If the old never let go, when will the young ever get a chance?

The Grandmaster Wong Kar-wei Toney Leung Zhang Ziyi Ip Man

It is difficult for a student to pick a good teacher, but, it is more difficult for a teacher to pick a good student.

Grandmaster Ip Man

The Grandmaster (2013)
Also known as
Ancestral Teacher of a Generation
Action, Historical, Martial Arts
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
Hong Kong + China
Running time
130 minutes

oh! … flashback

Ip Man The Grandmaster Wing Chun

Ip Man, otherwise known as Yip Man (October 1, 1983 – December 2, 1972)

For those who don’t know, and I’ll be very surprised if you don’t, Ip Man, also known as Yip Man, was a world renowned martial artist, teacher and grandmaster of Wing Chun. Bruce Lee, a name everyone recognises, studied under Ip Man.


Chan Wah-shun, otherwise known as “Money Changer Wah: (1836 – 1907)





Ip Man studied Wing Chun under Chan Wah-shun from the tender age of 7. Nicknamed “Money Changer Wah”, Chan Wah-shun himself, studied under the Wing Chun grandmaster Leung Jan.

Leung Jan, otherwise known as “Mr Jan from Foshan: (1826 – 1901)








Born October 1, 1893, Ip Man died in Hong Kong from complications associated with throat cancer on December 2, 1972, at the age of 79.

Yip Man was married to Cheung Wing Sing, and the couple had two daughters (names are believed to be Ip Ar Sum and Ip Ar Woon) and two sons, Ip Chun and Ip Ching. His two daughters and his wife died of starvation during the Second Sino-Japanese War and little is known about them.

Ip Chun Grandmaster Ip Man

Ip Chun, eldest son of Ip Man legendary Wing Chun Grandmaster


His eldest son Ip Chun followed in his passion for Wing Chun and inherited his legacy of Wing Chun grandmaster. His younger son, Ip Ching, was also one of his students, among many other notable masters in their own right, including Ho Kam Ming, Leung SheungLok YiuChu Shong-TinWong Shun LeungBruce LeeMoy YatVictor Kan, and his nephew Lo Man Kam.


Ip Ching, youngest son of Ip Man, Wing Chun Grandmaster

oh! … brief

The film chronicles the life of the Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, from the early 1930s when he lived in Foshan, his escape and exile to Hong Kong following the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the events leading up to his death on December 2, 1972.

oh! … talks film

This film was, and is an epic martial arts masterpiece!

Every aspect of this film, from the writing of its screenplay, the stunning cinematography by celebrated Philippe Le Sourd, the impressive costume design, the acclaimed cast which included Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, to the accompanying musical score, blended to create a visually exquisite and award-winning production.

Wong Kar-wei had a very clear picture in his mind when he sat down to write the screenplay. Yes, he would pay tribute Ip Man, his family and legacy with a genuine interpretation of the honourable man he was known to be. But, he would also write a tragically romantic story of unconsummated love and a eulogy to the last masters of martial arts. The writing was especially skilled, as many aspects of Ip Man’s character were revealed in the shadows and hidden below the surface.

Wong Kar-wei strategically joined the puzzle pieces of Ip Man’s life while paying detailed attention to the kung fu style he had spent most of his life mastering and subsequently sharing with the world through his talented students. I singularly admired how he included the differing schools of kung fu and their traditions, all interwoven into the story and then featured the movements and highlighted some of the martial arts disciplines.

But not only this, he also added spiritual content and anyone who knows of Ip Man and martial arts, in general, knows that kung fu is reticulated with Chinese polytheistic observance and divination. It was astute!

Masterful and reminiscent of other great artists in their field, Zhang Yimou (one of my all-time favourites) and Ang Lee (another of my all-time favourites), I lost myself in Wong Kar-wei’s portrayal of Gong Er (played by Zhang Ziyi) as an avenging angel and one that takes her vows seriously and forgoes a chance at happiness and love. Astounding! And beautifully narrated! WOW!

