Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Assailant...

Ok. So, this week we decided to veer hard to the left, nearly fall off the known road and try a new martial arts genre, Capoeira.

In case you have NO IDEA what Capoeira is, it is a native martial arts form from Brazil believed to be born out of slavery, as well as the fighting techniques of the indigenous people of Brazil. It is complex as everything, has a ton of swaying and sweeping motions, and is the foundation up which this week's film choice is built.

And, in case things are still sorta vague... do you remember that temple fight scene in The Protector where Kham (Tony Jaa) fights that totally "cut" dude in the fiery fight of death??? Yeah, THAT is Capoeira.

The Assailant (English Title), or Besouro (the original Portuguese title) is a 2009 film  by director and writer Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff, and writer Patricia Andrade. It chronicles the life of young Besouro (Beetle), a legendary Capoeira fighter who helped shaped modern rights for former slaves and the practice Capoeira. His story is deep, but pretty accurately represented in this film from what we've been able to gather. The actors aren't famous, the budget wasn't huge, but they set out to make a film about a hero who shows off some mad skills, and that's what we're all about, right?

Tip #1 for watching this film: Press play, then go make some popcorn, check your twitter, and poke your head in on the kiddos to make sure they're sleeping. Why the big production? Because an awful lot of companies had their hands in this film, and after a minute all the logos flashing on the screen start to make you dizzy. No, seriously. There are at least 3 minutes of company logos to get through before the movie starts.

Now get yourself comfy on the couch and get ready for 90 minutes of crazy. To provide a little bit of background, the events of the film take place in 1924. While slavery has been abolished, Brazilians of African descent are still treated as inferiors, and Capoeira has been outlawed. The fighting style is practiced less in an actual fighting environment than as a game, where a circle of people, called a roda, play music to which two fighters 'dance', showing their skills without necessarily connecting any blows or knocking their opponent down.

This guy is a turd. You're not going to like him.
The outlying areas of Brazil are overseen by Colonels, important landowners of mostly Portuguese descent that have been appointed by the Brazilian National Guard to keep everything running smoothly. In our particular area of interest is Colonel Vanencia, who is very good at publicly feigning an "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" approach to leadership while always keeping his best interests in mind.

On the other hand we have Master Alipio, the Ip Man of Capoeira and a respected leader in the black community, who has spent the last 20 years of his life teaching Carlton Banks... err, Beetle, I mean... his beautiful art with the sweeping legs and such.

So now that we know what the heck is going on...

Being his most beloved protege, Beetle is Master Alipio's main protector from the evils of Vanencia and his men. Because honestly, if some dude is running around teaching people how to defend themselves, somebody is obviously going to want to kill him. So one morning, Beetle is in the street playing an impressive Capoeira game with his friends Dinora and Quero-Quero when Master Alipio decides to take a stroll and get a bite to eat.

This is obviously a bad idea, because he is quickly gunned down by one of Vanencia's men, and Beetle, having been oblivious to the fact that there was trouble, shows up about 30 seconds too late to do anything about it. But he does disarm the shooter in impressive fashion before being instructed by a dying Master Alipio to carry his master away to the old slave quarters so they can have a moment alone.

Now if I were Master Alipio, I swear I would fire that boy on the spot, but he's far more forgiving than I. While Beetle laments his lapse in diligently protecting his master, Alipio basically says:

"Bah... you're my favorite. 
You rock at this Capoeira gig. 
You should take over my job, 
because I'm obviously bleeding to death. 
Peace out." 

As Alipio passes away, we see over Beetle's shoulder the presence of an unidentified Warrior, which will come into play in a little bit. In the meantime, Beetle runs off into the woods, ashamed of himself, and his people proceed to place the blame on him for all that happened.

Alipio's funeral is seven days later, and everyone pretty much says Beetle better not show up if he knows what's good for him. And he doesn't, he's still busy hiding in the woods trying to figure out why on earth Alipio appointed him guardian of all things Capoeira. He watches from afar while his friends pay tribute to their master with the Capoeira music and dancing he taught them all. Then he wanders off, feeling sorry for himself.

Seriously... did he dip in dippety doo?
The celebration of Alipio's life though is soon interrupted by Noca de Antonio, a rather sticky looking fellow who works for Colonel Venancia, on horseback with his band of merry murderers, who ride shooting into the clearing, hollering about how fighting is illegal. One man stands up to Noca, telling him that Capoeira is a dance, not fighting, and that dancing is not illegal. When Noca orders his men to attack, everyone flees, but the young man is caught and his legs are broken with the butt of a rifle... in a really sickening, bones sticking out all over the place kind of way.

Next scene please!!!

Now for the girlie parts of the movie... Quero-Quero is in love with Dinora, and very anxiously plans to marry her. She on the other hand seems rather put off by the whole Beetle situation, and is a little cold to Quero-Quero for no apparent reason. They have a short discussion about how she thinks Beetle has handled the whole thing very poorly, and Quero says little in his defense. And so the division begins between the three lifelong friends, and the plot thickens like a good custard.

But back to the topic at hand...

Dude has got some serious glow going on.
So remember that random warrior dude who showed up earlier when Master Alipio died? A couple of mornings later, Beetle tries his first venture back into the city, only to end up in a fight with this invisible warrior god that only he and a few others can see, and everyone thinks he's lost his damn mind. Turns out this warrior is Exu, a trickster type character in Brazilian mythology, who in return for the appropriate respect and obedience will help protect Beetle from his enemies. So after much Matrix-like flying around and destroying of the marketplace, Beetle bows down to his warrior guardian... and then is immediately chased out of the market by Noca, who drives him over a cliff into a river and writes him off as dead.

