eating pistachios might help turn the tide, according to a small nutrition trial from…