In summary, the writing of this production’s screenplay and script moved me to the point where I felt I was living and breathing in each moment with the characters. Some of the emotions Wong Kar-wei wanted the audience to feel in varying degrees and which I felt during the watching of the production were honour, regret, restraint, betrayal, anger, fear, sadness, melancholy, attraction, desire, yearning etc.

Wong Kar-wei’s skills were not limited to writing for the production, he also is, of course, a director extraordinaire.

No detail, great or small, is lost in translation in the cinematography. Philippe Le Sourd delivered breathtaking scenes, one after the other.

He captured snowy landscapes, snowflakes falling, light reflected in pools of water, slow motion raindrops, sliding filigreed kung fu slippers, men fighting women, ornate wooden tapestries and wrought iron designed gates, the detailed design of buttons on women’s clothing, and the many kung fu movements choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping (who also happens to have an acting role in this production), a master of fight choreography. It was exquisite!

Philippe Le Sourd offered the audience magnificent and stunning visuals that he captured with discreet camera angles and enhanced slow-motion virtuosity. He also captured Yuen Woo-ping’s mastery of staged fighting – the settings, the situations, the angles and displayed the multiple open and closed-fist punches and blows, the dynamic repetitive high kicks, the swinging blades, alongside striking close-ups and super-saturated frames. Shooting the protagonists and antagonists in full frame, allowed the audience to witness every moment, every minute detail through the magic of 35mm in-camera cinematography.

Naturally, the cinematography can only capture the beauty of the violence of the kung fu fights due to the prowess of Yuen Woo-ping’s choreography. In the original four-hour length version of the film, Yuen Woo-ping orchestrated fight sequences that rival anything Hollywood could pull together and painted distinct and recognisable connections between dance and martial arts.

He created an opening battle that was spine-tingling, a revenge grudge match that was heart-stopping and impressive, and a violent tango between two opposing schools of kung fu (Ip Man’s Wing Chun and Gong Er’s 64 Hands) among a half dozen or so fights that feature multiple disciplines.

The three fights previously mentioned are my favourites, of course. The characters deflect blows with arms and legs, leap with frenzied artistry creating aesthetic impasses and handsome frames. There are no words to adequately express how impressive every fight scene was! You have to watch this film to truly understand its glory.

The opening fight scene is a clever battle between a single man donning a blonde fedora and a small group of assailants. Reminiscent of the lone-wolf type western classics, the only difference here is that fist and feet fly instead of bullets. In particular, this fight scene lends itself to film noir, although that is not a genre for the production.

The fight scene between Ip Man and Gong Er was concurrently ethereal, passionate and brutal. There is an attraction of sorts between the two, whether admiration or something more lustful and the fight scene is tinged with desire and is as close as the two ever come to consummating their fascination with each other. It is more of a tango than a waltz, but the ballet-styled beauty and sexiness is not lost!

The comprehensive production and costume design added to the overall grandeur of the production. Everything from the detailed shapes of buttons to the engravings on bannisters to the colour palette for the costumes was attended to with immaculate detail.

Wong Kar-wei is one of Asia’s top ten film directors, he has mastered the art of writing and directing and this production is an ode to the years he has spent honing his craft.

Tom Leung and Zhang Ziyi headline this production, but are supported by notable actors and actresses.

Playing Ip Man, Tom Leung (who has a longstanding relationship with Wong Kar-wei having featured in seven of his productions), was well-prepared to become his character. He had read and studied on martial arts as early as two years prior to agreeing to participate. In addition, he physically trained and mentally prepared himself by reading the amazing works of Bruce Lee and the philosophy behind the spiritual teachings of kung fu. These helped him hone the state of mind he needed to play an honest and raw Ip Man. And it was brilliant!

During physical training, Tony Leung broke his arm twice which caused production to grind to a halt while he healed. That’s dedication to character development if ever there was. The film took a full four years from start to finish. More than a full year was spent in mental preparation and learning the spiritual aspects and then remaining years were spent physically training and filming.

