Ever since Ang Lee scored big with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” back in 2000, nearly every other Chinese-language director of note has tried a similar attempt at crossover success with a martial-arts movie. The latest to do so is Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai, yet the irony is that he has already made that movie, 1994′s “Ashes of Time,” which remains about the most imaginatively shot and wildly romantic swordfest you will see.
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Wong’s latest, “The Grandmaster” — the legendlike story of Ip Man, the marital arts guru who would go on to become Bruce Lee’s teacher — is bigger in scale but absolutely pales in comparison. Although beautifully shot, the story — about feuding martial-arts schools during the Japanese occupation of China and the postwar era — is convoluted, and the fight scenes recall Michael Bay’s work, a flurry of infinitesimal edits and blurry camerawork that creates the unique sensation of trying to watch a tennis match from the vantage point of the ball.
Tony Leung has moved so far into expressionless cool that I’d be hard-pressed to say this wasn’t his wax double from Madame Tussauds. Ditto for Zhang Ziyi as his romantic foil; this is the repressed emotion of “In the Mood for Love” taken to the nth degree. Wong’s slump, alas, continues.