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

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