The chemistry between Ip Man and Gong Er is remarkable and unique. It is all in the gestures and minute actions between the two, and not based on the few words they exchange. There’s an understanding between the two that requires no words to be spoken, the kind of non-verbal understanding between two soulmates.

Tony Leung was authentic in his portrayal of Ip Man, a man who had immense grace and quietness, masterfully breathed to life once again under the tutelage of Wong Kar-wei. I was mesmerised and not only because he is a handsome man, but more for palpable delivery of his character.

Zhang Ziyi, whose unblemished beauty can be distracting at times during films, was perfectly cast as the avenging angel in this film. Yes, she is so beautiful she is envied, but she is also one of the most talented and most authentic actresses coming out of China. As Gong Er, Zhang Ziyi not only inhabited her character, she possessed her. Her quiet demeanour and slight frame did not detract from the fact that she fought hard and won against men, physically stronger. The quiet intimacy, maddening seduction, and tragic romance she shared, combined with the chemistry between Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung manifested itself in the silences between kicks, punches and open-fisted blows. It was heart-stirring and bitter from frame-to-frame-to-frame.

The musical score that accompanies the film was phenomenal. I loved it, downloaded it and listen to it often. The music is haunting and sad and plays perfect background to the film itself.

oh! … sidekicks

Chang Chen who already has a number of martial arts roles neatly tucked into his portfolio plays Master Razor in this film studied Bajiquan martial art for approximately three years under Wang Shiquan a Bajiquan master.  He brought his acting skills and combined them with new skills in martial arts and delivered authentically in his role. Razor betrays his master and the master’s daughter and she avenges the betrayal. He also becomes a spy for the Japanese.

South Korean actress and beauty queen, Song Hye-kyo played Ip Man’s wife, a gentlewoman with powerful martial art skills. While her role is minor as she plays Ip Man’s wife who dies during the first half, she was beautiful, as are all the women Wong Kar-wei chooses for his productions. As with Tony Leung, Song Hye-kyo trained in martial arts to perfect her role. She was beautiful and gentle in this role!

oh! … that’s a wrap

I loved this film, no kidding! It was an intimate film that portrayed the honesty and honour of a man who quietly lived his life and shared his passion for a martial arts discipline with others. I liked how Wong Kar-wei flipped between the distant past and the present of the film, it was flawless. The underlying mournfulness of the film is perhaps the truest reflection of the reality of Ip Man’s life.  This film is meditative and thought-provoking with many hidden messages and meanings.

This has been added as a classic to my collection and I recommend this to everyone.

You will enjoy watching this if you are an Ip Man fan, a martial arts and kung fu fan, or if you like films that deliver on all aspects, from story to musical score.

oh! … tidbits

Ip Man has been accused of losing the classical essence of Wing Chun because he did not adhere to the restrictions of a time gone by – the belief that the martial arts skill should be taught to no more than 16 people. He has also been accused of his belief that the varying schools and disciplines within the broader martial arts spectrum should be a unified world.

In the film, Ip Man and Gong Er characters embody the yin and yang of attitude towards life through their chosen discipline. Ip Man’s discipline consistently looks forward while Gong Er’s looks back.

Zhang Ziyi’s character, Gong Er, is loosely based on the real-life character Shi Jianqiao, who vowed to avenge the death of her father at the hands of warlord Sun Chuanfang.  She ultimately killed him in a Buddist Temple in Tianjin by firing 3 bullets from a Browning pistol into him.

The martial artists in mainland China were exiled to Hong Kong following the closure of their martial arts businesses. The government believed martial arts masters to be gangsters, they could not have been further from the truth.

There was no official 4-hour length film released, the director and cinematographer had managed to capture and edit four hours of footage, although this was never released in its entirety. Various productions of varying lengths were released in Berlin and other countries.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailer

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