Here’s the bad news: If you’ve only seen the American Cut of “The Grandmaster”, you haven’t seen “The Grandmaster”. While Wong Kar-Wai is living proof that the first cut of a movie that escapes onto cinema screens should not be implicitly regarded as a definitive or holy object, “The Grandmaster” tragically illustrates how refinements can shear away what made a movie so special in the first place. While Wong is rather transparent about how the American cut is a concession to cultural ignorance rather than an artistic statement, he’s profoundly mistaken in thinking that such a concession was required in the first place, and may be too close to the material to recognize that the American cut is insanely reductive and, at the same time, also harder to understand than the original.

The Chinese Cut coherently splits its focus between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi as the beautiful daughter of a revered rival), devoting itself to the distance between them and the varying extent to which they fight to maintain the historical virtues of their respective fighting styles, and resolving into an appropriately fragmented portrait of time outpacing tradition. The Chinese Cut uses the brunt of its 130 minutes to hauntingly illustrate how the only histories that we can own are the ones intimately shared between people, the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) serving only to underscore how history is human.

The American Cut says nuts to that, ditching Ip Man’s romance with Gong Er and instead attempting to distill Ip Man’s life – his tragedies and his revered legacy – into a device for shoveling a path through history, its edits so completely obfuscating purpose in the name of action that the action soon loses all meaning. The resulting film is a horror show of ribbons, a cut that confuses itself into thinking that naming people with instructive on-screen text is somehow more informative than showing us who they are.


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    Happy to say I’ve not watched the Weinstein cut of this film. Make sure you don’t either.
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