Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Ip Man (4½ Stars)

I decided to rewatch "Ip Man" today because I intend to see "Grandmaster" in the cinema tomorrow, also a film about Ip Man's life. The last time I reviewed it three years ago I was lazy, merely quoting what another reviewer had said. Let's give my own thoughts this time.

The film begins in 1935 in the city of Foshan (called Fo Shan in the film's English subtitles), a place well known for having many martial arts schools teaching different styles. Donnie Yen portrays Ip Man as a polite man of wealth who is revered for his fighting skills, even though he modestly attempts to keep them hidden. When the masters of other kung fu schools come to spar with him he does it in the privacy of his home, without spectators, in order to avoid embarrassing them. Nevertheless, his wife still thinks he spends too much time fighting and talking about fighting. Ip doesn't work, he doesn't need to.

Ip is drawn out of seclusion when Jin Shanzhao, a rude man from the north, comes to prove that southern Chinese martial arts are inferior by beating up all the city's masters. Ip restores the southern honour by decisively defeating Jin and making him leave the city. Young people flock to Ip, asking him to be their master, but he refuses.

The second half of the film takes place in 1937 after the Japanese army has invaded Foshan. (I believe this is an error, since I have read that Japan didn't conquer Foshan until November 1938). Ip Man's villa has been confiscated to be used by the Japanese high command, and he now lives with his family in poverty. Ip gets a job as a coal miner. The city's commander, General Miura, is a fan of fighting, as well as being a karate black belt himself. Every day he invites Chinese workers to fight in his dojo, promising a bag of rice to anyone who can defeat a Japanese fighter. The general himself is fair and sends victorious Chinese fighters home with their rewards, but his deputy Commander Sato is cruel and sometimes shoots the Chinese. Ip takes revenge by challenging the general himself.

While this film has strong elements of Chinese anti-Japanese nationalism, General Miura isn't shown to be completely bad. In black and white terms, think of him as dark grey. He considers it wrong for victorious Chinese fighters to be shot in his dojo, but he doesn't punish the man who does it, he just shouts at him and says, "Don't do it again". Obviously his opinion is that a bad Japanese man is worth more than a good Chinese man.

This is a spectacular film, establishing Donnie Yen as a master of martial arts. Let's wait till tomorrow and see if "Grandmaster" has more to offer.

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