Hey, friends. Barbarella here. Hi-Yah’s original The Grandmaster of Kung Fu has just been released on Digital and Blu-ray, thanks to Well Go USA. While I love Well Go, I don’t really love this movie as much as I anticipated. It does offer some pretty cool fight sequences; however, it sets my expectations too high by mentioning “Before there was Ip Man, there was Master Huo” on its cover. Unfortunately, throughout the viewing, I find myself comparing it to Ip Man, which stars the exceptional Donnie Yen bringing Sammo Hung’s incredible choreography to life. Sadly, it just cannot live up to that comparison.
Let me break it down for you. Both movies feature a skilled martial artist who must battle a commander in the Japanese military occupying the region. It’s essentially fighting for the honor and survival of the Chinese way of life. In The Grandmaster of Kung Fu, the Japanese commander’s goal seems to be more focused on taking over the local martial arts scene in Tianjin and making Japanese kung fu the main form, which in turn minimizes the Chinese people and their martial arts. Master Huo must stand up against them and represent the people and their martial arts by fighting him in the ring. If you’ve seen Ip Man, this probably sounds somewhat familiar, although not identical. In fact, even with its differences, it feels a lot like watching a remake of that film in many ways. There’s even a scene where Master Huo takes on multiple Japanese fighters at once, but his fighting lacks Master Ip’s finesse. Had I not seen Donnie Yen’s incredible fight scene against ten Japanese martial artists, I probably would have gotten far more enjoyment out of Master Huo’s fight sequence. That said, I did enjoy it, because it does include some cool moves.
Unfortunately, some of those cool moves get marred by shooting and editing choices. I strongly believe that if the cast can effectively pull off a maneuver, then a wider, unedited shot that allows the audience to see the performers’ full movements from start to finish should be used. Often times, filmmakers edit a ton to mask the cast’s inability to carry out the choreography in a realistic manner. This movie’s fights are edited more than I would have expected, because it stars former Wushu World Champion Du Yuhang as Master Huo. Surely, he has the ability to do any choreography and make it look incredible, which leads me to question some of the camera positioning and editing choices here. That said, not all the choices detract from the fights, and some prove incredibly engaging and impressive. There are some fun moments. I will say that a half-backbend, upside-down punching move delights me, even though it’s one of the least practical things, I think, anyone could do in a fight.
Another aspect of The Grandmaster of Kung Fu that pales when I compare it to Ip Man deals with Master Huo’s relationship with his family. He comes across as so dismissive of his wife, and she initially proves completely unsupportive of his martial arts. The entire relationship feels loveless until certain events transpire, and suddenly family seems to matter more to Huo. Still, the lack of chemistry early on makes both characters less likable. I just don’t find myself hoping he emerges victorious, and when you struggle to feel invested in your protagonist’s fate, that’s a problem.
Overall, I enjoy some of the fight sequences, but I wish they were shot and edited so I can see the actions more clearly. (I mean, I cannot develop my martial arts skills vicariously through movies if the movies don’t adequately show me what they’re doing. ;-)) The characters do not garner my support enough, so I watch the fights with little concern about who wins in the end.
While The Grandmaster of Kung Fu seemingly desperately wants to be Ip Man, it’s just not, and having so many similarities to the latter begs one to compare the two. This simply sets the bar too high for this movie, and while it brushes against it on occasion, it’s never quite able to achieve that same level.
In addition to streaming on Hi-Yah, The Grandmaster of Kung Fu is now also available on Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD. We have some Blu-ray copies to give away, as well. Check here for information.
Here’s the trailer!