So then Vanencia comes along into the market and makes a big show of helping clean up the mess Beetle made, in an effort to get the black community to trust him. And amazingly, that crap works... on most people, anyway. Meanwhile, Beetle, having washed up on a shore far below the cliff, dreams another lesson from his master, nature, and the naked warrior goddess before being revived by Zulmira, the local healer. And, with no disrespect meant to the culture behind the film or its creators, everything gets a little trippy here. There is much to do with a frog and a half naked warrior goddess, along with visions of his dead master, that help Beetle on his way to becoming ready to defend the city.
This whole thing is then followed up with the piece-de-resistance (you're following this, right?), Zulmira gives Beetle a pendant to wear at all times, telling him that his body is "sealed" and his enemies ain't got jack on him. So he heads out the door with pecs-a-twitchin' looking to start a war.

And, at this point in this review, we're pretty sure that we forgot to mention that Vanencia owns a sugar plantation, at which most of the black community "works". And, by "works", we mean gets beaten and words hours upon hours of hard manual labor to earn mere pennies all so white folks can have white sugar cubes in the afternoon tea. (Remember this. It's important)

Now, in an effort to get the ball rolling by striking the first blow against Vanencia, Beetle lights the sugar field on fire one night, and the blaze is out of control almost immediately. But of course someone rats him out to Noca, not that there would have been a doubt in anyone's mind as to who it was. And then Noca, looking stickier than usual, has to report in to Vanencia, who is drinking his coffee that morning, with no sugar, that he neglected to make sure Beetle was dead when he jumped off that cliff.

Then we quick change gears to Dinora, who is gradually realizing that it is Beetle, not Quero, she has loved all along. And then back to the sugar plantation (now we're really rolling here...) where everyone is being forced to work twice as hard to make up for the damage caused by the fire. Dinora also happens to work there, and after an awkward experience serving Vanencia his coffee she storms out, fed up with the state of things. Turns out the Colonel has a nasty habit of using his house servants for sex, that would be enough to put off any self-respecting woman.

Aaand, now we whoosh out to the desert where Beetle is becoming pretty bad-ass with all his practicing. Vanencia is running around the town like he's God's gift to mankind, and Noca is going a little overboard at the plantation, whipping the already tired "workers", who have rapidly declined into a state of glorified slavery, but not slavery because that would be illegal in this quasi non slavery slavery scenario. Chico (the guy with the broken legs) tries to convince everyone that Beetle is indeed NOW following the path of Master Alipio, and Beetle himself sabotages the equipment at the plantation, leading Noca and friends on a wild goose chase that results in one of their own men being killed.

(tsk, tsk) Noca, Noca, Noca.... will you never learn...

So now Vanencia is all kinds of pissed off, and Noca is pretty sure Beetle can fly, so they go out in search of their very own Capoeira fighter. They approach a group of fighters playing in a street, including Quero-Quero, and ask them to show their fighting skills to determine which of them is the best. Quero is of course the winner, and he is quickly persuaded to choose the Colonel over Beetle. Dinora is livid to hear Quero writing Beetle off and defending Vanencia, so she calls off their engagement. More than once, and in no uncertain terms. But he's a dummy, obviously, and it takes a while for the very clear words "DUDE!!! It's over" to sink in.


Free of the relationship she obviously didn't really want, Dinora goes to the wilderness to track down Beetle and warn him about Noca and Vanencia's latest movements. Commence most freaking adorable scene in the history of cinema. An entirely too flirty game of Capoeira breaks out in the grass, resulting in what appears to be a tango, and then some very serious smooching, which is witnessed by a spying, jealous Quero-Quero. Followed by a pretty fleshy nudey scene slightly beyond the norm.

Did we mention to make sure the kids were sleeping before the movie started? If not, oooops. Sorry about that. You're conversation around the dinner table tomorrow night is guaranteed to be a lively one.

Ok, so Quero-Quero, being stupid and ridiculous, goes to tattle on Beetle. He spills some information to Noca in a bar about a knife made of a certain kind of wood that can injure people with sealed bodies, like Beetle. Then Quero is immediately made fun of, tossed out of the bar, and feels like an idiot. So when Noca comes out of the bar a short while later, Quero fights with him and (mostly unintentionally) kills him.

We hate to rejoice over the death of anyone, but... yaaaaaaaaaay no more greaseball! 

Then Quero runs away, finds Beetle, gets all uppity about stealing Beetle stealing Dinora and hiding in the wilderness, gets efficiently told off about what a cocky jackass he is, and ends up in a fight that goes from land, to tree, to land, to vicious excellent double kick (Beetle's signature move) to the bloody backstabbing face of Quero.

Dinora goes to warn Beetle that the Colonel is coming, while Vanencia and his men ready their pointy sticks. And guns, yes, they have guns too. The bullets seem to glance right off him... but the wooden knife works, and Beetle his killed.


Take that Mr. Sticky Poke Gunny Mc. Shooty pants!!!

But yes, he dies and his soul runs through the city, inhabiting briefly the bodies of Chico and Dinora, allowing them to kick the living crap out of Vanencia and some of his men. He has a final conversation with Master Alipio about death, and then his spirit is borne away by the warrior goddess.

But wait! That's not the end! Dinora gives birth to a little mini-beetle, who learns Capoeira from Chico, and stares daggers through Vanencia as he passes by their home on horseback. Take that, jerkface. Nice try.

Is it the best martial arts film we've ever seen? No, not really. MJ actually enjoyed it far more the second time through, after doing some research on the mythology and traditions that we've briefly summarized here. The first time around, we have to admit, we honestly had a hard time following the story because we were trying so hard to figure out why people kept appearing and disappearing and turning into animals. So... getting some background information is helpful so that you are spending less time concentrating and more time enjoying the film for what it is.

