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'The Grandmaster' review: What is happening?

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

August 29, 2013

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* (out of four)

Let’s list some of the many things that don’t make sense about “The Grandmaster”:

-- The true story of Ip Man, the martial-arts master who eventually trained Bruce Lee, has been covered three times in the past five years (full disclosure: I haven’t seen them), with at least one more on the way soon. Yet overrated Chinese director/co-writer Wong Kar Wai (“In the Mood for Love”) needed to re-address this story?

-- Throughout the movie, text appears on screen to summarize plot points that aren’t shown. We’re not talking mundane detail. It’s developments like Ip Man (President Obama look-alike Tony Leung) declining the Japanese’s offer of immunity and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) vowing to avenge her father and never marry. Maybe we should actually see those key moments in action, huh?

-- The entire movie focuses on who’s better at various martial arts forms and how the forms vary. Except all the fighting happens so quickly and so close to the camera it’s impossible to differentiate any fighter or style from anything else. Unless you’re a master yourself, it just looks like a lot of similar punching and kicking.

-- Speaking of close-ups: Practically the entire, claustrophobic movie features extreme close-ups of all characters. What’s wrong with sometimes seeing the tops of people’s heads?

-- The film notes that masters from the north of China go south and bring their martial arts skills with them. What, as opposed to leaving their skills at home?

To be fair, a much-different cut of the film reportedly was chopped up for American audiences. Whatever. This super-serious, horribly-told story may focus on kung fu, but it put me in an almost instant sleeper hold. The dialogue rages from Ip Man saying, “You’ve performed well in the opera of life” to repetitive metaphors about chess moves staying on the board/arrows not going back to the bow/etc. I also have no idea why one fighter daring Ip Man to break a piece of cake shows that the master’s skill is “too great” or why Gong Er would say something as absurd as, “Words always sound better sung.”

To the tune of “Happy birthday,” try singing even your most mundane conversations and let me know how that goes!

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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