Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I expected something grander...

I still remember rather vividly my first impression of Kar Wai Wong.  It was late, my wife and daughter were in bed, and I decided to take ‘Chungking Express’ out of the Nexflix package and pop it in for some ‘me time’.  I’d been excited to wrap my head around the beloved hype that surrounded Wong as a director, but especially the film itself, which is often raved as his finest.  I sat there for the entirety of the film with wide eyes, basking in the beauty of it all, and then as it ended I found myself shaking off the veneer of visual splendor to declare the film a mediocre shame.


I know that my opinion of that particular film is a rare one (but I am not alone, I know that for sure) but it is my opinion and remains that way.  Sadly, my first experience with Wong was not the one I wanted it to be.  My second was much better, for the next film I saw was ‘My Blueberry Nights’, and once again it was visually stunning and yet confused, messy and somewhat vapid.

They say third time is a charm for a reason; and ‘In the Mood for Love’ is that reason.

Since devouring that film, I’ve quickly consumed all things Kar Wai Wong, and I continue to look forward to his works despite the rare hiccups.  His trilogy (‘Days of Being Wild’, ‘In the Mood for Love’ & ‘2046’) remains my favorite trilogy of all time and his stunning ability to portray the hostilities, frailties and honesties of love in the most languid and richly beautiful ways has made films like ‘Happy Together’ so utterly refreshing.  Having recently seen ‘Ashes of Time’, I felt good and ready for Wong’s take on the Kung-Fu genre (yes, I’m fully aware that ‘Ashes of Time’ is NOT a Kung-Fu movie, but you can ascertain the similarities).  The fact that this received relatively strong reviews and even racked up a few Oscar nominations (and came close to a nomination for Foreign Film) had me even more excited for this to be a needed comeback for the director.

Honestly, he hasn’t made ANYTHING since ‘My Blueberry Nights’!

Come, and I will show you disappointment...
Sadly, for me at least, ‘The Grandmaster’ was not the sweet redemption I wanted it to be.  Instead, this was kind of a tedious bore.  I will admit that walking in, I was not aware of any of the backstory of history of biographical shades to this story, so I was learning as it went along.  I wasn’t really interested.  Maybe I should have been, but I found it really hard to.  I think that this is one of those instances where a more linear or direct narrative would have benefited the film.  Instead, Wong’s signature visual style and flow is a distraction and makes this rather involved storyline feel empty and soulless.

It just kind of floats visually but falls flat narratively.

The layered storytelling, with flashbacks and narrative jumps, gets lost in the stylized visuals and becomes choppy and incoherent.  The story becomes increasingly more difficult to follow, the fights difficult to differentiate and the characters and ultimately the story itself almost impossible to care about.  Despite some rich cinematography and interestingly choreographed fight sequences (not to mention a beautifully tapered performance by Ziyi Zhang), ‘The Grandmaster’ become an exercise in my patience as I try desperately to attach myself to it in some way.

Instead I walked away thinking to myself…THAT WAS IT?

And now we’re back where we started with Wong.

I give this a D.  I know, it kind of shocks me too.  I really wish that I loved this, but I even found the stunning visuals almost unnecessary (pretty just to be pretty doesn't work for me).  Oscar liked this enough in the visual department, and I must say that those costumes (deserved nomination) and the un-nominated set pieces were nice to look at, but at the end of the day I found this to be a step in the wrong direction for a director I have come to love so much.


  1. Um, I know this has been very common of me asking this but which cut of the film did you see? I saw 2 versions of the film in the 130-minute Chinese cut and the 108-minute U.S. cut. The latter of which in the theaters and it was atrocious.

    1. Yeah, I saw the 108 minute US release...the one that is available in DVD. I have read that it is inferior. I honestly have no desire to see the 130 minute cut, solely because of my reaction to this one.

    2. Read my review of both versions of that film. I explained about what got cut from the long version and believe me, Harvey Weinstein forced WKW to do something that really takes away the heart of the film and more.

    3. Headed my way there now!

  2. Yeah, I had the same reaction, but I liked the film overall. I'd give it a weak B. Though, I'll probably never watch it again.

    1. I was probably really harsh, and yet again...I just could not get into this at all. I was bored stiff. It all felt so vapid and vain almost.