Posts Tagged ‘Donnie Yen’

LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN [JING MO FUNG WAN: CHEN ZHEN | YE XING XIA: CHEN ZHEN | 精武風雲.陳真]

2010/10/04

http://www.mediaasia.com/legendofthefist/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Andrew Lau Written by: Cheung Chi-Sing, Gordon Chan  Produced by: Andrew Lau, Gordon Chan  Cinematography by: Andrew Lau, Ng Man-Ching  Editing by: Azrael Chung  Music by: Chan Kwong-Wing  Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata, Huo Siyan, Yang Zhou

We are living in fast times. Attention to detail has become a virtue without value. Everything has to get attention instantly, just to be succeeded by the next best thing coming our way. Movies, an art form that has always been driven by systematic acceleration, is no different of course, and LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a good example for that.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a movie made for an audience without memory, without the expectation of logic or the ability to follow linear storytelling from beginning to end, even though it tries to give us the impression it was dedicated to storytelling. But in fact, we are rather dealing with fragments – a movie like an executive summary, enough to get it, but leaving out the details. It is made for an audience that has forgotten what movie they just paid for the moment they take their seats in the cinema. As long as it is loud, cool and fast-paced, as long as there is familiarity to make it instantly likable, it’s all good. We may never find out what came first, an undemanding audience or dumb filmmaking, but nowadays they complement each other very well.

So let’s take THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN for what it is and move on. Let us forget about historic accuracy (who Chen Zhen really was and what he meant), seamless continuation of the FIST OF FURY franchise or sophisticated characterization, and instead enjoy the spectacle featuring a masked hero coming out of nowhere, going nowhere.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN opens with Chen Zhen fighting in WWI in France, becoming the savior of the Chinese working over there, helping them to survive and get back home. In one of the more memorable moments, Chen Zhen defeats the German army by running, slaloming, jumping and swinging through a hail of bullets until he’s the last man standing.

I don’t remember how the film cut to Shanghai set years later (I am not sure if it escaped my memory or if there’s simply nothing to remember), and we are presented with the usual introduction of the city: the nightclub (called Casablanca), the Jazz music, the lights and the glamour. Here we meet Liu Yiutian (Anthony Wong, who looks tired – or bored – throughout the film), the club’s owner, and his wife Kiki (Shu Qi, who looks equally bored, but attractive as always), who is spying for the Japanese. It’s a reprise of the roles of Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li in SHANGHAI, with Wong’s gestures and looks being a perfect copy of Chow, and Qi trying her best to imitate Gong Li most of the time.

These are turbulent times, and soon we get some more insight into the characters, like that of Anthony Wong: “the more chaos, the more we earn, ha ha”. He knows he’s the big shot who owns the only island of tranquility amid the chaos outside. Speaking of the club: its name immediately struck me, quite like Mr. Lau intended I assume, but I don’t know what to make out of it. Is it an homage? Is it that Mr. Lau realized SHANGHAI pretty much copies CASABLANCA, so as he copies SHANGHAI the club’s name becomes something like an insider joke? Or is it just stupid, naming a club in the 1920’s after a movie set during WWII and released in 1942? Or am I stupid and they really are fans of the city?

Chen Zhen, who now goes by his other name, is part of an underground movement. Soon he gets Liu to trust him and they become partners of the nightclub business, all for no obvious reasons. It is not clear why Liu should make someone he doesn’t know a partner (= give half of his profit away), and it is even more illogical that a key figure of the resistance, who at the same time is a superhero, would expose himself like that. Maybe it’s because he has to meet the villain, Japanese Colonel Takashi, at some point and nobody knew a better way to introduce them than the club. It’s not the only meaningless, pointless moment of the movie, so someone must have figured we’ll get over it quickly.