Given that it is rooted in historical fact and is a good introduction to the art of Capoeira, we recommend at least giving it a try. The version available on Netflix for instant viewing is dubbed in English, so you don't even have to read subtitles.

But, if you want to see some really fancy and incredible Capoeira skills, we still might recommend that you look up that temple fight from The Protector on youtube. Because those were some wicked flips. Not that Beetle's triple-axel kick to the face isn't soul-crushing... there just isn't much here by way of really exciting face-squooshing fighting. Not our normal cup of tea, but worth the shot nonetheless.

- The Mavens

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ip Man 2 - Because some Countries Never Learn from History...

This week will conclude our Ip Man adventure with the second film starring Donnie Yen. Now, truth be told that after the big success of the first film, everyone went a little crazy and this film sort of took on a life of its own, with characters (old and new) that were a bit more shallow and a storyline that, in spots, felt like the early 20th century Chinese story of Rocky.

But don't let that deter you from this movie!!! 

Is it as good as the first film? Good question! Suffice to say, we both agree that it is simply "different" from the first film, not being either better or worse. Just... Different. There is a lot of punching a lot of kicking, some HUGE guys, some flying teeth, excellent montage sequences... And honestly, according to our criteria, that's all that matters.

After all, that's why this blog is called "Punch in the Neck", and not "Films with Great Form". (buwahahhaaa)


Our film opens with a montage (#1) of the end of the first film, and a few bits of added information to launch us forward into the year 1950. Ip Man has relocated to Hong Kong with his now pregnant wife and insanely adorable son. The economy is bad and he is doing his best to establish a Wing Chun school and eek out a meager living. Unfortunately, his good friend Quan, who helped him escape, was shot in the head by Colonel Shooty McTriggerfinger... and you are instantly launched into a somber state, only compounded by the sad music and excessive rain on the Sepia Tone skyline. 

Nine days pass by and he hasn't been able to recruit any students. Rather, the neighbor has asked if she can use his rooftop to dry her laundry. They're low on money, their son needs his school fees, and the landlady is pounding on the door for rent money. Things are looking pretty bad. But Ip Man... he's patient. Just completely and utterly patient and gracious. But then....

A young man in a SUPER cool denim ensemble comes to challenge Master Ip and determine if Wing Chun is any good. This young man says that he will pay one month's dues if Ip Man can beat him. Pssshhhhhttt... dude. Naturally IP Man happily obliges, even smiling during the "beat down", and then asks if he's ready to pay up. Of course, Mr. "Young & Stupid" refuses to pay and insults Ip Man by implying that he's not even doing any sort of Kung Fu. (i.e. Surrender? I have no idea what you're even doing!!!) So, in one fell swoop, Ip Man, without advancing a single step, jakks Mr. Smarty Pants in the face, and then ends the fight 10 seconds after that with a sweet knee sweep, twist, and cheek smash move that I SO want to learn how to do. Naturally, with his pride deeply smashed in, our young man storms off without paying up. The whole thing was just short of a junior high "stomp, stomp, slam" maneuver. But Ip Man isn't too ruffled. (I envy his calm)

Not even 1 minute later Mr. Smarty Pants returns with three friends, thinking they were going to show Ip Man the "what-for". OBVIOUSLY these guys were too young to see or even read about the 10 man Japanese beat down that took place several years earlier. Needless to say, in less than 30 whacks the four boys are defeated and Ip Man has 4 newly enrolled students.

Montage #2 - Ip Man begins teaching his new students the ways of Wing Chun, gains about 10 more students in the process, and fails to collect much by way of fees. Leung (Mr. Smarty Pants) becomes his most eager and dedicated student. And, while Mrs. Ip seems to have gotten over the "hate ray" glare, she is ENTIRELY not thrilled about the lack of funds generated by her husband. In an attempt to better her mood, IP Man goes out to get her some cake. And, let's just be honest, nearly ALL pregnant ladies are suckers for cake. I know. That's why my pants are double digits.


While out, there is a scuffle in the street and he ends up realizing that it all surrounds Quan. YEAH! The guy who smuggled the Ip family out of Foshan and ended up getting shot in the noggin! I totally thought he was dead. Didn't you???

His nephew Lau, who is all grown up now, proceeds to explain about Quan having been shot in the head and how he no longer recognizes anyone. Ip Man of course blames himself for the tragedy, and promises to help Lau take care of Quan. (Yup, crack out the Kleenex here)

The next day, Leung (Mr. Smarty Pants) is hanging signs advertising the Wing Chun school, in an attempt to get MORE students enrolled. Suddenly, he is approached by some hoodlums from the rival Hung Kuen school. Being young and stupid, Leung challenges the four... yes, four (dummy) other guys. He does deliver some comparatively wussy wha-pu-tchas and manages to take down the leader.... but then gets lowered a few pegs and kidnapped by the other three. So now Mr. Smarty Pants is being held for ransom and Ip Man is instructed to come pick him up at a fish market. Brilliant. Nicely done Leung.

So Master Ip calmly proceeds to the fish market to collect his stray student. And, while we don't condone hostage situations in any way, shape, or form... we DO at least know that if you MUST hold someone hostage, you don't let them go until you collect your ransom, right? Well, these kids are young and brilliant, and they hand Leung over to Master Ip before he's hardly said a word. They must also not realize the smack he is capable of laying down, because when they realize he doesn't have the ransom, they ('they' being the 40 dudes who work at the fish market) attack.

