Posts Tagged ‘martial arts movie’



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.




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.




USA / UK 2010  Directed by: Matthew Vaughn  Graphic Novel by: Mark Millar, John Romita, Jr. Written by: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman Produced by: Matthew Vaughn, Brad Pitt, Kris Thykier, Adam Brohling, Tarquin Pack, David Reid Cinematography: Ben Davis Editing: Pietro Scalia, Jon Harris, Eddie Hamilton Music: John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Marius De Vries, Iian Eshkeri  Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong

I remember when Luc Besson’s formidable LEON came out in 1994 and soon after all hell broke loose. How dare they portray a 12-year old girl as cold-blooded killer? How can you show her wield all kinds of guns on-screen? Not to mention her more or less intimate relationship with Leon, the hitman?!

It seemed to me that after the era of video nasties and a slightly more relaxed censorship landscape in Europe time was ripe for another discussion on violence in movies. So here it was, the next scandal, and this time it was not just about on-screen violence, but mostly about a minor being a full co-conspirator of hideous crimes.

Long before Hit-Girl Mathilda has been there, done that: smoking, swearing, playing Russian roulette with a .38, training seriously with modern weaponry, “executing” bad guys with paintball ammo and playing an indispensable role in Leon’s assignments. She may not have killed anyone but an especially obscene migration of violence from the periphery of movie making into the mainstream took place.

It had happened before. BONNIE & CLYDE was mainstream, and so were many of Peckinpah’s works. But it seemed LEON broke some new taboos and simply displayed bad taste by having a minor amidst all the killing that was going on. Many of the more drastic scenes including those showing more of Mathilda’s participation in the assignments as well as the relationship between the unlikely couple never made it into the theatrical cut, still it seemed to be more than the audience (and the critics) were willing to take.

16 years on KICK-ASS is starting the same debates all over again. This time the girl is 11 years old and does actually kill people. Different times require different measures I guess. As for the violence, KICK-ASS is far more restrained than other movies in recent memory, first and foremost NINJA ASSASSIN, but let’s also not forget PUNISHER – WAR ZONE, a fellow graphic novel adaptation that finally took violence to the level of the original comic series, something the previous PUNISHER movies didn’t dare to do (although Goldblatt’s version contained a serious amount of mayhem before it was cut out for the theatrical release; today it can only be found in bootleg versions of the film or early press tapes).

Hit-Girl however, same as the Punisher or Rain in NINJA ASSASSIN, is just a character, not a real person. She certainly is not a role model, but hardly any hero of any movie is. If Hollywood hadn’t let its heroes kill the bad guys without remorse or regret for a century, but instead had put the killing into a bigger and more meaningful context than just “they are the bad guys” KICK-ASS would have never happened. Too bad though: many generations grew up with cowboys killing redskins and heroes that were defined by their body count and not their ethical behavior.

It’s not the violence’s depiction that’s the issue, but the morale or the lack thereof. I have never heard anyone complaining about James Bond killing the villains by the dozen. Killing is what it is in most religions and societies It doesn’t require interpretation. Killing is a taboo. But what’s forbidden and unacceptable for us in real life we let characters do on-screen. And we never ask stupid questions so that we don’t get stupid answers. A mass magnet like James Bond however is much more of a role model for adults and kids alike (also due to the rating) so that it’s Bond who should be banned from the silver screen, not Hit-Girl.

As long as the icons of pop culture are getting away with killing and are even being admired for their actions we shouldn’t complain about KICK-ASS and the likes. Responsibility is a top-down game with the biggest player having the most responsibilities. As long as PG-13 movies do sanction killing for a good cause R-rated movies will sanction killing for any cause. That’s legitimate. If you want to discuss on-screen violence you have to start discussing JAMES BOND, BATMAN and friggin’ AVATAR.

I do not believe in uncritically defending violence in movies, but art is not subject to the status quo, it’s meant to go beyond it. We can’t always go all the way back to Luis Buñuel and Picasso and re-discuss the same old eyeball scare. We have to move on. Unfortunately KICK-ASS is a time machine. It brings back the same old discussions and proves we haven’t learned anything over the past decades.

Just a few words on the movie, finally: KICK-ASS does kick ass, but not quite the way they made us believe it would. Kick-Ass, the anti-hero, is not really developing into a hero of some sort, instead he remains a loser until the last battle and outgrows himself only thanks to the help of Hit-Girl. That is disappointing.

Kick-Ass was supposed to be the nerd next door who by the power of his will turns himself into a decent super-hero citizen. That doesn’t happen. Just as he puts it towards the end of the movie: all there was was a lot of ambition. It is impossible to identify with Kick-Ass. Also, the trailers and other marketing measures made us believe that Kick-Ass is joined by a group of like-minded superheroes. That is not the case. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are the real superheroes, and they were there before Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass is nothing without them. They are not a group or work as partners. They co-exist. And Red Mist is fake, just a decoy to find Kick-Ass and get him killed.

What starts out as SUPERBAD on drugs luckily stays true to the adult nature of the novel and the script and despite various flaws and shortcomings in story and character development and some very bland bad-guy characters it does deliver the goods in the end. KICK-ASS is loser drama and exhilarating action movie in equal shares. In the second half the movie takes graphic violence to the mainstream limit, but by then it was about time, given that you can’t call a movie KICK-ASS and then emerge a lame duck.

I have to say clearly that KICK-ASS is not reinventing the superhero genre though. It never appears significant enough to transcend its genre. Too much of it feels like another genre movie exercise like, say, SHOOT ‘EM UP. It’s playing with genre conventions, but it doesn’t alter them. The rules haven’t changed, just the players have.

KICK-ASS’s real dilemma however is that without Hit-Girl and her screen presence the movie is average entertainment. Hit-Girl is the match winner, the joker, and just as most reviews see her as a problem they should have also seen her as the savior. Hit-Girl elevates the movie to a new level altogether. She may be the film’s Achilles’ heel, but she’s the one who injects life into an otherwise often bloodless movie.

I truly believe that KICK-ASS, the violence it displays and its meaning for the genre of superhero movies are vastly overrated. I also believe that it has no significance otherwise and hence should be enjoyed for what it is: a twisty superhero satire. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. If it works it works really well, if it doesn’t it really doesn’t. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud and the next moment wondering what the heck

Bottom line is that Hit-Girl is probably a really good idea. A killer application. The most genius character in any movie I have seen in a long time (played equally great by Chloe Grace Moretz). She made me like KICK-ASS.

Maybe I’d rate the movie lower if most of the anticipated Hollywood films of 2010 wouldn’t have been utter disappointments. I definitely would rate it lower without Hit-Girl. In dubio pro reo. KICK-ASS gets away with it. This time.