Ip Man: The Foshan Connection


Last night, I watched the first Ip Man movie, and was pretty amazed on several fronts. For one, I impressed myself, because although it was in Mandarin…And subtitled in Mandarin…I actually understood a good deal of what they were saying! It's a combination of words I actually know how to say, words I hear in certain contexts and so "sort of know them," reading the situation and just having my brain in a "good Chinese place." (you have good Chinese days and bad Chinese days. Yesterday was a good one!) I was pretty pleased, though still no means fluent after a year and a half here. Also, it was movie-speech, so quite a bit clearer and not rapid, slurred or accented like how most people speak. Still…Yay!

It's kind of amazing how scarred the national psyche is after World War II. I don't think one can truly understand what sort of horrors Imperial Japan inflicted upon the Chinese populace, setting the scene for quite a bit of the issues we have today. On the one hand, one wants to encourage people to let the past stay in the past and move forwards with a clean slate. But there are people still alive that remember what happened; its not ancient history. Especially here in Nanjing, where one of the worst atrocities of WW2 took place at the hands of the Japanese. I was teaching a class in Jinan, advanced students, all. And I asked them about the earthquake in Japan, the radioactive fallout…And what they thought about it. Quite a few of them laughed and openly mocked it. They thought the Japanese got exactly what they deserved.

I was pretty shocked and moved the conversation along. But probably should not have been; I mean, these kids are spoonfed this history from birth, both from their parents and grandparents and the government as well. They grow up with these ideas and while they're certainly not inaccurate from a historical perspective, they're definitely propagandized (if thats a word..) by Beijing to cement national unity against a percieved enemy. Oldest trick in the book for governments to maintain their hold. "If not for us, THEY would WIN." 

Even though the everyman of every nation really just wants to live and let live, the dictates of the few and greedy rile up the masses for whatever endeavor those few push for…History is such a depressing topic…

Kung-fu movies, on the other hand, are entirely awesome. And Ip Man has that, without the fights being too absurd and nonsensical. Ong Bak had some great scenes, but it was so…Forced. Frankly, I found it funny. The antagonists steal a Buddha from these villagers who are starving, BUT THERE'S THIS ONE GUY WHOSE GOT MUSCLES ON HIS PINKIES WHOSE GONNA GO AND WHOOP ASS IN THE BIG CITY. Apparently everyone's so thin because that guy eats all the food…But Ip Man has historical context, if pretty loosely based in the guy's actual life, and it was kind of hard not to buy into the political propaganda just a bit. The long suffering of the Chinese people, especially in the early 20th century, is in a LOT of movies and can be a bit dreary at times. More "Proud to be Chinese." But fairly tasteful and artistic, I thought. Ip Man was not exactly a model figure, especially when he neglects his family for Wing Chun, though circumstances correct this.

And finally…I was amazed to see just how vicious Wing Chun can be. I guess I need to see more Bruce Lee movies (Ip Man is Bruce Lee's teacher, by the way). As a "soft art" that I currently train in, I'd always thought of it as a bit defensive, hand-to-hand with weak kicks and decent trapping techniques. But I liked how well it gets into an opponent's guard and wrecks them. But watching Donnie Yen, who definitely harkens back to Neo with his classical Chinese getup and straight backed, open-handed kung-fu style, lose it against those Japanese students, and again vs their master. Wow. Just Wow. Toe-curling, blood splattered, joint-breakingly wow. Obviously some of it's fake; those throws were a bit staged, but that was no wire-fu or absurdly flashy techniques. Just lightning-quick, in-your-shit hands. The parts where he'd tenderize the other guys' chest were pretty killer, amazing anyone can move that fast! And great variety with the other styles. No idea what the bandit lord was using (Hung Gar?) but that was a beautiful dance too. Just. Beautiful.

And guns suck. Period. Real men kill with their pinkies, not their index fingers. Back to training that pinkie!..

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