In "In the Mood for Love", the closeups felt meaningful. To give a quick example off the top of my head, the many closeups of Maggie Cheung’s gorgeous cheongsams (the plural form being particularly important) were relevant because they emphasised the luxuriousness of the cheongsams and the fact that she appeared to wear a new one every time we saw her – which in turn helped us understand her loneliness. She fills her time with pretty clothes, and dresses up for everyday occasions because there’s simply nothing happening in her life with her husband away. In Roger Ebert’s words, ” They have more money than places to spend it.” I couldn’t see anything like that in the Grandmaster.
In fact, there will be love for The Grandmaster, which appeared to be quite a thematic detour for the auteur when the biopic was first announced a decade ago. While not nearly scaling the emotional heights of In The Mood For Love, the new film is essentially a decade-spanning would-be romance in which Tony Leung, perhaps in an unintended twist, isn’t even the most captivating actor in the story; that honour goes to Zhang Ziyi, whose defiant yet disheartening performance against Leung in 2046 finds its perfect reverberation in this film.
The unspoken affection between Ip Man and Gong Er will subsequently prove futile, as the former’s livelihood is severely interrupted by the Sino-Japanese War, while the latter, originally engaged to marry, is forced to give up everything to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a former protégé, Ma San (Zhang Jin). In typical Wong Kar-wai fashion, Ip and Gong drift apart towards their destinies for the next decade and a half, before finally – and very briefly – meeting again to contemplate what might have been. Taking the place of his leading lady’s cheongsam in In the Mood for Love, the director’s perfunctory chronicle of Ip Man’s life here seems to function less as an account of the man’s legacy than a marker of the passage of time.
As a whole, The Grandmaster is a beautiful work, though honestly, some parts are slowwwww and at times just plain incomprehensible. But if you like this scene, you'll love the other fights in the movie, masterfully choreographed by the legendary Yuen Wo-Ping. There's Zhang Ziyi fight scene set at a train station that's particularly magnificent. She kind of steals the movie.