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Writer-director Wong Kar-wai has made a martial-arts movie that is truly a work of art. His “The Grandmaster” is a picture of staggering beauty.

Every shot is rigorously composed and exquisitely framed. His fight scenes are ballets of sinuous movement with the camera speed shifting fluidly from slow to fast motion and back again, with pauses to highlight the intricate hand positions of the various distinctive fighting styles used by the picture’s combatants.

Wong (“In the Mood for Love”)
based “The Grandmaster” on the life of Ip Man, a kung-fu legend who late in life trained the young Bruce Lee. Tony Leung, one of Wong’s favorite actors, plays Ip Man with a preternatural calm and confidence as the character repeatedly proves his kung-fu mastery against a variety of challengers. In an impressionistic fashion, Wong illuminates his life from the ’30s through the war years of Japan’s occupation of China to the ’50s, when he lived in Hong Kong. He experiences great personal losses and unrequited love, all conveyed by Leung with great delicacy.

Wong and his director of photography, Philippe Le Sourd, favor bronze-hued lighting for the interior scenes that imbues the picture with a rich, dark luster. And the most vivid exterior scenes are arresting studies in black and white, the most dramatic a battle on a nighttime train platform with smoke, steam and snow swirling around the gripping action.

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