Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ip Man and the 2010 Chinese American Film Festival

Earlier in November, I stopped by the 4 Star Theater to see Ip Man

Ip Man starring Donnie Yen and Simon Yam; directed by Wilson Yip; Cantonese and some Japanese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website

Ip Man is loosely based on the true story of Ip Man (frequently spelled Yip Man). Yip was a noted martial arts instructor whose many students include actor Bruce Lee.

According to the SF Chronicle review of the film, the "movie, a huge hit in China and Hong Kong that finally made Donnie Yen, a second and third banana for a quarter of a century, a major box office star. He is the It Man of the moment, even if his Ip Man is largely fictional."

This may be true but I've been a fan of Donnie Yen since Hero (2002) with Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung and Ziyi Zhang. Apparently, the 4 Star Theater's programmers are fans of Yen as well because they have two of his recent films screening soon - Ip Man 2 (2010) and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)


The film is a throwback action film - lot's of kung fu action, a reluctant master who is pushed into fighting and even Japanese as the bad guys. The premise of the film defies belief. At the start of the film which is set in the mid-1930s, Ip is a gentleman of leisure with a beautiful wife and precocious toddler son. He does not deign to teach martial arts although his city is known as the martial arts capital of China. Ip has a source of income which is not explained as he is able to employ servants, live on a large estate and bankroll his friend's textile factory.

Actor Fan Siu-wong comes to town as a small-time robber and martial arts master. He kick ass on all the city's kung fu masters and figures he'll strong arm everyone until he hears about Ip Man. He goes to Ip's villa and they engage in a hellacious but decisive fight in Ip's living room. After vanquishing the bandit, Ip is the toast of the town. I suppose the first half of the film was to estabish Ip's bona fides as a peaceful gentleman who practices martial arts to test himself but the film painted Ip's inner contemplation with strokes as broad as the kung fu moves he used to dispatch opponent after opponent.

The second half of the film takes place a few years later when the Japanese have invaded China and are the occupying force in the region. Ip is reduced to working at a coal or petcoke facility. He gets a piece of bread and a yam for lunch everyday. He dutifully saves the yam for his wife and son who now live in a tenement.

One day some Japanese soldiers come by looking for the famed practioners of kung fu they have heard about. They want to test Japanese karate vs. Chinese kung fu. A few of the men, including Ip's friend and former student, accept the challenge. For his part, Ip has put aside childish things and just wants to eke out a living and feed his family.

Ip's friend is killed by the Japanese and that adjusts his attitude towards the Japanese and fighting. The next time the Japanese come by, Ip takes up their offer and comes out victorious in a 10-on-1 match. Having sufficiently exorcised his anger, Ip once again retreats to his life of hard work and peaceful existence. Two things interfere with his life - Fan Siu-wong comes back to town and terrorizes the textile factory which Ip previously bankrolled. The factory is still in operation and the Japanese rely on it since all the other textfile factories have been destroyed. Ip goes to the factory to teach the workers how to protect themselves from Fan and his gang. The other problem is that Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a Japanese general and karate master, is anxious to test his skills against Ip. He sends out his troops to look for him.

Since I've mentioned Ip Man 2, one can imagine how the film turns out. Ip Man is not about plot or surprises. It's about fight scenes and a devotion to the conventions of old-school, HK kung fu films. By that measure, Ip Man is a smashing success. Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and Fan Siu-wong play their roles just right. Shibuya Tenma as the sadistic Japanese colonel gets to sport coke bottle eyeglasses and buck teeth but still delivers a memorable supporting performance despite having to play the stereotype.


Ip Man 2 is being screened at the 4 Star as part of the 2010 Chinese American Film Festival. The festival officially opened on October 31 at the Marina Theater but all the other screenings are occurring between November 17 and 23 at the 4 Star. The line-up consists of 10 films. Films that interest me in addition to Ip Man 2 include

The Treasure Hunter - the northwest desert where countless prosperous dynasties have flourished and fallen, there is a rumor that buried amongst the sand exists a tomb containing countless riches. A group of mysterious guardians have been guarding the map to the location of the treasure until a fierce rivalry erupts. A notorious international crime group, The Company, manage to hunt down the map keeper but not before he manages to pass the map to a young chivalrous man, Ciao Fei (Jay Chou). Ciao Fei was forced to give up the map to save the live of his mentors daughter Lan Ting (Lin Chi Ling). Teaming up with Hua Ding Bang (Chen Daoming) (a famous archeologist) and Lan Ting they embark on a dangerous journey to recover the map and fight to protect the ancient treasure.

Cool Young - The film adopted elements from Western structuralism and Chinese theatrical aesthetics. It depicts different pictures of people from different social class within modern Chinese community through an artistic angle. All the characters in the film have different emotions within the different plot. The story is about lives of different people in the city and relationship between them each other.

Confucius - In the 6th century B.C. China was still a patchwork of feudal kingdoms and states, fighting with each other for supremacy. Kong Qiu was born in the kingdom of Lu, where the court ruled in name only and real power had developed to the three most powerful local clans. Kong Qiu’s reputation as a social and ethical thinker led the ruler of Lu to appoint him to ministerial office, and he scored some brilliant successes in restoring prestige and authority to the court. His efforts to curb the ambitions of the powerful clans also appeared to succeed, but the Lu army (led by the young general Gongshan Niu) turned against him and the ruler of the kingdom of Qi used bribes to turn the ruler of Lu against his minister...

In the past, they have screened films without subtitling although the program guide explicitly states that all films are English subtitled. Let's hope all the prints have the right subtitling this year.

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