The Grandmaster review

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Ever since the young son of a Chinese opera singer punched and kicked and screamed his way into history we, in the west, have been fascinated by kung fu. Bruce Lee’s combination of exotic moves and unbridled badassery proved irresistible and some of us have never been able to get over our kung fu film addiction. As in any art form, the films come in wildly varying degrees of quality. From the badly dubbed Saturday morning flicks we all watched to art house masterpieces like House of Flying Daggers and Fearless. I’m elated to report that Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster is of the latter variety and is as far removed from those Saturday chop socky movies as Citizen Kane is removed from a Wayans bothers crapfest. This is the kung fu film as a work of art, martial arts by way of Martin Scorsese, who gladly sponsored the film’s American release.

The story follows master Ip Man, played by Tony Leung, the most famous practitioner of the fighting style Wing Chun and, as you’re sure to get tired of hearing, one of Bruce Lee’s most influential teachers. Given the recent trend of Ip Man biopics in the last few years comparisons are inevitable. While those films focused on the character of Ip Man, here the scope is widened to present the relationship and sometimes rivalry between the North and South schools of martial arts. The film opens with a virtuoso fight scene in the rain and as opposed to the fast paced sequences of the earlier movies here the action is slowed down for your viewing pleasure, the equivalent of a slow cooked dinner, the camera delicately focusing on punches, kicks, reactions and footwork. The cinematography is exquisite with director Wong Kar Wai exhibiting grandmaster traits of his own with his camerawork and some of his shots are a delight to watch.

While the redoubtable Leung does an excellent Ip Man I was personally gratified to see the return of Zhang Ziyi, the doyenne of  martial arts flicks (I’m sorry Michelle Yeoh). You remember her from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.  Oh Zhang how I missed thee! I don’t care how many sex scandals you’re involved in, you can use your forbidden moves on me anytime. As the daughter of the grandmaster of the North, Zhang provides the film with its emotional punch and her story encompasses the final 3rd of the movie and, suitingly for a film about a martial art created by a woman, hers is not the only well written female role.

The other presence that contributes to the richness of the film is of that other master: Yuen Woo-Ping. For the faithful he won’t need any introduction. As for the rest of you heathens, if you’ve seen a memorable fight scene within the last 30 years chances are Woo-ping choreographed it. “Fearless”, “Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Matrix”, “Kill Bill”, “Fists of Legend”, “Iron Monkey 2” among many others all owe their superlative fighting sequences to the man who was quoted as saying “Make the audience feel the blow”. In The Grandmaster he brings a lifetime of expertise to fight scenes involving a variety of fighting styles like Tai Chi, Xin Yi, Hung Gar, Bagua and a bunch of others I won’t even pretend to be familiar with. He also makes a brief cameo as Chan Wah-shun, teacher of Ip Man.

Speaking of various martial arts, one of the few quibbles I have with the film is that here Ip Man is given almost mythical status. The Wing Chun master seems to have intricate knowledge of a wide ranging variety of styles. Now, this may well have been the historical case but it seems to ring hollow when presenting a character so accomplished in his own style. Another point of detriment is no fault of the film itself. The movie is presented in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles. Now if there’s one thing that “Merica hates more than exercising and science is reading. That single aspect alone, I believe, will insure the movie won’t reach the wide audience it deserves. Pity. The film is a masterpiece of movie making and a genuine love letter to the martial arts from a director and cast working at the top of their game.

What a dog biting a bull in the face can teach us about life

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Yes, I know you have seen this video before. A Spanish guy gets attacked by a bull and it looks like he’s about to take that Big Siesta in the sky when suddenly a comically tiny dog runs out of nowhere, bites the bull right in the face allowing the guy to escape. Looked pretty awesome first time you saw it, right? Not so much lately. You have seen a lot of youtube videos since then. A Spaniard getting attacked by a bull is nothing remarkable. That’s pretty much how the Spanish get their exercise.  And dog is man’s best friend after all, right? Well, do me a favor. Watch it again. Only takes 2 or 3 minutes. What you may or not realize is that the Spaniard being hilariously gored to death is not the dog’s owner. That dog had no reason to come to the man’s rescue. He could have sat the whole thing out and no one would have thought any less of him. Hell, I bet you there were several of that poor fool’s friends and relatives in that crowd right there but you don’t see any of them stepping up to help him.  Aaah, but you see? That, my friends, is no ordinary dog. That, gentle reader, is a dog with an agenda. And the only item left to check that day was:

Bite a goddam bull in the face.

All he was waiting for was an excuse and the little Spanish man fighting for his life handily provided one. You can even see him at about the 37 second mark running around, joyously waiting for a chance to bite in the face an animal about 20 times its size, an animal that could kill it just by laying down without looking first. And why, you ask? What reason did it have for attempting something that goes against the very laws of nature? Well… Because fuck that bull that’s why. And that’s the only reason it would ever need. Think about that for a second. That’s like Verne Troyer (Mini Me from “Austin Powers”) hanging around UFC octagons  just for a chance to pick a fight with Brock Lesner… and then proceeding to submit the ever-loving bejesus out of that humongous man beast. Look at him starting at around the 2:20 mark. To say that this dog doesn’t care would be a silly understatement. There are deep sea trenches that could be filled with all the fucks this dog just does not give. It’s like nature, playing a drunken role-playing game with life, decided to see what would happen if you removed the self preservation instinct from an animal and then maxed out its confidence attribute.

But here is the astonishing thing. After everything is done and the huge bull has been shown who’s the main mammal in Málaga, the dog is not even upset in any way. I mean obviously he was not scared but you can see from its expression at the end he was not the least bit fazed. You could almost get the sense that right after the video ended he sauntered over to the bull and told him he’d buy him a beer just to show him there were no hard feelings. No anger. No fear. That is some Zen shit right there my friends. That dog should open its own freaking dojo and teach people how to meditate.

Most folks walk thru life filled with self doubt. Should I quit my job and move to Spain? Should I leave my douche bag boyfriend? Should I go back to school? Should I ask that cute girl in Customer Service out? (No not that one, the one in the back everybody thinks is a little weird). The inability to answer these questions fills people with anxiety. At the same time a lot people, when presented with a situation that they perceive to be outside their control, tend to react with anger. The dog shows us what is like to deal with a difficult situation calmly but decisively; what is like to approach life with a complete absence of self doubt. Think about that for a bit:

What would you do if you knew absolutely that you could not fail?

Now ask yourself, what exactly is stopping you from doing what you want to accomplish? Visualize your obstacles. Imagine all your fears laid out in front you. Picture your doubts and trepidations. Got it? Got that image firmly in your mind? Good.

Now bite it in its goddam face.