Visual Language – Week 1: Design Analysis

This week’s work is to choose a design I like and analyze its adherence to the principles of design. My choice is the Grandmaster movie poster.



This movie is directed and written by Wong Kar-wai, a Hong Kong filmmaker “internationally renowned as an auteur for his visually unique, highly stylized work”[1], and also, his fragmented narratives and relentless delays. Came out in 2013, the Grandmaster movie was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design at the 86th Academy Awards, and it was the winner of Best Film of the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards.

In 130 minutes, the movie depicts the life of the Wing Chun grandmaster – Ip Man. Rather than an action-heavy kung fu production, this film is more like a narrative poem that delineates the relationships between Ip and the people around him. In the center of these relationships is the one with Gong Er, the daughter of a martial arts grandmaster from northern China – they’re friends, rivals, teacher & student, and perhaps, lovers for a brief moment. In a sense, it’s complicate. And this is what the poster effectively communicates.


Underlying System

The poster is divided into three sections: the title, the main art, and the bottom footer with names of actors, actresses, producers, etc. The proportion of the main art is approximately two times of the title and footer, which gives a stress on the intermingling, complex relationship between Ip and Gong. It’s worth noting that the main art seems to be balanced both vertically and horizontally – vertically, there are two lines of text, one at the top, the other at the bottom; horizontally, the two figures are standing face-to-face in symmetric positions in front of a symmetric gate, while the weight of the text at the top left is somewhat counter-balanced by the trees in the back, located at the upper right corner of the main art.



The main art is eye-catching and comes as the most important thing in the poster by being the biggest and one-and-only bright element among the entire dark background (which works sort of like casting a spotlight onto a fight scene on a theater stage). The title section with large fonts comes next, while the footer text section remains small and low-key at the bottom.



—-  Top —-


—- Middle —-

—- Bottom —-

It seems that three typefaces are used: the Elan family, the Poster Sans Bold and the Bee One. The Elan family and the Poster Sans Bold are the two major fonts in the design, while the Bee One is complimentary and used for the less important description texts at the bottom.



This is a design relying solely on gray scale – five major shades are used. The black color sets the basic tone of the poster and it gives an outline to the primary figures; the dark gray depicts facial details of the two characters; the medium gray is used for title fonts; the lighter gray lays a serene backdrop (e.g. the looming mountains and the trees) to contrast with the rattling fight scene; and finally, white as the source of light.

I think this gray-scale setup rhymes with the overall tonality of the movie: Ip’s life-long struggle and fight for recognition and identity, and Gong’s tragic fate (who was injured terribly in another fight, then turned to opium, and died shortly after). In an age of political turmoil and drastic societal changes, the destiny of even the most powerful martial artists remained highly fragile. Looking back, the history was heavy and dark; Ip and Gong, nonetheless, kept fighting for their bright ideals – that’s my interpretation of this visual design.


2 thoughts on “Visual Language – Week 1: Design Analysis

  1. Thank you for the post! This is a beautiful movie poster. As you described, the grayscale is purposefully used to illustrate the heaviness and darkness of the movie. You nailed the underlying system inside the poster. I love how you pointed out the horizontal spacing that is equal between the elements. The placement “once upon time in kung fu.” draws my attention since everything about this poster follows symmetry except this element. Because of the placement, it makes my eye to read the line and look at the main image after.

    The typeface exercise is also fantastic. For further analysis, I would talk about various letter spacing that is used on each element. Why do you think the designer used different tracking? To make a unified title block? Or for legibility? It might be both.

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