by Michael S. Palmer
I'm sure the Bonus View guys will have a full review heading your way in the coming weeks, but Thursday night Dolby invited High-Def Digest to an advanced screening of Wong Kar Wai's new Kung Fu epic, 'The Grandmaster'. If you love crazy sound experiences and haven't heard Atmos just yet, this is the one you must-must-must check out (especially if you don't like 3D) if you live anywhere near an Atmos-equipped movie theatre.
Staring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, and Chang Chen, 'The Grandmaster' begins with the rise Wing Chun grandmaster, Ip Man, in 1930s Foshan, China, and takes us through his post war years in 1950s Hong Kong where he would ultimately teach Bruce Lee. I have to admit I knew nothing about the film, or Ip Man, until a few days ago, and the movie is quite different from the one trailer I checked out.
An incredibly ambitious film, 'The Grandmaster' is a non-linear historical epic with fierce and beautifully choreographed action sequences, quirky comedy, and a haunting love story. To be honest, the film's structure jumped around so much, I literally lost the plot a couple times (I've heard the American version is missing 20 minutes versus the original International cut, so that might also be the reason), wishing we could have spent more time with the characters. But in the same way many of our readers fell in love with 'Drive', 'The Grandmaster' relishes in tone, music, a heightened style, and some amazing cinematography. I definitely want to see this one again.
And when I do, I'm going to take my wife and friends to see it in Dolby Atmos. My last few Atmos experiences have been a little underwhelming. I say that knowing Atmos' capabilities well. And let's be honest, not every surround experience needs to be (or should be) highly directional and aggressive. It's the same with 7.1 Blu-rays, right? However, when I saw 'Elysium' this week, I wondered whether or not the the cinema was using Atmos or not.
Then there's 'The Grandmaster'. It's not the most nuanced or technical Atmos track I've heard (see 'The Life of Pi'); , but wow, 'The Grandmaster' is an amusement park ride of sound. From the very first rain-soaked battle, this film's Atmos sound mix goes to war on your senses and never lets up. Rain pours, fists and feet explode, explosions roar, broken glass flies, and train whistles scream. The sound swirls around and above, and the entire time it feels like you're sitting right smack in the middle of the movie's orchestra. I've only heard it once, and since Atmos is so rare (only 200 cinemas world wide, as of last night), it's hard to compare and contrast without relying heavily on fading memory, but I would argue that 'The Grandmaster' may be the most aggressive theatrical sound mix of the last few years, next to something like a 'Transformers Dark of the Moon' (which wasn't Atmos). To be fair, that might not be something you're looking for in a cinema experience, and that's perfectly okay. But for me, and those who geek out about sound, this is a rocking good time. If the Blu-ray is half as good, it's still going to be on all the end of year demo lists.
So, again, if you love awesome and unique sound experiences, and are looking to see a movie that isn't the same, endless CGI-characters-battling, check out Wong Kar Wai's 'The Grandmaster' in Dolby Atmos in New York and LA on August 23; cinemas nationwide on August 30.