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The Grandmaster – Blu-ray Review


Title: The Grandmaster

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :5stars:
Extras: :3.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:86

The Grandmaster is certainly grand, easily establishing itself as one of the most visually stunning Martial Arts movies ever made. Painted, framed, and hung by famed Chinese director Kar Wai Wong, the film is an intensely passionate look at the divided Kung Fu scene of early to mid-twentieth century China with a particular focus on a legend named Ip Man (Tony Leung) and a woman named Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi). While most heros of Chinese lore often lack Western cultural recognition, the name Bruce Lee is a household staple. Just to connect some dots, Ip Man was Bruce Lee’s true-life master and inspiration.

This, the American version of The Grandmaster, is the film’s third iteration, with the two previous being international releases. The upside is that the film was brought to America with the graces of its director. The downside is that the film was clipped for American audiences, leaving over 20 minutes of footage on the editing floor. The resulting tightened-up presentation replaces that footage with added narration and captions to explain certain plot points that were assumed to be too confusing for those unfamiliar with Chinese history.


The film begins in Foshan, Ip Man’s hometown in the Southern portion of China. Wasting no time, it hits with power and grit, featuring a punishing rain-soaked fight sequence that pits Ip Man against a dozen fighters (including a fantastic final battle with a character played by three time world champion Martial Artist, Cung Le). Unbeknownst to Ip, a retiring Grandmaster from Northern China (Gong Yutian, played by Qingxiang Wang) witnesses his decisive victory. Gong Yutian has already appointed his heir in the North, and decides that the South should also have an heir. The Southern Masters are skeptical of Ip Man’s chosen style of Kung Fu called Wing Chun. It’s a seemingly simplistic style, but is devastatingly deadly (especially in close quarters). After several tests and much deliberation, the Masters submit Ip Man as the challenger to Gong Yutian. Following a unique twist, Ip is victorious only to be re-challenged by Yutian’s beautiful yet bitter daughter, Gong Er.

The Ip Man versus Gong Er battle turns into a fierce romantic ballet, with implications of infidelity and lust intertwined with Gong Er’s passionate defense of her family’s name. Unlike a battle to physical defeat, Ip Man and Gong Er agree that the loser would be identified as the one that damages a piece of furniture during the fight; Ip delivers a deadly blow to a step with his foot and Gong Er leaves victorious. This is the first of a chain of loses for Ip Man. Several years later, the Second Sino-Japanese War destroys his wealth and his family. He eventually moves to Hong Kong looking for a better life, choosing to become a Grandmaster of the Wing Chun style. Meanwhile, Gong Er also walks down a troubled path. Her father is mortally betrayed by his chosen heir, Ma San (Ni Haifeng), and Gong Er vows to right Ma’s wrong. She also struggles with an opium addiction, which is equally punishing to her soul.

One of the pillars of the film is its acting, with fantastic performances delivered by key characters. Zhang Ziyi (previously known in Western circles for her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour 2, and Hero), is stellar as a straight-faced and edgy Gong Er. Her character’s deep emotions and determination are on full display, paired perfectly with her petite stature and graceful physical abilities. Tony Leung’s transformation into Ip Man is also impressive, especially considering his journey into Martial Arts began only two years before filming. His character’s sly calmness is artfully blended with a physical power that is oddly comforting.

Director Kar Wai draws upon his well known talents to deliver a dreamlike film dripping with drama, ferocity, and fist pounding clashes. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, relying on unique camera angles, close-ups, and slow motion sequences to capture renowned action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping’s (The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) graceful action and fight sequences. Fans of The Matrix Trilogy will quickly see Yuen’s fingerprints on the sequencing (think: characters that seem to defy gravity, punishing impacts, arrant kicks that send chunks of brick and stone flying through the air).

The film has a flow that’s a tad choppy and disjointed, which can feel like a mad dash from fight to fight. This certainly isn’t helped by the decision to chop footage in favor of textual descriptions. Verbiage and emotion lost in the English to Mandarin translation only adds to this odd flow. Fortunately, the film offers more than enough to make-up for these shortcomings.

PG-13 for violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language.

