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The Grandmaster by Shigeru Umebayashi & Nathaniel Méchaly (Review)

posted Oct 8, 2013, 8:42 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Oct 9, 2013, 8:21 AM ]

Shigeru Umebayashi is a very notable Japanese composer whose body of work includes films like House Of Flying Daggers, Curse Of The Golden Flower and Jet Li’s Fearless. Nathaniel Méchaly is a notable French composer whose work includes Taken, Colombiana, and Revolver. The unlikely duo teams with director Wong Kar-wai for this martial arts drama based on the life story of the iconic Ip Man. This album is a combination of the two composer's work. Umebayashi composed the Chinese version while Méchaly composed the international version. This is a practice I am whole-heartedly against, but in this instance it seems like both composers were on the same page, or at least Méchaly was respectful to Umebayashi's work. The score is a wonderfully melodic and thematic journey with lush strings, a deep emotional undercurrent and a smallness that allows it to strive in its simplistic beauty.

The album presents us with the themes up front, and they are indeed some beautiful themes. We have a "Main Theme" and a "Love Theme" with two versions of each. The two themes don’t differ much in tone, but their context differs greatly. The music carries a sense of elegance and grace to it. There are a few action tracks within the score as well and they are characterized mostly by percussion, which is pretty standard I feel for martial arts sequences. It is unique to have Shigeru Umebayashi who is Japanese scoring a film for a Chinese director about a Chinese martial arts legend. I think the cultural blending is a great thing. The album also contains some music from other films including some from Ennio Morricone. Don’t worry, the source choices do not take you out of the story at all and in fact work very well. The grand picture the album paints is effective in its storytelling.

The score has a light airy feel with deep emotional touches. It was a very wonderful listen and the thematic writing is very strong. The presentation as a whole benefits from the source music used, and everything works together for a very seamless presentation. The Grandmaster isn’t a game-changing score or anything of that sort, but its simplistic beauty and elegance is something to behold. It carries a unique voice and is telling a story worth listening to.