While Ip Man is a charismatic craftsman, he's resigned to the burden of the times, whereas Gong Er pushes against it. She's easily his equal as a fighter, but she also has the drive to correct the perceived injustices of history. The Grandmaster's scenes are self-contained, but Kar-wai expertly implies scope and scale; so much so that there are elements of the swooning, sweeping classical Hollywood epics present in the picture's DNA. Beneath the bone-crunching fights and modernist visual embellishments, there are palpable shades of David Lean. The fights themselves are, by turns, exhilaratingly visceral and handsomely arresting.
The choreography has a balletic structure, with the corps and principals ebbing and flowing perfectly in time with Kar-wai's enchanting rhythm. This is not to say that the sequences are bloodless; the exquisite sound design and flinching close-ups make you feel every punch. The director has it both ways; his fights are as unsparing as they are beautiful. With sequences this good, one often forgets the controversial involvement of Harvey Weinstein. But, the condescending explanatory title cards aside, The Grandmaster still feels like Kar-wai's film. It may not have the nuance of his previous work, or indeed be the art house martial arts picture many were expecting, but it is a chaotic triumph of theatrical artistry; a romantic epic to fall in love with.