The next part goes something like this:

  • pallet to the face
  • face to a pallet
  • stool to the chest

... and Donnie Yen doing more awesome things with more pallets and stuff than you can imagine and all of this resulting in him arming himself with two giant fish knives, which he then uses to quite literally lay down that smack we were talking about a minute ago. And by smack, we don't mean with the slicing, dicing, and blood spooting. No, no, no... IP Man is too cool for that. He literally uses the knives as an extended slapping device. And honestly, how humiliating is that to be SLAPPED by a knife in a seriously bad fight??? Hang your heads in shame boys, 'cause you just got owned!

NOW, despite their epic performance, Master Ip and Leung become cornered. 
BUT! Guess who shows up. 

No, seriously, guess. 

Baaah, you'll never guess, so we'll just tell you. 

It's Jin! 

Remember Jin? He's that smelly northern-style dude who got his butt beat with a feather duster, and then got his ear whacked in with a pole in the first film. Well, turns out he grew a deep respect for Master Ip, calmed down, got married and shows up just in time with a whole lot of guys with really big sticks. He doesn't see much action, but at least distracts the hell out of everyone (including us) until the big boss Master Hung (Sammo Hung, to be excact) shows up. Master Ip tries to explain the situation to Master Hung. BUT, he is pretty much told he is breaking the law and is unqualified to teach until he lets the other area Masters beat on him and try to take him down. Because that sounds entirely fair. And this whole thing results in Leung, Jin AND Master Ip arrested for inflicting injury on others.


So while they're being booked, we find out that Master Hung and his police buddy are both working with 'The Foreigner', a british official who is staging a western boxing match and stealing everyone's money while he's at it. As they walk down the hallway and into a random office in the police station, MJ loudly proclaims, "Oh g-r-e-a-t... THAT douchebag!", which naturally sends me into a fit a laughter.

Douchebag - An individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intellegence, behaving ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears (Urban Dictionary). 

So yeah... this guy is a "Grade A" jerk to say the least, and when Master Hung asks what their monetary cut is going to be for providing all the manpower for the coming match, he is promptly blown off.
Jerky AND greedy. Excellent!!

Now poor pregnant Mrs. Ip, with no money, is forced to ask their newspaperman friend to bail her husband out. She shows up weeping and wailing, quite pitifully. Due to the graciousness of Jin, all of the men, including Yueng, get bailed out. Of course, this whole experience has sanded Ip Man the wrong way and he has decided now that in order to keep his school open, he is going to challenge of the other masters... which basically consists of him standing on a table and accepting any challenger that steps up before the incense burns out. If he falls off the table he loses. Piece of cake.

After beating down the first two Masters pretty quickly.... Mr. Hung steps up to "FINISH HIM!!!". Yeah, he's the dignified lookin' dude with the mad skills. And, though we are probably about 1/3 of his size, there is absolutely NO WAY we could ever move like that, even if you paid me with a lifetime supply of chocolate cake. The man, Sammo Hung, is nothing short of impressive. He takes the table with some serious style, and promptly proceeds to cheat... and thus begins MJ's favorite film fight of all time. With the spinning and the wha-pu-tcha!! Akk! Eventually the meeting of the two Masters is just so incredibly awesome that the table breaks and ends the fight in a stalemate.

Master Ip is accepted into their Society and promptly told to pay his dues. 

Dues? What dues? 

Pshhhh... Ip Man doesn't pay people to be in their meaningless club. 
Having proven himself, he takes his leave and tells them to stick their dues where the sun don't shine.

So now, just to be uber-jerks, those pesky students from the Hung Kuen school start hanging around outside the Wing Chun school to deter new students. Leung obviously did not learn his lesson about the whole "young and stupid" thing, because he starts a fight with the other students outside the club, effectively destroying the entire block. This in turn causes Ip Man to be evicted from his teaching space. His students feel like crap for getting him in trouble and are left to clean out the space and return his equipment to his apartment.

Master Ip goes to see Master Hung to try to resolve any remaining conflicts, but still refuses to pay the fees Master Hung requires to ensure protection from the foreigners, and manages to entirely school Master Hung in how to be a responsible adult.

The next day is a lovely, sunny day in Hong Kong, and as a show of good faith, Master Hung goes to Master Ip's "outdoor practice space" (aka the park) and offers him tickets to that evening's Western Boxing match before heading to the venue to oversee the organization of the event. At the venue, he has a run-in with the British Douchebag, who pretty much tells him he and his men will not be paid for the work they have done to organize the event. He leaves in a huff, but not before entirely pissing off the "Foreign Devil".


Cut to that evening - the students of the various martial arts schools are demonstrating their skills in the ring prior to the main event when Twister (we call him Douchebag #2, which is a vast improvement over Twister...) gets ornery and decides to unnecessarily climb in and beat the living daylights out of the students. Then he says Kung Fu is useless, which is just about sufficient to get him lynched. Leung is injured in the fray, and Masters Ip and Hung jump into the ring to try to stop the fight. Twister ends up challenging Master Hung when he is asked to apologize for insulting Chinese Martial Arts.

Wow. I mean... just... Wow.
Master Hung puts up a good fight, but see... he's an asthma sufferer who is a good deal older than his beefy opponent. After a few rounds, he is entirely out of breath, and he just doesn't stay down when he should. Master Ip tries to throw in the towel, but Master Hung stops him, boring holes into Master Ip's face with his pleading eyeballs.

His pride and determination are ultimately his downfall when he holds onto the ropes, keeping himself upright for too long. Twister hammers him with punch after punch, and Master Hung dies there in the ring, much to the smirking pleasure of the snooty foreigners. Insert epic violins.

