Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taking liberties

The other day, over lunch with Kushima, I discussed some of the problems with China's ruling Communist Party. These included the unequal distribution of wealth as well as the maintenance of complete and utter control.

China's ruling party excels at nothing if not spin. Through their influence over the media they divert attention away to foreign enemies while fostering swelling national pride through grandiose displays of power. Of course it's true that the Japanese ravaged and maligned Asia during WWII, but not every story can bear anti-Western, anti-Japanese, pro-Communist sentiment with authenticity.

To what am I referring exactly? My beef with Chinese media began with Jet Li's compelling kung fu epic Fearless, which toyed with my emotions only for me to discover some colourful exaggerations in the portrayal. Then again, cinema has never really been authentic, has it? Anyone who saw the Brits villainized in Mel Gibson's The Patriot or the crew of the Titanic written off as greedy, self-serving jerks knows that movies are not to be taken too seriously. But I think that when a film professes to be based on a true story and then follows up the video with a post-script describing the aftermath and pictures of the real people on whom the characters were based, one tends to believe that it is at least roughly accurate.

And then there was Ip Man. Based on the life of Bruce Lee's master Yip Man, this film proceeds to tell the tale of an exceptionally gifted and principled Wing Chun martial artist caught in the middle of the Japanese invasion of China. Single-handedly, he battles the Japanese for Chinese honour, only to be disgracefully shot in a tragic act of deceit. It was a beautiful and exciting movie filled with gripping kung fu sequences and heart-rending scenes of Japanese brutality.

The post-script of the movie reads as follows:

Ip Man refused to be subjugated by the Japanese army, and used his fists to call forth the unity of the Chinese people. Assisted by his good friend Zhou Qingquan, the wounded Ip Man successfully fled Fo Shan with his wife and son.

On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced that Japan would surrender unconditionally. The Chinese finally ended and won a war that lasted eight long years.

In 1949, the Grandmaster Ip Man settled in Hong Kong. He started his first Wing Chun class at Kowloon Hotel's Staff Association Headquarters, turning a new leaf in his life.

In 1967, Grandmaster Ip Man started the Wing Chun Athletic Association to foster the spirit of Wing Chun with a group of like-minded enthusiasts, fulfilling the most cherished dream of his later years.

Until now, Wing Chun has become a world renowned branch of Chinese martial arts. The lineage of Grandmaster Ip Man's disciples has exceeded 2 million people. There are lots of talented people among his disciples, including the most illustrious action star of all, Bruce Lee.

Now there are some problems with this story. First of all, it implies that the Chinese fended off the Japanese on their own, and that Ip Man rallied their spirit. However, the Japanese surrender in World War II followed not an incredible push by the Chinese people, but two American atomic bombs known as Little Boy and Fat Man.

As for Ip Man, he did not fight the Japanese in Fo Shan during the invasion at all. In fact, he left the city and lived out the occupation at the village house of one of his students. The real Yip Man did not flee to Hong Kong with the Japanese licking at his heels, but rather the Communist Party. Yip Man was a police officer under the Kuomintang (the governing party of Taiwan since their defeat during the Chinese Civil War).

Ip Man, while cinematically convincing, provides little more than propaganda. It passes off the story of a renowned kung fu master under the Kuomintang as a Chinese national hero against the Japanese, simultaneously vilifying the invading force whilst erasing the Communist Party's role in Yip Man's retreat to Hong Kong.

History is written by the victors, and the media has reduced this to an art.


Catalogue of Queens said...

i watched a part of this movie, never finished it, will probably do now in light of ur comments :D

sandlot said...

I saw Ip Man 2 last night. It was so cheesy and most likely more fictionalized than the first movie.