Friday, July 10, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 9 July 2009: Ip Man

You know what's annoying? When you get set to uncork a nice rant about everything that went wrong on a particularly annoying day, and it all comes back to stuff that is basically your own doing. The clothes in the dryer that are still damp when they go in the suitcase? My own fault. Arriving for the 7:45am bus at 7:48? My own fault. Spending an hour trying to find a way to get the money for my sublet out of my checking account because the landlord (reasonably) doesn't feel right taking a personal check from the US? Should have hammered this out earlier. About the only thing I can lay on the world at large is that the 10am bus didn't arrive in Montreal until something like quarter of seven (scheduled for 5:30pm).

Oddly enough, knowing this doesn't make me feel any less mad at the world in general. Crankiness was increased by how, around eight-thirty or so, I had that bizarrely unbalanced feeling where I needed both to have a drink of water and hit the restroom. It also felt like everyone in the city was blowing their toxic tobacco cloud in my face. In my defense, it is utterly unreasonable that the ATMs and ticket dispensers in the Metro are apparently the only places in Montreal where my debit card fails to work.

The upshot is that this wiped out any chance of seeing the opening movie, Takashi Miike's Yatterman. There's a second showing, but it means I'll have to rearrange my work schedule (doing some telecommuting so that I don't blow all my vacation time in one wad) to end earlier on Tuesday.

On the plus side, the day ended with roughly an hour of Donnie Yen kicking asses with forty-five minutes of other stuff interspersed. That is quite a fine way to end the day, so long as you're not the one on the other end of it.

Ip Man

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Hong Kong Cinema 100 Years)

Ip Man is a bit of a throwback, and I mean that as a compliment. It's easy to watch it and get the feel of an old Shaw Brothers movie, or Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China series. It's prettier than the former and more modern than the latter, but like both, it consistently delivers the fantastic action. This is only to be expected, with one of Hong Kong's greatest current action stars (Donnie Yen), playing a legend (Ip Man had Bruce Lee as a disciple) with a fantastic team of action filmmakers putting it together.

As the movie opens in 1935, Ip Man (Yen) lives something like a life of leisure, occupying a fine house in martial arts-crazy Fo Shan, but not having any particular work. He lends his businessman friend Zhou Qingquan (Simon Yam) some money to open a cotton mill, but even though he is a master of Wing Chun, he doesn't have students. However, that doesn't prevent Jin Shan-zhoe (Fan Siu-wong) from challenging him when he comes to town looking to establish himself as the top master. Jin won't be the only challenger Ip must face; three years later, after the Japanese have invaded, the occupying General, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), is a great martial arts enthusiast and challenges all of Fo Shan's martial arts masters. Ip Man is uninterested, at least until one of his friends is beaten to death.

Ip Man follows the basic structure of a Shaw Brothers movie - comedic opening, invaders who occupy the hero's small town, plenty of time for formal practicing and dueling in addition to action where the participants realy mean it. Director Wilson Yip and writer Edmond Wong execute it about as well as possible, giving us a chance to get to know not just Master Ip, but his family and his entire town, investing us in the place much better than just having the occupying Japanese be generically cruel. It also, more so than many martial arts films, gives us a chance to consider the various fighting styles. Wing Chun is, early on, denigrated for being invented by a woman, and there is something feminine about it; we can see the lack of macho posturing, as well as the grace and economy of movement compared to the other fighters' wushu and karate.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Today's plan: Full-ish day of work, then an evening triple-feature of Must Love Death, Thirst (new Park Chan-wook!!!!!), and Lesbian Vampire Killers. If you're in town, Ip Man is showing again at 4:35pm in the Hall theater, and I can recommend Kim Ki-duk's flawed but interesting Dream at 7:15 in J.A. de Seve, as well as the completely and gloriously insane House at 11:45pm in de Seve.

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