Of course the newspapers print front-page stories about their new martyr, and how he died for his country's honor. The British are none too pleased with this, and some Schwarzeneger sounding fellow orders Douchebag (I guess his name is Wallace...) to take care of it. So he has the chief of police, lovingly referred to throughout the film as "Fatso"... who just happens to have been good friends with Master Hung... arrest the editor of the paper so that Officer Douchebag can beat the editor stupid, breaking his hands with a club, which is entirely creepy and causes one to shudder. Having had enough of the "foreign devils", "Fatso" comes up with a sneaky plan to get unleash a little payback.

Then the foreigners take low to a whooooole new level. They hold a press conference, and try to make people believe that it was Master Hung who challenged Twister, and that the boxer accepted the challenge against his better judgement, causing the unfortunate death of a much weaker, older man. Twister, though, blows the whole thing up, challenging any Chinese man who is brave enough to get in a ring with him.
This would be Doughbag #3 on the left, and Twister on the right.
Now, Master Ip knows what's up. And, to be perfectly honest, he's about two steps over the "sick of your crap" line and immediately steps up to challenge the uncouth, loud mouthed, slab of meat they call Twister... because who else is going to teach him what martial arts are all about? That skinny guy in the back row??? I THINK NOT!!!

Montage #3 (we told you it was like Rocky...) - A match is quickly arranged as we sit back and prepare for a can of whoop-ass to be opened. Pregnant Mrs. Ip and Son are sent to stay with the landlady while Ip Man trains. Police Chief Fatso decides to spill his guts to the newspaper about the evils of the foreigner, Ip Man brings Quan some food, and Mrs. Ip goes into labor, but refuses to let anyone notify her husband, who is training diligently... Come on, come on, let's fight already!!

Everyone and their mother has tuned in to listen to this fight on the radio in true boxing-movie fashion (think Rocky III and Cinderella Man), including the newspaper staff, Quan, Jin, and Mrs. Ip, complete with new baby whose cuteness we are not allowed to see. The MC is a little overzealous, and has nothing on Michael Buffer, but manages to get everyone introduced in epic fashion nonetheless. Once the fight begins though, I feel bad for the people listening via radio, because I'm pretty sure that wha-pu-tcha-wha-pu-tcha-wha-pu-tcha is not accurately described as a 'volley of punches'. The two men trade a couple of knockdowns, and when Twister gets frustrated he throws a punch after the bells signaling the end of the second round. Dirty pool, jerkface. The British take this as a cue that their man is being beat, and the judges immediately issue a new rule banning kicking from the fight. Seriously? Ip Man is perplexed for a moment, but decides it ain't no thang and carries on. He goes down again a moment later, and we join in with the entire country of China in hollering at him to get up, which of course he does, as he remembers he is fighting for the honor of his friend and his country. And then we scream and holler as he goes positively medieval on his opponent and beats his face to the consistency of tapioca pudding.

And so it was that Ip Man won the fight, gave a heart-wrenching speech about dignity and respect, Quan remembered who he was (I know, right? Ip Man 's got mad Kung Fu healing skills), Douchebag got himself arrested for being an asshat, and Ip Ching was born. Oh, and then Bruce Lee happened along, and Ip Man taught him the art of awesome.

Great movie... YES. You can rent it on iTunes, watch it on Netflix on demand, rent it from pretty much ANY brick and mortar shop (if they don't have it, SHUN them), or just do yourself the favor and just buy it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ip Man - aka "A Right Proper Beatdown"

Donnie Yen portraying Yip Man
(Y)Ip Man
aka "A Right Proper Beatdown"

This week we are featuring the first of two films in the Ip Man film series. Released in 2008, directed by Wilson Yip (Kill Zone, Dragon Tiger Gate, Flash Point, etc.), and starring our personal favorite tough guy, Donnie Yen (insert fan screaming here).

Now, before we completely dive into this movie, we feel as though we ought to reiterate for you our absolute adoration of Mr. Yen. And, to keep it brief, we will employ the simple, standard, mother of all algebraic equations:  a+b=c. In this case, it looks like this:

Donnie Yen + Wing Chun = AWESOMAZING!!!

The real (Y)Ip Man with young Bruce Lee
Ok, now that we've gotten that out of our systems, we will begin with a little historical nugget regarding (Y)Ip Man. He was a real person. A really real person who really taught Wing Chun. He is pictured here with a VERY young Bruce Lee, which only further solidifies how truly awesome he was.

He was small, gentleman-ly, and oh... OH so capable of snapping your limbs like twigs. And, though we could spend the entirety of this blog just talking about the super-cool nature of the FO REALZ (Y)Ip Man... we will kindly direct you to this great website for a completely in-depth historical biography on him:

And now...
on to the movie.

Ok, the film is set in 1935 FoShan province, China,  just prior to the second Japanese Sino war, where the citizens of China went to bed on a Wednesday night as Chinese citizens and woke up Thursday morning to find that they were now called "Western Japan".

(Seriously slick Ninja tactics Japan. Style points are awarded to you.) 

We open upon a scene of Ip Man practicing on his wooden Wing Chun dummy within the confines of his own home. And, in all honesty, between the beautiful cinematography, dramatic music, and Donnie Yen's amazing strength, agility, and Wing Chun moves, we are completely transported out of our bodies and into a very happy place where we KNOW someone, or a lot of people, are going to get destroyed by his fists. 

Wait... too much too soon??? (scratches chin)

Within seconds we informed that the year is 1935, that Fo Shan province has been prosperous, that its people liked to practice Kung Fu as a hobby, and thus Kung Fu schools were all the rage. And, this is what the region became well known for.

