Possibilities for the Chinese Martial Arts Movies: The Sudden Surge of Ip Man Films

By Kay Li.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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This paper shows how Chinese Martial Arts Movies explore nationalism, colonialism, gender, heroism, and social problems through examining recent films made around Bruce Lee's Chinese Martial Arts master Yip Man. Between 2008 and 2013, five movies were made on Yip Man, Bruce Lee's Chinese Martial Arts master. The first three, starred by actors with real martial arts training, are like the Bruce Lee films with the Chinese hero fighting against Japanese aggression in China and British Colonialism in Hong Kong.
The fourth film released in 2013 was made by Wong Kar-wai with international superstars: Tony Leung as Yip Man and Zhang Ziyi as his opponent Gong Er. Going beyond nationalism and colonialism, the film features both a male grand master and a female grand master. The film studies heroism in the light of gender and factionalism.
Rather than the above larger-than-life personalities, another 2013 film with Hong Kong Best Actor Anthony Wong explores how Yip Man encounters down-to-earth social problems in post-war Hong Kong. While he is still morally good, courageous, humble, and virtuous, Yip Man is humanized and personalized, shown battling not just martial arts opponents but also the challenges of everyday life.
Together the films show that martial arts movies can go far beyond breathtaking physical action to intense philosophical explorations of big issues.

Keywords: Martial Arts Film, Heroism, Nationalism

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp.59-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 436.086KB).

Dr. Kay Li

Adjunct Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts, and Professional Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

One of the founding members of the International Shaw Society, Dr. Kay Li is the Project Leader of SAGITTARIUS—ORION Digitizing Project on Bernard Shaw funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She studies cross-cultural literary encounters and cultural globalization, and her book Bernard Shaw and China: Cross-Cultural Encounters was published by the University Press of Florida Bernard Shaw Series. She is Adjunct Professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University, and President of Asian Heritage Month--Canadian Foundation for Asian Culture (Central Ontario) Inc.. Her other government funded projects include the Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Cultural Heritage (VMACCH) and the Asian Heritage Month Festivals