Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai Take on Ip Man with "The Grandmasters"

The Wilson Yip directed and Donnie Yen starring martial arts action film Ip Man is easily among the most entertaining martial arts films ever made.  Yen's charisma and mischievous smile -- and his prodigious martial arts talent -- combine to make his depiction of the Ip Man one of the pantheon of great kung fu lead characters.  It ranks right up there with Bruce Lee's character Lee in Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan's portrayal of Wong Fei-hung in Drunken Master 2, and Jet Li's portrayal of Chen Zhen in the classic Fist of Legend.

Had you asked me within the first few moments after my first viewing of Ip Man if there could be another portrayal of the character as memorable as Yen's, I would have laughed at the thought.  Of course, I would have been overlooking the Hong Kong film industry's ability to make multiple films about the same character that all add some new interesting point of view -- a point of view worth experiencing.

Jet Li's characterizations of Wong Fei-hung are as wonderful as Jackie Chan's, though the portrayals are very different.  Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen have all portrayed Chen Zhen in dynamic and exciting films that each have a different feel politically and aesthetically.  Ip Man itself shares many features with the story of Chen Zhen.

If Hollywood were to release as many films about the same subjects and same characters as the Hong Kong industry does, critics would write screeds about the lack of originality in the industry.  One's first thought might be to agree with such critics, and extend that assumption to Hong Kong film makers.   Such an assumption would be wrong.  The Hong Kong film industry has demonstrated with films like Fist of Legend, Legend of the Fist, and Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) that it is entirely possible to get tremendous variation, depth of vision, and creative interpretation while making multiple films about the same subject.

All of which explains why I can be so excited when I hear that Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai have worked together to create their own version of the Ip Man story, even while loving the Yip and Yen production.  I cannot wait to see this film.

h.t. to David Chute

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