MAN, I want to live in a community like that!!!

BEST... SUBURB... E-V-A-R!!!

But seriously, the year is 1935 and a new Kung Fu school is being opened by Master Liu. There's a sweet scene with Lion dancing, Kung Fu practice and a beautiful kite that whisks us away to the home of Master Ip. Master Liu has gone to the home of Ip for a friendly challenge to build credibility for himself. Within mere minutes, you are introduced to the calm, gentlemanly man that is Ip Man, i.e. inviting this complete stranger who wants to fight to sit and have dinner with him and his family. Of course, after just 7 minutes of film, Master Ip utterly destroys Master Liu in a very honorable manner with the calm blocking and the fists, with the kicks and the blocks, with the Wing Chun and the...

(Yeah... this is what high speed punching sounds like)

Just... ZIPPIT!!!

Anyway, just really, REALLY good stuff here. Please note that the super sweet move as seen at the 0:45 mark is one that MJ personally wants to master, ESPECIALLY the "talk to the hand" finish. Because:

1) the rapid-slap surprise is aaawesome!!!

2) It's a handy move in almost EVERY situation.

Just watch the beat-down commence and tell us we're wrong.

After the beatdown, Master Liu kindly begs Master Ip NOT to tell everyone that he totally got spanked. Being honorable, Master Ip vows silence, and Master Liu limps away feigning that he is ok after having had his dignity beaten mercilessly upon. OUCH!!!

Of course Yuan, who was retrieving his aforementioned kite from a tree outside, witnesses the two men "sparring", and BOY does he have a hot load of gossip to deliver when he gets back into town!!!

Now, shortly here-after, Master Ip heads into town himself in order to have lunch with his good friend Quan who is QUITE the businessman. He asks Ip Man if he would invest in the new cotton mill that Quan is opening up. Master Ip says he doesn't want to be a partner, but gives Quan a loan to get started with the understanding that it will be paid back when the mill begins to see profit. During their conversation, Lin, a common service person played by the EVER amazing Yu Xing (squeeeel!!!), mentions that he heard about the beat-down at Ip Manor. Ever a man of his word, Ip Man neither confirms, nor denies the allegations but rather works with Quan to re-direct the conversation.

What? This gun is going to bring justice?
Of course, rumors don't take long to spread like wild fire in "Kung Fu Town", and within seconds a disciple is tattling to Master Liu as to what is being said by Yuan at the restaurant. FURIOUS, he heads off to rectify the situation. A whole explosive scene unfolds where the two brothers verbally tussle one another, Master Liu feels awkward, one of the brothers gets "pants'd", a police office has a momentary testosterone-filled lapse in judgement, and Ip Man calmly destroys a gun with his first two fingers. Not a true Wuxi finger hold, but SQIDOOOOSH none-the-less.

WOW! That's a lot of action for just 14 minutes you say??? Well buckle your action belts because just three minutes later a MIGHTY Kung Fu throw down is about to happen between some pretty rough northern style Chinese Kung Fu ruffians, and the southern style Sifu who are used to regular showers and reading words. (Yeah.. low blow. But follow me on this one!)

Jin and his gang come to FoShan to "challenge" the various martial arts schools and build their reputation as the best in order to open their own lucrative business. Now, these guys are bullies and thugs and are likely crappy businessmen, so I'm SURE this is more about being big jerks than anything. None-the-less, over the next 5 minutes you witness extreme punching, kicking, jabbing, several broken tables/statuary/bones/souls, and the use of enormous cutlery. (i.e. the "horse chopper")

The only break in the action is when we are drawn back to the Ip residence for a moment to see fatherly love, and the deadly death ray stare of Ip Man's wife. And we're left to ponder what is deadlier, the hardcore Kung Fu... or her hate ray? She's a little peeved at all the fighting going on, displaying her irritation in a look that could very well melt your face.

But before too long, we're back to the awesomeazing fight. Jin triumphs as the master of all masters... but for only about 8 minutes. When he goes to Master Ip's house to challenge him, Jin doesn't seem to expect that he'll have the holy h*ll beaten out of him with hands, feet, and a feather duster. But that's precisely what happens.... because yeah, Master Ip is JUST that good. And because everyone knows that feather duster beats broadsword every time.

So Master Ip is a hero, having salvaged the honor of Fo Shan from those pesky northerners, and is showered with gifts by the locals. A rumor spreads that he will be opening a Wing Chun school, and though the rumor is untrue, he is living pretty large.

End of the movie right? WRONG!!

We are then grabbed by the ear and hauled headfirst and unwillingly to the year 1938 via a quick montage of Japanese invasion and Chinese death. Thousands of Chinese are either killed or flee Fo Shan for their lives, reducing its population by more than half. Master Ip's grand house is confiscated for a Japanese HQ, and his family is now homeless. This film got serious right quick.

Again with the Japanese!??!?

The Chinese are starving with the Japanese controlling the rice supply, and Master Ip is no exception. On a trip to trade his few remaining possessions for a (very small) bag of rice, he runs into Quan, his good buddy with the cotton mill. His is one of the only remaining factories in FoShan, since everyone still needs clothes, even under siege. He takes Master Ip on a tour of the factory, and tries to convince him that he should be a shareholder since the mill is not making enough profit to pay back his loan to Quan. Master Ip honorably refuses all of Quan's offers and makes an excuse to leave.

Back at home, things are dire. Mrs. Ip is ill, and they have no food or possessions. Master Ip is forced to look for a job. Having been turned down at a number of places, Master Ip finally finds a job in a coal mine where the boss gives jobs to martial artists because he used to be one himself. From this point forward, three people become very important:

Lin (Yu Xing), a friend and admirer of Master Ip since before the war began. We met him earlier in the film when he pants'd his brother. He now also works at the coal mine, and is searching for his brother Yuan, who ran away shortly before the invasion and has never returned. Probably because he involuntarily flashed the entire town. He and Master Ip are lunch buddies.

