The Grandmaster is the latest film by director Wong Kar-wai — it stars Zhang Ziyi, best known in the U.S. for her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha. In this film, which premiered stateside Aug. 23, she plays Gong Er, a total badass.
1. “It wasn’t my choice,” says the kung fu master who is incidentally a woman. “But I’ll make my mark.”
There are four taboos in kung fu, a male character in Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster explains: “Monks, Taoist priests, women, and children.” Three of the taboos are left unexamined in the film, but Gong Er, a kung fu master and maxim machine, forces us to think about female trouble. Although she’s shut out of the male world of martial arts, she repeatedly shows herself to be a fierce fighter and a general force to be reckoned with.
2. When Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), the male protagonist of the movie, disregards the taboo and accepts her challenge to fight, Miss Gong simultaneously enchants him and kicks his ass.
She loves him because he’s a worthy opponent. He loves her because she’s a worthy opponent. Captivated, he proposes visiting her in the North for a rematch, and later writes to her, “I dream of seeing the 64 Hands again in the snow.”
“I’m waiting,” she writes back. “What’s keeping you?”
He dreams while she demands action.
3. After she defeats Ip — the man who defeated her father — she looks down at him from her perch on a banister. She smiles slightly.
Years later, after she’s become a doctor, Ip finds her at her clinic. He tells her he wants to fight her again.
“If you don’t mind my saying, you lost,” she says. “I won.”
4. When someone suggests that she break a vow she took because no one would know, she says, “Others may live without rules. Not me.”
5. After her father’s protégé Ma San (Zhang Jin) kills him and effectively steals the Gong martial arts legacy, Miss Gong seeks vengeance and doesn’t stop until she gets it.
Standing outside his house after her father’s funeral, she calls out to Ma, “You can’t hide from me forever. I’ll take back my family’s legacy. Come out!”
“Send someone who’s entitled,” he says from inside. “You’re just a woman. You don’t count.”
6. As if in direct response to his assertion that she “doesn’t count,” Miss Gong later tracks him down and tells him, “What I must do, I will do and nothing can stop me.” She then defeats him.
After Ma almost takes off the top of her skull with a train, she quickly breaks his arm, does something frightening to his neck, and throws him against the side of the train, in quick succession. Lying on the ground, Ma cries a single tear as he tells her the secret of her father’s supreme move, Old Monkey Hangs Up His Badge. “Turning back,” he says to her, filled with regret at his misdeeds.
“The Gong family legacy I return to you,” he says to her.
She looks at him and says, “Let’s be clear. You didn’t return it. I took it back myself.”
7. “The times make us what we are,” her father tells her, before he explains that he wishes she could have been his successor. “But in the world of Martial Arts, there’s no place for you.”
At the end of the movie, she says, “It’s a pity I wasn’t a boy.” Nothing could be more heartbreaking than this mild, sad resignation.
8. When she sees Ip for the last time, she remarks, “To say there are no regrets in life is just to fool yourself. How boring it would be without regrets.”
Together, they listen to an opera called A Dream of Love before they part ways forever.
“Love is just that,” she says. “A dream.” When Ip tells her she has performed well in “the opera of life,” she says with her customary quiet integrity, “This opera of mine, applauded or not, will play on to the end.”
9. Recalling her childhood, she says, “The sound most familiar to me was that of bones breaking.”
Growing up at her father’s house, she was lost in her obsession with martial arts. “Those were my happiest days,” she says, and it sends shivers down your spine.