Unfortunately this is as much historical period piece as it is martial arts film. In this regard The Grandmaster shows a few warts. None of these blemishes ruin the film, they generally do not even slow it down, but they are there nonetheless.
The film tells the story of Ip Man, who is credited with bringing kung fu to the world. But that is far from the focus of the film. Indeed it is difficult to discern much of a focus. But somehow this lack of focus sort of works.
The film starts with, Gong Yutian, a grandmaster of Northern China announcing he will retire. There is a division between northern and southern kung fu schools that is explained in passing. Gong comes south and it is determined Ip Man will meet the grandmaster in a fight (which turns out to be different than you might imagine). In besting a grandmaster you become heir to He meets Master Gong's daughter, Gong Ep, during these proceedings.
The plot here is secondary to the action--and it is not always kung fu fighting. It is sometimes romantic entanglement. But usually it is disconnected fights and challenges. Yet these fights are not pointless but individual parables that move the story forward (albeit in fits and starts). The movie does not move in a typical narrative and jumps long periods of time. It is ot a typical bio-pic. If you expect to learn anything about Ip Man you will be disappointed. But then it may be the thing that inspires you to learn more about him. How often does a bio-pic tell the whole or even the real story of a person?
The acting is stylized but solid. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, always reliable, is stoic in the lead role and the lovely Ziyi Zhang appears as Gong Er and is given the most chance to emote and show emotion in the film--her character seeks love, vengeance and honor with intensity. She is given more opportunity to act, to emote than anyone else in the film.
The film is being marketed as an action film or a kung fu film and it is a bit more than that. The marketing also uses "Bruce Lee" as a lure; this film has almost nothing to do with Bruce Lee. Go into this with no expectations and you will take something from it. Go in expecting The Raid: Redemption and you will be perplexed.