Li (Ka Tung Lam), a former police officer turned interpreter for the Japanese. We met him earlier too, when Master Ip destroyed his gun. He was also an admirer of Master Ip, and we liked him a little, but now he works for the bad guys, which always comes off as a little scummy when they've killed hundreds upon thousands of your countrymen.

And General Miura (no, we haven't met him yet, but he's played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a pretty badass Japanese General/Karate Master who likes to watch people beat the living daylights out of each other. Soon to be another admirer of Master Ip... but in a creepy/sleazy kind of way.

OK, so now that we all know each other... 

Li shows up at the coal mine with General Miura's creepy looking lackey Colonel Sato looking for desperate down-and-out martial artists to go and fight Japanese trainees for the General's entertainment. Wooed by a sack of rice for the winner, Lin decides to go, despite Master Ip's warning that it could be dangerous.

Upon his arrival, Lin sees Master Liu (remember, that other guy from the very beginning of the film that took the beatdown?) win a fight and get his bag of rice. Totally jazzed at the thought of kicking some Japanese tail, Lin gets suckered into fighting the General himself, and dies what looks to be an incredibly painful, gut-twisting death.

The next day, Li and the Colonel go back to the coal mine for more fighters. Unable to find Lin at work that day, Master Ip asks Li what happened to him and receives no response. Determined to find his friend, Master Ip volunteers to go and fight, and a number of men volunteer after him. Because if the cool guy is going, well then... pssh... we all better go.

When they arrive at the tournament hall, Master Liu is fighting again, but when he beats his opponent he asks to fight three more. So of course they send out three black-belts at the same time, who quite literally wipe the floor with him. He surrenders and tries to leave with the bag of rice he won when the Colonel shoots him in the head. "BUUUUUWAAAAAAHHHH???" aptly summarizes our response. Of course, General Miura is royally ticked off at that, but quickly gets over it as the next fight is arranged.

Now, even more ticked off is Master Ip, who has seen the whole thing go down and would now seriously like to squish someone's face, with his fists, especially if they happen to be Japanese. See, he's not dumb, so he knows Lin is dead, and Li can't deny it. Master Ip is let into the arena, where he asks to fight ten men.

"Ahem. UUuuhhh... 'Scuse me?'" - General Miura

Yeah, that's right, ten. The guys come forward. Then Master Ip sets aside the rest of his lunch potato and proceeds with the a WHA-PU-TCHA-WHA-PU-TCHA-WHA-PU-TCHA ... leaving ten very twitchy and broken black-belted Japanese in his wake. The ending move of the downward punching nose twister is quite impressive.

Completely impressed with his awesomeness, and honestly who isn't, the Japanese General comes down to the main floor to get some answers and a commitment to return. Of course, Ip Man is too cool for school, ignores his ten bags of rice, picks up Liu's bloody bag of rice, grabs the rest of his potato and leaves with a baffled General Miura watching him go. Of course Li, the conflicted and moderately slimy ex-cop turned translator, busts out his identity and makes a commitment for him to return. (D'OH Jerkface!!!)

Before going to his home, Master Ip brings the rice to Liu's family a gives them the sad news. When leaving the home of the now deceased Master Liu, he runs into Li who tries to say some pretty moronic things. Naturally Master Ip, who is already insanely pissed off slaps the crap out of him, tells him to grow a pair, and then heads back home to his family... 

YUP... That's the SLAP heard 'round the world...

... where he is unsure whether to feel comfort or shame, or both, or none of the above... and a heart wrenching monologue and exchange takes place between Ip Man and his wife. And, it is here that you get a real sense of the true persona of Ip Man.

Jin and his land pirating posse.
But before you can get too emotional and fall entirely in love with Donnie Yen... we mean Ip Man, you are riding side-saddle on a utility type truck. But what's that up ahead? There's a block in the road? OH NO!!! It's that Northern Chinese troublemaker from earlier in the movie!!! I thought he was long gone!!!
As it turns out, he's turned to land-pirating and is looking for some serious booty for himself and his band of not-so-merry men... including runaway Yuan. He takes the truck, his men, and a whole lot of guts and heads into town to the cotton mill "co-owned" by Ip Man. 

Does this sound like an amazingly STUPID idea? 

So, the bad-guys start beating up on the Uncle who owns the factory, the nephew sneaks out to get Ip Man, AAAAaaaand... the bad guys slip away before Ip Man arrives (shucks). However, upon arrival Ip Man appears to see the damage done and feels some renewed sense of purpose. Especially after both Uncle and Nephew clearly state that Martial Arts are useful and they want to learn Wing Chun. But not just themselves... THE WHOLE FRIGGIN' FACTORY!!! What happens over the next minute and thirty seconds is perhaps the most adorable, awesome, inspiring Wing Chun montage of all time. ALL TIME!!! Now, because the video has embedding disabled, and YouTube is being persnickety about this type of thing, we will just kindly direct to you...

But then at the speed of a cyclone kick, we are launched back to the Japanese headquarters where we find the General Miura questioning Li as to where Ip Man is and why he hasn't returned to fight. It results in the General essentially unleashing a slap-fest and telling Li to "get your A$$ out there and find him!!!", in a tone that ONLY the Japanese have mastered. Of course, Li being the spineless turd that he has become leads Colonel Sato right to Ip Man's home, compromising the safety and well being of his wife and son, which naturally results in Ip Man destroying the Japanese invaders and playing "Swap-a-bodypart" using his hands and feet. It's a pretty short, but gruesome sight.

