The Grandmaster

Musical Score By: Shigeru Umebayashi and Nathaniel Mechaly

Distributed by: Lakeshore Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                The highly anticipated film six years in the making, The Grandmaster, is inspired by the life and times of legendary kungfu master Ip Man.    Portrayed by Tony Leung, the movie spans the life of Ip Man following the fall of China’s last dynasty and the tumultuous unrest that marked the Republican Age of China, also touted as the golden age of Chinese martial arts.

                The musical score of The Grandmaster was created by Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi and French composer Nathaniel Mechaly.  Beginning his career as leader of the Japanese new wave band EX, Shigeru Umebayashi began his foray into film scoring in 1985 after the band disbanded.  Since then, he has composed musical scores for films like In the Mood for Love, House of Flying Daggers, 2046, Curse of the Golden Flower and Fearless.  Umebayashi is a friend, regular collaborator and composer of The Grandmaster's director Wong Kar Wai.  Nathaniel Mechaly began his musical career studying the cello, chamber music and electro acoustic composing.  He began his foray into cinematic composition in 2004 with the film Avanim and has since created musical scores for Revolver, Taken and its sequel, The Transporter films and The Secret

                When one thinks of the musical score for a karate film, often times they expect a fast-paced, adrenaline pumping action track.  However, The Grandmaster is more than just an action film.  According to Wong Kar Wai, "Many people view Kung Fu films, released in the US or in China, as simple dishes like 'chop suey' - but to me, the Grandmaster is so much more - it is a grand feast of Chinese martial arts - not only in terms of the story but also of sound and music." 

                That being said, the director was looking for much more from the film's score composers and they more than obliged: "Their ingenuity helped define and create three different chapters in our Chinese history within the film and on the soundtrack: 1936 in the South of China, the 1940s in the North, and the 1950s in Hong Kong.  Each period was distinct in terms of the score, and not only did we utilize original music to hit on the historical context in the film but we used authentic music from those periods as a reference."

                The resulting soundtrack is a thing of beauty to behold.  I loved the exotic sounds presented through the use of authentic Asian music as well as orchestral instruments like the cello.  The Taiko drums are incredibly dramatic, but not overpowering.  I thought the addition of the Beijing Opera, Si Lang Tan Mu, quite interesting as it exposes many who would come to see a film of this nature to a bit of the culture of the Chinese people.  Even the action sequence, Action 150, was not something that your average martial arts film fan would expect.  The Taiko drums give the listener the idea that action in the form of a fight scene is taking place, but as Wang Kar Wai states, "we didn't want to make it a standard Chinese action score we wanted to make it more like a dance between two people and we utilized the skills and talent of our sound mixer and acclaimed DJ from Thailand, Traithep Wongpaiboon." 

                I found The Grandmaster Soundtrack an unexpected and incredibly enjoyable example of well-thought out musical composition that seeks to achieve more than tell a story of action and suspense.  There is a story of struggle and strife, a love story, a story of survival and discipline and so much more and all of this is expressed perfectly through the score created by composer Shigeru Umebayashi and Nathaniel Mechaly interspersed with period pieces and other pertinent music.  The Grandmaster Soundtrack is terrific as a stand alone album and I have no doubt that it makes a perfect accompaniment to the original film.  I wanted to see the film based on the promos, but the soundtrack has made me even more eager to check out this film.


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