Tuesday, 21 January 2014

REVIEW - THE GRANDMASTER


Since international attention has brought more acclaim, and more financing, to the wuxia genre, there has been a shift backwards in time, rather than forwards, to the origins of martial arts as we now know them. Wong Kar Wai may have been among the last of China's most prolific directors whom one would expect to succumb to this popular and populist genre, but he succeeds in doing so whilst not sacrificing the spirit of his own inimitable directorial style. In fact, Wong's eye for dazzling sensorial beauty and unconventional shot and editing structure conspires very well with The Grandmaster's action sequences, instead of muddying them and rendering them incomprehensible, which was the danger. It's when he must deal with the plot, non-fictional, linear, that he finds himself adrift in new and uncomfortable territory. Characters are introduced and dialogue is spoken and all perfunctorily, as Wong takes utmost care with capturing the admittedly breathtaking aesthetics he and his peerless crew have assembled. Since parting ways with Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong has struggled to find a DP with a visual style quite so closely matched to his own intentions; Philippe Le Sourd's striking, classical compositions are still perhaps better suited to this more traditional era than to what Wong intends to do with it, but their collaboration has yielded some stunning results, no doubt. And his trusty multi-hyphenate filmmaking partner William Chang has matched his very best work here, with a production design that warrants the attention lavished upon it, and a strong editing job. Though even he is unable to save the film from its rather flat narrative structure, that which so baffles Wong, and sometimes scene after scene will pass with little in the way of significant movement in terms of pacing. Nevertheless, each and every frame is so stuffed with the finest of finery that cinema can offer, that The Grandmaster survives its tribulations, and emerges as one of 2013's most technically impressive features.