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.
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.