The housekeeping part first: A film by a major international director is being released in the U.S. in a version that strongly differs from its original cut.
We are told that scissor-happy producer Harvey Weinstein is not behind this particular reduction; filmmaker Wong Kar Wai himself has fiddled with “The Grandmaster,” crafting different cuts of his film for the Asian and European markets already.
That’s their story, and maybe it’s true. It would be consistent with Wong Kar Wai’s tendency to fuss over his projects: He’s on record as saying that if it weren’t for the deadlines imposed by major film festivals, he might never finish his movies.
Whatever peculiar cultural emphasis the U.S. cut of “The Grandmaster” has, it is one odd picture, with too much kung fu for discriminating arthouse audiences and too many dreamy pauses for the grindhouse crowd.
This is the life of Ip Man, the celebrated martial-arts master who redefined kung fu and eventually served as tutor to an eager young Bruce Lee.
He’s played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, the ridiculously cool star of Wong’s “In the Mood for Love” and John Woo’s “Red Cliff,” whose serene half-smile is as powerful a weapon as his fighting moves.
Ip Man’s first triumph comes in the rivalry between martial artists in the north and south of China, far more graceful than the feud between East Coast and West Coast rap, though apparently just as geographically nonsensical.
A fair amount of 20th century Chinese history is alluded to, including the Japanese invasion, but mostly as backdrop.
More compelling is a long-burning attraction between Master Ip and the alluring Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi, who played opposite Tony Leung in Wong’s “2046”), which culminates in something dreamy and romantic in the final reels, even when Gong Er is deploying the mysterious “64 Hands” technique in battle with Ip Man, the two of them are clearly gaga for each other.
(The fights are choreographed by the well-traveled Yuen Wo-ping, whose fists of fury have punched up “The Matrix” as well as many a Hong Kong action picture.)
Even the movie’s felicities, including the fluttery slow-motion fight scenes and the swoony movie-star glamour of Leung and Zhang, are tossed up like shards of a much grander design that doesn’t actually exist (or only exists on the cutting-room floor).
The 2008 “Ip Man,” starring the engaging Donnie Yen, is better at the biopic stuff.
You sense that Wong Kar Wai would rather be photographing furtive glances and cigarette smoke; by comparison, staging action and telling a story are unwanted — if beautifully executed — distractions.
“The Grandmaster” (two and a half stars)
One odd picture from the celebrated Wong Kar Wai: This loose bio of the martial-arts master Ip Man (played by the ridiculously cool Tony Leung) has too much kung fu for arthouse audiences and too many dreamy pauses for the grindhouse. It gathers force in its love story, but it’s a strange one to sit through. In Mandarin and Cantonese, with English subtitles.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Varsity, Cascade Mall.