Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ip Man 2 : Legend of a Grandmaster. (2010)

Ip Man 2 continues the legendary story of one of the most venerated masters of Wing Chun. It is the highly anticipated sequel to Wilson Yip's 2008 Yip Man biopic. Although known in the West as Bruce Lees Master, Ip Man is one of Chinese Martial Arts most highly regarded practitioners. The film focuses on the time of the second Sino-Japanese War, where Ip Man struggled as a young man to find his place amongst the Martial Arts Schools and founding his own students.

With the devastation for the Japanese occupation of China, Ip Man's family have lost all their wealth. After relocating to Hong Kong, Ip Man opens a Wing Chung School and is immediately challenged by local Hung Fist master named Hung Jan-nam. On top of this aggression, the occupying British aren’t too happy about the presence of his school and hire a handful of toughened fighters to try and expel or frighten him out of the country. The film broadly comments on chauvinism as well as imperialism, portraying the realities of Chinese suffering by the British, as well as Western perceptions towards Asian Martial Arts.

The movie explores the movements and tenets behind the martial arts technique mastered by Ip Man. Many tiny moments expound the gentleness and beauty of spirit Ip Man possessed. From his gentle manner, kindness towards those less fortunate and his refusal to beg or chase money, Ip Man is portrayed reverently.

Its difficult to choose a favourite scene. Donnie Yen is a martial arts action star of impeccable pedigree, an actor of considerable power and focus with a calm, ferociousness which chills even the most disengaged viewer. The multiple actions scenes are orchestrated with precision, perfection and breathtaking timing. Its gratifying to notice too that most of the fight scenes rely more on skill than wirework.

If you are expecting Bruce Lee to appear in the film, then don’t get your hopes up too high. Although originally the script was intended to focus on the relationship between Ip and his most famed discipline, permissions and film rights had not reached a stage of negotiations before filming began, so it was decided to portray Bruce as a child at the end of the film ( and leave it open for yet another sequel) The film is all about Ip Man settling down into Hong Kong (the first hour) and defending the honour of the Chinese - again - (the second hour).

Ip Man 2 is an engrossing drama commenting on the society norms of the 40s and 50s as well as being a dynamic martial-arts flick.

Theatrical Poster Via Wiki

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Malay Chronicles - Bloodlines (2011)

The blurb informs potential viewers that it is loosely based on the Malasian 16th Century document “Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa”, a collection of stories surrounding Merong Mahawangsa, a direct descendant of Alexander the Great. Amongst his battles and deeds of glory journeying him from Rome to Asia, he allegedly founded the Kingdom of Langkasuka and ruled as the first Hindi King. For those who don’t know, the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is traditionally a verbal recollection told from generation to generation, so its expected that there are mystical elements which may not be logical or historically correct.

The Malay Chronicles - Bloodlines is an epic fantasy romance, liberally sprinkled with marital arts action, things blowing up, gallons of blood gushing from sword wounds and plenty of slow motion screams of angst in the pouring rain.

The story is set in 20 AD with opening scenes informing the viewer of the political and social unrest occurring in both the great Roman Empire and in Chinas Han Dynasty. Political players decide to unite the two empires through a marriage of convenience that will take place in South East Asia. Of course, both young people (Marcus and Meng )are duty bound to bide to the wishes of their rulers and vow to uphold their part, however much they are appalled by the barbarism of their new partner.

After adventures on the seas (where they pick up Merong from a Goa market place), advance parties set up camp and begin to prepare for the wedding. Marcus and Meng, desperate for freedom, find one another beside a stream and discover that they have alot in common.

Pirates kidnap the Chinese Princess and demand ransom. This brings Merong into the forefront to fight for her freedom. There are alot of large scale fight scenes, wizened old men prophesying, sorcery and bloodshed. Most of the army on both sides die on the beach or in the mud, allowing over dramatic cries of revenge (usually done on bent knee in the rain) Its a little predictable but well wort the ride.

The film is a mix of English and Ancient Malay (with subtitles) which is quite jarring and odd in many places. Its credited to be the first Malaysian language feature to be released on the Blu-ray format. From a country who normally churns out horror or comedy films, this was an ambitious project to take on.

Despite this, its a simple story with big fight sequences, blood, swords, sorcery and martial arts. If you are looking for a movie to suit everyone in your group, it doesn’t get better than this. You may not be intellectually challenged as a result of watching the movie, but there are plenty of fight scenes which will make up for this loss. Boosted by use of CGI special effects, though not as sophisticated as many Hollywood Movies, it will suit many genre lovers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Directed by Chen Kaige, Farewell My Concubine is a visual and emotional masterpiece thoroughly deserving of its many international film awards and nominations, winning its section at the Cannes Film Festival. The films costumes, sets and props are as lavish and ornate as the operas it portrays.

The film spans nearly 60 years, following two orphans, taken in by the Peking Opera and trained as lead performers. Their upbringing and training is far from idealic. Through often gruelling and traumatising events, their friendship is pockmarked with dramatic conflicts and emotional reconciliations.  Although the opera have a range of performances, these two specialise in specific roles, their stage acts often mirroring their personal lives.

Farewell my Concubine is a political melodrama, with themes focusing on the meaning of unconditional love. Though the main characters are essentially heterosexual, it has veiled homosexual themes as the delicate Dieyi specializes in female roles and the gutsy Xiaolou plays noble warriors and kings. Conflicts arise as the friends mature, falling in love; with one ultimately marrying a woman.

The film deals with the political events surrounding the time it was set, but its main focus explores the friendship of two people as they grow and develop together under harsh settings. The film is neatly separated into book-like chapters. Each part represents a different time in Chinese history as it follows the lives of the characters. Beginning in the 1920s with the Chinese Warlords, it winds through to the Cultural Revolution, the Japanese invasion with the Communist takeover as an integral part to the plot.

Although the film is nearly three hours long, the film flows with little interruption, mesmerising the senses.

Whilst moviemakers in Hollywood struggle to retell old storylines, Chinese film makers are keen to make films on the countless untold stories their country has kept hidden. However, their progress is hindered by the administration involved with governmental approval of scripts. The film evokes a world that most Westerners has little real understanding of, or connection to; allowing us a small peep under the sturdy curtains which still surround much of China.

 Farewell My Concubine won a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival (1993), as well as Best Foreign Language Film from the Golden Globes(1994) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association(1993).  Gong Li won a Best Supporting Actress Award from the New York Film Critics Circle (1993). Sadly, the film received little acclaim in its own country. Because of its depiction of the Cultural Revolution, and its frank look at homosexuality, the movie was banned, the actors shunned and the film only released after heavy editing.

Farewell My Concubine is able to remain an intimate touching story of epic proportions. A brilliant addition to any foreign film buffs collection.