The Grandmaster quad poster

“A blade not blocked never sings.”

Ip Man

The 108-minute American Cut clearly does a disservice to Wong Kar-Wei’s visually arresting historical martial arts epic, with disjointed jumps in time explained by interstitial cards; however, this is the version that is available to stream. The director’s longtime collaborator, the charismatic Tony Leung, is understated as the renowned Wing Chun master Ip Man; he won’t be usurping Donnie Yen’s memorable performance across Wilson Yip’s Ip Man quadrilogy. The Grandmaster stands apart when Wong Kar-Wei plays to his strengths, with striking cinematography — like the opening rain-soaked streetfight with kicked sprays of water playing with light — being as much a focus as the martial arts. He seems more interested in character moments than action, frequently bathing faces in light as shadow swallows the rest of the frame, as if to highlight risk and intrigue when people converse or observe one another. The pairing of Leung with Zhang Ziyi calls back to 2046, as individuals with a deep connection thwarted by time, another of the director’s staple themes — indeed, this feels more like a muddled story that borrows real figures than a genuine attempt at biographical film-making.