Video :4stars:
Anchor Bay delivers The Grandmaster on Blu-ray with a good, but inconsistent, AVC transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film tantalizes and teases the eyes with near perfect scenes that mate razor sharp clarity with clever camera work, only to turn around and poke said eyes with scenes suffering from obvious blemishes and imperfections. The vast majority of the film is cast with a brilliant golden hue and wonderfully dark shadows. Except for a few scenes, colors are relatively subdued. Details are simply fantastic (often exquisite), showing-off everything from fine grains in floor boards to threads and wrinkles in clothing, inlays and intricacies of ornate wall panels, and facial details right down to the pours on Zhang Ziyi’s face; Shadow detail is typically equal to the task. The best of scenes literally explode from the screen, riding on the back of these attributes. Then there are scenes that exhibit some nasty little artifacts such as black and white sandy-speckles that invade the image, minor banding in light gradations, and image softness. Abnormal jutter during slow motion shots also bares its ugly teeth on a few occasions. It’s unfortunate these issues are present, as The Grandmaster teeters on the verge of greatness, just falling short.

Audio :5stars:
Anchor Bay offers two distinctly different audio options for The Grandmaster, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in Mandarin and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English. The former is far superior than its English brother, offering significantly more energy, clarity, and detail (only confirming my love for HD audio). While the Dolby Digital option isn’t terrible, English speaking audio buffs should opt for DTS-HD and engage English subtitles. Dialog for both options is excellent, while the Mandarin track is much warmer and natural, the English track is highly intelligible and perfectly serviceable for viewers looking to avoid subtitles.

The Grandmaster’s amazing visuals are matched by an incredibly detailed and intense aural experience that highlights the most subtle of effects like the whipping of banners in the wind, crackling fires, and the destruction of surroundings during clashes. On the surround front, rear channels are given a workout, delivering the sounds rain, thunder, and a musical score that reverberates through the room with a dramatic warmth. Quite a few effects move from the front to the back of the sound stage, including claps of thunder that seem to emanate from the ceiling. The front sound stage bristles with thoughtfully unique effects tagged to moves during fights; metallic sounds, roars, and pulses of deep bass subtly emerge as specific moves are executed. One of the film’s highlights takes place at a train station, where a climatic fight is punctuated by smartly played ambient effects including the dreamlike modified sounds of a train blowing through the station.

The film’s bass fuels the sub line with extremely satisfying energy, pounding away to mercilessly deep lows. Pulses of clean, tight, bass shook my theater room seating into submission and repeatedly delivered knockout blows. If you have capable drivers, this film will take them to a wonderful place, making it a film that demo-fans will certainly want to explore.

Extras: :3.5stars:
The Grandmaster: From Ip Man to Bruce Lee
• A Conversation with Shannon Lee, Daughter of Bruce Lee
The Grandmaster Behind the Scenes (Wong Kar Wai's Journey into Martial Arts, Focus on Fighting Styles, Recreating Imperial China, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Director Wong Car Wai, What Makes a Martial Artist)
The Grandmaster According to RZA

Overall: :4stars:
The Grandmaster is a solid and intriguing film that pays homage to one of China’s most famed Kung Fu figures and the troubled times he survived. Despite suffering from a hurried feel, it packs some serious punch with entertaining fight sequences and action that is stunningly beautiful to watch. The audio track (particularly the native Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 track) is exacting and well crafted with quite a few demo-worthy moments. The video side of the equation could have been equally great, but is held back by a few blemishes. Throw-in a decent package of extras (minus a forgettable interview with the rappaer RZA), and this is a release that’s easily worth its current asking price.

Additional Information:
Starring: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang
Directed by: Kar Wai Wong
Written by: Kar Wai Wong (story/screenplay), Jingzhi Zou (screenplay), Haofeng Xu (screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: Mandarin: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: March 4, 2014

Buy The Grandmaster on Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Watch It!


2,072 Posts
Re: The Grandmaster – Blu-ray Review

Cool. Thanks for the review. I have seen his other movies. You should see the below 3 movies which are one story tied together.

Days of Being Wild
In the Mood for Love

I wanted to see "The Grandmaster" but never had the chance. I will check this movie out. Thanks for the review.

Super Moderator
5,869 Posts
Re: The Grandmaster – Blu-ray Review

Great review. I did enjoy the movie but it reminded me of many others before it.

HTS Moderator , Reviewer
5,742 Posts
Re: The Grandmaster – Blu-ray Review

I agree with this cut feeling a bit "rushed". as someone who's seen the 130 minute cut as well from the hong Kong blu-ray I can verify that the extra 22 minutes help the flow a decent amount
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