I got rained on pretty hard today and I did not feel like sitting through another ultraserious historical epic. Instead I fired up kung fu biopic The Legend is Born – Ip Man. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, but you can probably figure it out for yourself: Ip Man is virtuous, adopted brother Ip Tin Chi is conflicted but ultimately the genetic evil of being Japanese takes over; kung fu masters are variously old and stuffy or old and cranky, and there are just a heck of a lot of fights. You could probably change the main character’s name to Wong Fei Hong and you wouldn’t lose a lot.
I think what’s really interesting is the apparent compulsion among martial arts filmmakers to tell the stories of characters in the history of martial arts as though they were kung fu movies. So as far as I can tell most historical martial arts instructors just hung around teaching martial arts and stuff. In fact, Ip Man had more of a movie-premise life than most, in that he was a police officer during the period the film covers.
In fact, probably more than any other genre, the kung fu movie has some of that Robert-Ford-playing-himself sensationalist drama going for it still left. Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, plays an old wing chun master in the movie, for instance. I assume he’s got to be aware that he didn’t have an uncle who was part of an elaborate scheme to smuggle Japanese children into the country? But nobody gives a hang.
Myn Bala was another example of the history movie in its purest form: patriotic glurge, big epic fights, total disregard for veracity. A certain amount of this kind of thing is desirable, I think. Just not much of it.
I did like the fusion of Chinese and Western style in the costumes, which is always a fascinating thing about movies set in that era for me.
Also, damn Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung got old.