Review for The 7 Grandmasters

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Introduction


You do not want to lose face, especially when you’re a Martial Arts Grandmaster, renowned across the land, and with countless years of experience and public service. For Seungkwan Ching, that service was rewarded with recognition by the Emperor. But on the day that his school celebrated that achievement, there was a dissenting voice, reminding people that acclaim must be earned, not bestowed. And so Seungkwan Ching, his daughter and three disciples set forth to travel across the land, to challenge and defeat the other Martial Arts school masters to once again prove his worth. And on the way, they pick up a wannabe student as well.

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The Presentation


The 7 Grandmasters gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and you have the choice between PCM 1.0 Mono Mandarin, English and Cantonese. You have a signs only track, and English subtitles for Mandarin, and English subtitles for Cantonese. For this review I watched the Cantonese version. The transfer is really quite good, clear and sharp with excellent detail and rich, consistent colour. The image is also remarkably free of damage and dirt given its age, and I glimpsed maybe one stained frame in the whole film. The issues then will be with the source material, the occasional loss of focus, and the obvious anamorphic lensing in pans, and the seams on hairpieces. The costumes, sets and locations all work to establish the right sense of mood. The audio is adequate, with no real issues to complain about. The dialogue is clear, and there are no problems with glitches, dropouts, or tinniness, although the limitations of mono tape audio are obviously present. The subtitles are accurately timed, and free of typos, although a couple of captions just flash by, and don’t stay on screen long enough to read.

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Extras


The 7 Grandmasters gets an audio commentary from Frank Djeng and Michael Worth.

Conclusion


I wasn’t expecting much from The 7 Grandmasters, after all a vintage kung-fu movie set in the era of rival schools and delineated styles of kung fu, back when most of these films were made with a po-faced seriousness like a balloon that demanded puncturing, is not a genre I’ve ever really appreciated. After all it was the Jackie Chan kung-fu comedies that introduced me to this kind of action to begin with. But I found much to appreciate about The 7 Grandmasters, enough to now get me worried that this is the best film of the 8 in this collection.

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The rival school thing is a staple of the genre, although this film changes things up by having the film’s protagonist travelling the land, challenging one school after another to maintain his reputation, and these are duels between masters, to see who is strongest, with very little rancour between them. Of course you have various styles of kung-fu facing off against each other, so you get that variety in choreography and action style, although once again, with seven grandmasters, there are plenty of styles to appreciate.
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Moreover, the back-story establishes the drama that lies at the heart of the tale. That when Seungkwan Ching was himself a student, his master chose him to inherit the school’s secrets, but another student coveted the position and power himself, and stole half of the secrets of the Bak Mei style that the protagonist uses. That history comes back to haunt the master towards the end of the film.

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Then there is the eager young student who latches onto the party early on in the film. He sees the grandmaster show off his skill, and decides that he has to learn the Bak Mei style. But Ching is intent on completing his quest, earning his accolade, and then retiring. He’s not keen on taking on another student, and his disciples and daughter shield him from this new devotee. He becomes the comic relief in the film, as he keeps trying and failing to make an impression... Until he finally does make an impression and gets taken on as a student, although he’s still the doormat given he’s the youngest and newest pupil. But he is a quick study, and his comedic demeanour eventually changes into something a lot more competent. Yet it turns out that he had an ulterior motive in wanting to learn kung-fu, which again all feeds into the climax of the film.

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The 7 Grandmasters manages to do so much more than its peers. Sure it is the traditional rival schools and rival styles of kung-fu in a period setting, but you get a lot of styles and schools, which makes the action sequences a lot more interesting, and they are choreographed in a way to entertain while advancing the story. The film also finds room for comedy which keeps things interesting. And finally, the story is really strong, emotionally engaging, and with some deftly edited flashback sequences, is told in a way that really holds the attention.

8/10

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