“The Grandmaster” is like a meal of all desserts, with maybe the tiniest bit of protein thrown in. You’ll feel decadent enjoying it, but everything is so tasty, it would be foolish to object.
An exercise in pure cinematic style filled with the most ravishing images, “The Grandmaster” finds director Wong Kar-wai applying his impeccable visual style to the mass-market martial arts genre with potent results. He’s found a way to join the romantic languor of his earlier films such as “In the Mood for Love” with the fury of Bruce Lee.
Working with his alter ego, actor Tony Leung, and an impressive Ziyi Zhang — and leaving the action choreography to the masterful Yuen Woo-ping (“The Matrix,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) — Wong indulges in mythmaking on the grandest scale.
It is Lee’s real-life martial arts teacher, the legendary Ip Man, played by Leung, who is the grandmaster of the title.
The saga begins in 1936, and though Chinese martial arts schools have traditionally been divided into north and south by the Yangtze River, a northern master named Gong Baosen (Wang Qingxiang) has headed south to the city of Foshan to seek a rapprochement before he retires.
Ip Man, as it turns out, is the most respected name in the southern school of Wing Chun. A family man and gentleman of leisure who’s devoted himself to the martial arts, he hangs out in the Gold Pavilion, the local brothel and gambling den where, the saying goes, many a man has “entered a prince and exited a pauper.”
Before we really find out much about Ip, we see him in action. “The Grandmaster” opens with the great man, wearing his trademark snap brim white fedora, taking on a crowd of martial artists who, for no apparent reason, attack him in a driving rainstorm. The scene is a pip.
Leung engaged in martial arts training for three years to prepare for this role. It pays in the imperturbable self-confidence he brings to his movements in this martial arts extravaganza.
Rated PG-13: Violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Now showing: Area theaters