Out in 2013, The Grandmaster is one of the very few good Wushu movies of the last 10 years or more. Not only that, it’s also one of the very few movies in general, displaying traditional Wushu codes and morale as it really is, without unnecessary embellishment of the styles.
This movie is also different from lots of Wong Kar Wai movies as the love story is not as present as in his other works, such as “In the Mood for Love” for example (which is a great movie too, but no Wushu inside).
As explained in our last review of Ip Man 4 (click here if you missed it), what is great with “The Grandmaster” although it’s another Ip Man story, is that it doesn’t only deal with Wing Chun that we’ve been seeing in almost every Wushu movie that made it to the west since 2008. But it also shows other great Wushu styles : Xingyi Quan 形意拳, Bagua Zhang 八卦掌, Baji Quan 八极拳, or Hong Jia Quan / Hung Gar Kuen 洪家拳.
“Wude”, The Most Important Thing in Wushu
There is a famous saying in Chinese Martial Arts that goes :
Xí wǔ, xiān xí dé
Which translates into “Before learning Martial Arts, You should first learn its virtues”.
“Wude” 武德 is an essential part of Wushu, and is like a moral code that should be followed by all practitioners even modern Wushu athletes. However, it is linked to the roots of Chinese culture and martial values, and therefore more prominent in traditional Wushu styles.
And this is where the movie talks real Wushu. Wong Kar Wai spent years meeting great masters of different styles. He and his team learned a lot about martial arts before even starting writing the movie. They say “The Grandmaster” Took around 10 years to make, as the director (who never rushes into making movies) wanted to display Wushu as it is really. Therefore the movie couldn’t avoid dealing with “Wude”.
Actors are not only acting but also doing Wushu
Let’s be honest, you’re rarely astonished by the acting of a cast in an “action movie”, or if you are, you are astonished they fight that well but act that bad.
Well in the movie you got both : Good and famous actors that learned their traditional style for months before starting shooting (see behind the scenes actors training video below).
Chang Chen who plays the barber that practice Xingyi Quan apparently fell in love with Wushu during his training and was very involved in his training. He was even asked to perform together with Wu Jing during the CCTV Chinese New Year’s eve in 2015. But in the movie you also got real masters doing appearances during the movie, such as the Bagua and Xingyi masters setting a fight test with Ip Man before he can meet the “master of the northern styles”.
And that makes a huge difference. Though some people will say action movie doesn’t need good acting, you can’t deny an action movie is way better and more interesting WITH good acting.
Here you have it : a movie about real Wushu, beautifully directed, with amazing fight scenes (Thanks to Yuen Woo Ping and Wong Kar Wai), and actors really into their style and character, delivering a credible performance, a good story to keep you watching the movie until the end, and showing a real love for Chinese Martial Arts that you can feel during the whole movie.
If you haven’t watched it yet, go for it with no hesitation!