As soon as the swiss-cheese-plot, sketchy editing and amazingly false music (they go as far as using Heavy Metal) started to get annoying, THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN throws in the second catchy scene, the silver dollar bet between Chen Zhen and Takashi. That is a fine moment, a tense, sophisticated duel between the archenemies. Bravo. But then, we are back to endless dojo scenes with Takashi, endless display of racism (Britons against Chinese, Chinese against Japanese, Chinese against Britons, Japanese against everyone else), and many more plot holes, until we can witness the less than climatic last fight between the antagonists (with Donnie Yen mutating into Bruce Lee and from here on suddenly using Lee’s trademark high-pitched scream).

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is not unentertaining, but it never really makes up for all its shortcomings. Mr. Lau seems to believe that playing some sad music when someone’s dying can replace characterization or good acting, just as he believes he can fool us that Donnie Yen has really done all the fighting by himself. The biggest letdown is the fact that at least half of the time Mr. Yen is doubled, and the rest of the time he doesn’t show much of his capabilities as those sequences are shot largely close-up with shaky camera and are edited very fast. Martial arts fans will inevitably feel cheated.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is another production that promises a lot and keeps just a little. It feels rushed, incomplete, not very well planned and misses more opportunities than it seizes. What if, what could have been – you’ll most certainly find yourself asking questions like these. THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is one more proof that Mr. Lau’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS was both, a masterpiece and a fluke.

According to the (true) legend, Chen Zhen’s identity was never revealed, and one day he just disappeared without leaving a trace. Quite like the movie – it’s suddenly over, just like that, and it leaves no trace behind. What was I just watching?

J.


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IP MAN 2: LEGEND OF THE GRANDMASTER [YIP MAN 2: CHUNG SI CHUEN KEI | 葉問2:宗師傳奇]

2010/05/09

http://www.ipman2-movie.com/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Wilson Yip Written by: Edmond Wong  Produced by: Raymond Wong Cinematography by: Hang-Sang Poon Music: Kenji Kawai Cast: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Xiaoming Huang, Siu-Wong Fan, Kent Cheng, Darren Shalavi

IP MAN 2 seamlessly continues where IP MAN left off: IP Man and his family are moving to Hong Kong where he tries to open his new martial arts school. In the beginning the Ip’s have very little money and Ip Man virtually no students, but at least they are no longer harassed by the Japanese. Instead he and the other masters now have to fight the corrupt British administration: where Ip Man runs into trouble with the local big shots in the beginning and has to fight for his recognition as martial arts master with Sammo Hung, they are all united later when the British set up a boxing tournament to teach the Chinese a lesson. Their man called The Twister is a mean machine ready to kill and the question is who is going to stop him.

IP MAN 2 shows the same high quality standards that have made IP MAN so outstanding, so we do not have to talk much about production, script writing, direction and acting. I believe that if you liked IP MAN you will most definitely like IP MAN 2.

Yet IP MAN 2 is more than just a variation of the same: IP MAN 2 is a chronological continuation, with a lively portrayal of Hong Kong in the 40’s and Ip Man’s struggle as a teacher at a time right after the Sino-Chinese war. Once again Raymond Wong and Wilson Yip succeed in finding the perfect balance of martial arts movie, semi-biographical portrait and historical drama.

With Sammo Hung joining the cast as a rival master IP MAN 2 is raising the bar of martial arts performances even higher: seeing Hung and Donnie Yen clash is nothing less than marvelous and is only exceeded by the showdown when they both fight The Twister. It’s quite bizarre to see western boxing mixed with Wing Chun though, but after a few minutes you’ll be nailed to your seat enjoying the show.

If you have expected IP MAN 2 focusing on the relationship between Ip Man and Bruce Lee you’ll have to wait; Raymond Wong obviously couldn’t finalize negotiations with Bruce Lee’s heirs and therefore (a very young) Bruce Lee enters the movie only in its very last scene, hinting at a possible third installment in the IP MAN series.

It is difficult to say which film is better, IP MAN or IP MAN 2. I thought the portrayal of Ip Man in part two was more consistent and mature whereas in part one he is easily outraged. On the other hand part 2 is more gimmicky and less down to earth, but in return rewards us with more spectacular fights. And Simon Yam’s role and how the story’s been altered was really unnecessary. But other than that both movies are on par.