It is here that Li realizes what deep POO they are in and offers to hide them. Good idea? (scratches head) What other choice is there? Of course, this all comes to a head and Li is beaten until his kidneys are between his ears and his spleen is in his left foot. And, if you whig out over blood, you MAY want to fast forward this part... cause it gets sorta ugly for a minute or two. HOWEVER, despite the merciless verbal and physical beating, Li doesn't reveal where Ip Man is. (PHEW!)

The next day we find ourselves back at the cotton mill where Jin and his thugs return for their payment. How much time has passed? We're not entirely sure. However, it's enough time that the factory has learned Wing Chun and the smacketh get laideth down!!! And then, about 30 seconds into the fight... Ip Man shows up and hammers down. And yes ladies and gentlemen... we were nearly jumping on the couch shouting wildly and throwing popcorn. 

(This is only a short segment... but you get the awesome picture)

The scene closes with Ip Man catching up with Yuan, delivering a powerful speech, letting him know his brother is dead and loved him more than the world... and you pretty much die entirely as he is given the owl kite that got him in trouble in the first place. Yes, his older brother held on to it in a small tin box all of those years. (sniff, sniff)

We are immediately launched into a scene where Li is running home to tell Ip Man that General Miura now knows that he is at the cotton mill. Ip Man knows what he must do. He kisses his wife and child goodbye as they sleep, and he rushes away to the factory to save the people from utter devastation at the hands of the Japanese... especially that Colonel "jerk-face" Sato with the whippin' stick. Just before shooting Ip Man in the face, General Miura steps in the gap and offers to save Ip Man if he will teach the Japanese his Kung Fu.  


Rather, he surrenders himself for the fight of the century. However, before leaving he instructs Quan (his brother-in-law) to take his wife and son away from Fo Shan.

Now, for the next few minutes you witness what we call the "Dark Hallway Japanese shouting" scene between General Miura and "Shooty McTriggerfinger" Colonel Sato, where some questions are brought up as to Ip Man actually teaching the Japanese Imperial Army, the proposed fight, motives, honor, fears, etc, as Trigger Happy Sato thinks that General Miura will in fact get his assets handed to him in a nice, tidy package. Aaaand... he's probably right. But we need to keep watching just to be certain, right?

**A technical note!** We encourage you to watch a subtitled version of this film. Why? If you watch the english overdub that we watched, there is no dubbing provided for the Japanese language bits, which can make for some confusing and hilarious moments if you, like us, do not speak Japanese. I mean it's pretty obvious they're not talking about unicorns and bunnies, but still, translation is helpful. Subtitles don't discriminate though, so you'll be better able to follow what these ridiculous men are saying. Though it won't be as funny as Kelly's fabulous translating skills (which also did not involve bunnies or unicorns, but may have included some name-calling and a bit of sass).

I get the impression that Miura is a little psyched out now, as he goes to meet with Ip Man before the fight and gives a little speech about fairness and how Japanese martial arts are obviously superior that Master Ip can't understand anyway, so you know it's got to be for his own benefit. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ip is in a car headed for Hong Kong, begging Quan to turn the car around and take her back to support her man. Shortly before the fight begins, Li tells Master Ip to lose... as if that's even possible... so Miura will let him live... and then it's game on.
NO. I will not eat your friggin' noodles.
 Now, there's all this talk of fairness going on. Miura gave his speech about having a fair match. Li gets up in front of the crowd before the fight begins and plays it off as a fair exhibition match to support harmony between the Japanese and Chinese. You wanna know how we know this isn't a fair fight? Aside from all of the armed guards surrounding the platform, we mean. 

7 seconds

That's all it takes for Master Ip to land a solid blow to Miura's face. 
So remind us, whose martial arts were superior again?

Now, don't get us wrong, there are some close calls and some VERY serious feats of acrobatics with the bendy bendy feet, somersaults, backflips, etc. But nothing, and I seriously mean NOTHING, beats the WHA-PU-TCHA-WHA-PU-TCHA-WHA-PU-TCHA. Especially in slo-mo. 

Yeah... the expression here pretty much sums it up!
Ip Man delivers a final crushing blow, making it very clear that he could have killed Miura had he wanted to, blood gusheth, and the evil General Miura is defeated in under 3 minutes. We are swept up in the adoration of the inspired and super-charged crowd, and again with the flying popcorn and the jumping and the waving of the arms as we join in the frantic chant of IP MAN! IP MAN! IP! MAN!!! Mrs. Ip (who with all the tears and wringing of the hands did in fact convince Quan to turn around) is pushing her way through the throng of ecstatic Chinese to stand by the man she loves....

When Shooty McTriggerfinger strikes again. Ip Man is shot in various parts of the torso by General Sato and falls from the platform unconscious. The crowd loses it, shoving at the barricades, pushing through to their hero. Li grabs Sato, struggles with him for a moment and then shoots him in the face with. his. own. freaking. gun. How's that for irony?

So what happens??? Does he live? Does the world implode? How will he ever get to teach Bruce Lee if he dies??? What will become of his family? How does China ever manage to get out of the whole 'Western Japan' situation? The film actually has a follow-up bit at the end that answers all of these questions. But we're not going to tell you. Not right now anyway. For that you'll have to come back for next week's continuation, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster!

This film is pretty widely available on DVD (more so than others at least) and for now is also available for instant viewing on Netflix. And remember that whole subtitle thing. Otherwise we hope you have a good ear and a Japanese to English dictionary. See you next week!

- The Mavens