The Grandmaster: excuse me while I fangirl

Spoilers!

So. I just saw The Grandmaster, a movie based on the true story of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Sifu. It blew my expectations out of the water, earth, and sky. I saw a trailer for a few days ago, got excited, and while I know very little about how much of the movie was true, I do know it’s one of the best movie’s I’ve seen in a long time.

And it isn’t because of the Kung Fu.

Don’t get me wrong! I love Kung Fu. The style I practice is Choi Li Fut, not Wing Chun, but the basics are very similar. It was awesome to watch the fist work, the kicking, and the foot work because I have enough of a grasp to know what they’re doing and how much is real versus wire work.

Just a note: I think you’d be surprised how much is real.

The visuals were amazing. I was a little worried during the opening fight sequence. It’s very rainy and wet. It was easy to lose track of the elements of the match. This isn’t the case for the rest of it. Everything else was clear, beautiful, and dare I say again–awesome.

But what I loved about this movie was the treatment of Gong Er, the female protagonist. Notice, I’m not calling her a love interest (even though she is) nor is she a villain or antagonist (which the trailer makes her out to be).

I’ve never seen a movie acknowledge the sexism of martial arts (women being deficient in everything and unworthy to inherit the style simply because they are female) while simultaneously treating women as capable, dangerous, and proficient. The respect that the writers had for her was powerful because they didn’t reduce her to sex object, damsel in distress, or fundamentally different than the protagonist, Ip Man.

But here is the best part. The Grandmaster drops Ip Man for about thirty to forty minutes to tell her story and her story has absolutely nothing to with Ip Man.

Gong Er makes a vow, avenges her father’s death, while taking back her family’s martial art legacy from her antagonist (who belongs solely to her and not to Ip Man), and continues her life without any consideration for her future with a man she has strong feelings for.

What’s her vow? She promises never to marry, have children, or pass on the system if given the ability to take down the man who murdered her father and tainted their legacy.

Gong Er keeps her vow. Ip Man never encourages her to break it for him. The last time he sees her, he asks to see her Kung Fu one last time. (They have a Kung Fu flirting battle earlier in the movie. It’s cute and adorable and again, filled with so much respect. Also, she wins.)

She refuses. He respects her refusal. When she dies, he honors her memory.

The movie ends shortly after her passing because this story was about both of them, their brief intersections, and Kung Fu.

We need more representations of women like Gong Er. She was complicated. Her story was hers and not Ip Man’s. The recognition of such is something we desperately need more of, just as we desperately need more men to respect women’s stories the way Ip Man treated the telling of Gong Er’s story.

It’s valid. It’s important. It’s necessary.

 


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