Yesterday evening I watched the movie Ip Man streaming on Netflix. I think that the phenomenon of streaming has the potential of changing motion pictures in some basic ways (just as video rental did before it). More on that subject in a later post.
Ip Man is a beautifully crafted, highly sanitized and fictionalized biography of a real person, Ip Man, a master of the Chinese kung fu style known as Wing Chun, notable among other reasons for having been Bruce Lee’s teacher. The directing is good, the editing is first rate. The portayal of the title character by the veteran Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen is excellent, restrained, and compelling. I strongly suspect we’ll see more of him here in the West.
I won’t go into details of the plot or point out just how it was sanitized and fictionalized. Just see the picture (particularly if you’re a Netflix subscriber and streaming is available to you).
Fight choreography was by Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu-hung. To my eye far too much of the fighting in Hong Kong action movies looks like dance. I find it nearly unwatchable. Although this movie preserved some of the more exaggerated conventions of the genre, I found that the sparring and fighting looked more like their real life counterparts than is frequently the case. I will admit prejudice: I thought that the portrayal of Japanese martial arts was only fair—they had a distinct Chinese flavor.
I found the scene in which Ip Man faces and defeats ten Japanese martial arts practitioners reminiscent of a similar scene in Yojimbo. A great fight scene.
Although I give the picture an enthusiastic thumbs-up, if you have a limited appetite for Chinese nationalist propaganda you may find this picture difficult to watch. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is strongly anti-Japanese.
The action of the picture takes place between 1937 (just before the Japanese invasion and occupation) and 1944 with a footnote telling us that the war ended and what happened afterwards. The diction is strange, something to the effect that on August 15, 1945 the Japanese surrendered and we won. While I recognize that I view history through an American lens, I think that’s a pretty eccentric formulation. In particular I don’t see how you can talk about the end of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (AKA WWII in China) without mentioned, in particular, the Soviet Union or Britain.
When the war ended in China the Japanese had occupied a considerable portion of the country for seven years. They occupied many of the cities but had been forced to a stalemate in the countryside. Without the British and Indian campaign from Burma Japan’s Operation Ichi-Go would doubtlessly have been more successful in pacifying the countyside and in all honesty I don’t see how the Chinese would ever have gotten the Japanese out without the million man Soviet Army, battle hardened, experienced, and successful having transferred their attentions from Europe to the East. The U. S. island-hopping campaign (necessitated by the failure of the Chinese to face down the Japanese successfully) pressed the Japanese from the East and South, the Soviets pressed the Japanese from the West and North, and the use of the atom bomb on the Japanese homeland delivered the coup de grâce.
The aforementioned notwithstanding it’s certainly interesting to see the story of the Japanese occupation told from the Chinese point of view.