It probably all comes down to everyone’s likes and dislikes. For now it’s a tie. Once Raymond Wong realizes IP MAN 3 including the Bruce Lee story, and with part three then truly delivering the goods, I expect part two looking more like a transition between part one and part three. But until then IP MAN 2 is another highly entertaining to watch milestone of modern Hong Kong martial arts cinema.

J.


IP MAN [YIP MAN | 葉問]

2010/05/09

http://www.ipman-movie.com/

HONG KONG 2008  Directed by: Wilson Yip Written by: Edmond Wong  Produced by: Raymond Wong Cinematography by: Sing-Pui O  Editing: Ka-Fai Cheung  Music: Kenji Kawai Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Ka Tung Lam, Yu Xing, You-Nam Wong, Chen Zhi Hui, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeguchi, Yu-Hang To

In 2008 two attempts were made to bring the work and life of grandmaster Ip Man to the big screen: first prolific producer Raymond Wong announced his project, then Wong Kar Wai came out saying he had his own version of an Ip Man movie coming up soon. While Wong Kar Wai’s film remains in development hell until today, Raymond Wong went ahead producing the acclaimed epic finally simply called IP MAN after some title controversy.

The movie is set during the Sino-Japanese war in the 30’s: Foshan, originally a city bustling with martial arts schools of southern Chinese styles is soon being occupied by the Japanese army. The previously prosper Foshan declines and becomes a place in which disease and starvation are the norm. The martial arts schools are closed and the masters have to work in a coal mine to make a living. Occasionally the Japanese force them to fight against their own martial artists, and one day it’s Ip Man’s turn to take on the enemy in a life-and death martial arts duel.

IP MAN naturally takes its liberties with Ip Man’s biography, but who are we to judge right from wrong. What’s more important is that IP MAN is a rich, diverse and believable portrait of the Wing Chun grandmaster within the limitations of a martial art movie (we have to understand that IP MAN is not a biopic). Still there are so many ways in which you can enjoy the movie; IP MAN will most certainly stand the test of time and become a modern classic.

With Donnie Yen’s best acting so far and with another fabulous martial arts performance of his (which is even more notable bearing in mind he had to learn Wing Chun from ground up before shooting started) IP MAN succeeds in portraying Ip Man as a kind, skilled and dedicated person. Yen’s acting is very believable and I couldn’t think of anyone else to play the role better, or at all (unless you rewrite the role and omit all fighting). The rest of the ensemble is also well cast, which elevates IP MAN far above most other martial arts movies. From beginning to end you never have the feeling to watch a stunt show that requires just any story as an excuse for the fights, instead the movie is more than sincere in telling the life and times of Ip Man.

For all martial arts fans out there IP MAN should be a feast for the eyes, featuring various styles and fantastic action choreography by Sammo Hung. The fights are enormously dynamic and grim with wirework that supports the action and never overshadows the skills of the fighters.

If you are fond of history IP MAN is also an interesting account of the Japanese invasion: naturally the film is biased, but it never feels unjustified and in the end every great movie needs a great villain. IP MAN may have strong views in regard of the Japanese, but it’s not propaganda like many other films – for IP MAN history is a canvas upon which it paints its story.

Finally the movie shines when it comes to production value (I forgive the movie that the very first scene showing Foshan is very much revealing that these are studio facades), direction, editing and music. In short, it’s another outstanding Raymond Wong production.

IP MAN evokes memories of the good old days of Hong Kong cinema and gets as close as that is possible today to milestones like ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA. If all Hong Kong movies would have the virtues of IP MAN we would soon see a renaissance of Hong Kong cinema; unfortunately this is not the case.

For the time being IP MAN marks the pinnacle of contemporary Cantonese martial arts films with only one serious competitor in sight: IP MAN 2.

J.