31 & 32: Ip Man (DVD) and Return Of The Fist: The Legend Of Chen Zhen (DVD)

The cinema shorthand, when I was a kid, was that Nazi’s were evil cannon fodder. Classic dehumanising techniques from a jingoistic media trying to make sense of years of war, and the aftermath. It was handy that the Nazi’s made it pretty easy to portrayed as such, Hitler and his Final Solution still seem objectively much more evil than most wars about territory. And as Mitchell and Webb pointed out recently, wearing skulls as insignia suggest that you might be the bad guys.

I don’t know much about Chinese history beyond some of the bulletpoint bits and Chairman Mao’s really rather versatile jacket. I do know that Japan and China were at war pre-WWII, and that Japan had significant gains within China, such as Shanghai and so on. But Japanese cinema barely touches anything resembling modern history, and Chinese cinema (depending on its provenance) also seemed to avoid films about this time too. Both national cinemas seem to play a lot more on the long history and Wuxia and Samurai type historical films (with their own codified genre tropes).

This had been the case until recently when I have seen two Chinese martial arts films set in this period. Ip Man, and Return Of The Fist both have leads who are stoical martial artists whose own codes of honour are sorely tested by their new implacable foe. More than implacable, the Japanese are presented much like the Nazi’s were in 50’s films. Its a given they are evil, its a given they have corrupted the weak Chinese, and these films do not have a single Japanese character who could be said to be humanised. It is an interesting technique that really stands out to an outsider. For the domestic market in China it not only makes sense, it is probably something that is well overdue. There has been a hidden subtext to much Chinese historical crossover Wuxia films that Chinese warriors are the best. In which case how did the Japanese occupation ever happen? IP Man and Return Of The Fist can’t really explain the first question, but they do show what such unbeatable warriors do in this situation.

Ip Man is based on a real person so treats its wartime storyline with a touch more sensitivity than Return of the Fist. Return Of The Fist is basically a jingoistic martial arts superhero film, down Chen Zhen donning a Kato-like suit and mask before his stependous, near superhuman Martial Arts feats. Its first ten minutes features a fantastic sequence of Chen Zhen vs the German army which is as preposterous as it is entertaining. Both films are good popcorn martial arts films, and realise that a good action film needs good baddies. And in the Japanese on the Sino-Japanese War, modern Chinese film seems to have found its new Nazi’s.

Oh, and a key point also is that Ip Man, and Chen Zhen, are both played by Donnie Yen, our current go to guy for astoundingly well choreographed kung fu (I am looking forward to his take on the Monkey King).

33: Green Hornet (Film)

Really only here to say that the mask / hat combo used by Chen Zhen is identical to that used by Kato in the Green Hornet. Chen Zhen has a much classier jacket though, which appears to be slightly rubberised (its certainly extremely waterproof in the first fight with it on). The Green Hornet is a mess, and in some ways a slightly loveable mess. Sometimes a film can inadvertently represent the personality of its lead far too much. In a good way you get something like School of Rock, which is just Jack Black made into a film. Green Hornet is an uncomfortable, odd film which is, much like Seth Rogen, much more likeable that it ought to be. There is nothing about Rogen’s spoilt playboy character to like either before, or after his Damascene conversion to ultra-violent crime fighting. And yet, whilst knowing it was all a bit worthless, I still kind of liked it. Perhaps it was at its heart trying to make Rogen a plausible action hero, but knew he wasn’t, much as he tried to make a romance with Cameron Diaz work, when they knew it wouldn’t. Yes there is a great lost Stephen Chow film hanging around The Green Hornet, but for a winter action film it was a tolerable way to keep out of the rain.

Film 2Oh!! is an attempt to write about every film I have seen this year which is really quite tricky. This year I have seen 127 films, written about 33.