The Grandmaster

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Grandmaster Movie Poster Image
Beautiful martial arts, some violence, uneven storyline.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
Though the movie features quite a few violent fights, it also shows how the main character uses his brain in a fight -- and sometimes doesn't fight at all. He also perseveres through some tough times and becomes a teacher.
Positive Role Models & Representations
Teens will admire Ip Man's supreme martial arts skills and should likewise understand the kind of work, training, and dedication it takes to reach that level. It's also apparent that he's not a particularly violent person; he favors precision and grace over force. He also uses his head in a fight and sometimes doesn't fight at all. There's also a strong female martial arts fighter, though her story doesn't end well.
Several martial arts fights; though the emphasis is primarily on their beauty and artistry, there's some violence involved. Some victims suffer from broken bones; viewers can hear them crunch and see them on impact. There's also some spraying blood. One combatant uses blades in a fight, and another character spits up blood after a fight.
A long sequence takes place in a brothel, though nothing graphic is shown. The women are fully clothed in fancy dress, and there's no suggestion of sex, sexual innuendo, or sexual activity. The main character is married, and while separated from his wife during the war, he entertains feelings for another woman. But he never acts on them.
The words "f---er" and "ass" appear once each in English subtitles.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A secondary character becomes addicted to opium. Many characters, including the hero, are shown smoking cigarettes throughout the movie.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Grandmaster is a martial arts biopic about Ip Man, the legendary Wing Chun master who trained Bruce Lee. Director Wong Kar Wai is one of the world's most respected filmmakers, but this is one of his less acclaimed movies. Expect plenty of martial arts fighting, and though the film's focus is primarily on artistry and beauty, there's still some bone-crunching and spraying blood. "F--k" and "ass" each appear once in the English subtitles; sexuality isn't an issue, though scenes take place at a brothel (they're not graphic). One character becomes addicted to opium, and many characters, including the hero, smoke cigarettes. The same subject was covered -- quite differently -- in 2008's less artsy but more enjoyable Ip Man.

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Kid, 8 years old May 23, 2015

What's the story?

In the 1930s in Foshan, in the southern part of China, there are many martial arts schools. But the best one by far is Ip Man's school of Wing Chun. Challenged by northern master Gong Yutian, Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) responds with a philosophical approach, and he's named the winner. But Gong's daughter, Er (Zhang Ziyi), wishes to reclaim her family's good name and challenges Ip to a fight in which the loser is the first to break the furniture. Ip loses, but the two stay in touch. Later, when the Sino-Japanese War begins, Ip and his family fall into extreme poverty. Ip moves to Hong Kong hoping to become a teacher and meets up with Er there. They seem to have a romantic connection, but they can't act on it.

Is it any good?

This review pertains to the U.S. cut, which is about 22 minutes shorter than the international cut and reportedly focuses more on action, sacrificing character content in the bargain. The result is an uneven, somewhat chilly movie, albeit one with some absolutely beautiful fight sequences. The film begins with an almost totally unrelated scene in which Ip Man defeats 20 opponents in the rain at night, and it's breathtaking. 
Each of the other fight scenes, especially the one between Ip Man and Gong Er, are highly satisfying. And the powerful, unfulfilled romantic tension between the two characters in the movie's second half is quite lovely, recalling some of director Wong Kar Wai's best work, specifically In the Mood for Love. But perhaps due to the cuts in the story -- or perhaps because of Wong's unique, poetic rhythms -- much of the narrative flow seems flat or even stuck. But the good does outweigh the bad. The related Ip Man (2008) is more fun, if less artistic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Grandmaster's violence. Did the fighting strike you as artistic, violent, or somewhere in between?
  • What does the movie teach viewers about martial arts other than fighting?
  • Does the fact that the main character smokes cigarettes make him less appealing?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love action

Themes & Topics

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