Monday, May 25, 2009

Ip Man (Hong Kong 2008)

In an almost admirable attempt at being a bio-pic, Ip Man (葉問) fails at giving us a thorough understanding of the man behind Wing Chun, but excels at showing us Donnie Yen beating serious ass. Sometimes the latter is more than enough, but I can't help but feel a bit cheated on the former.

Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family are on top of the world and live a quiet life in the town of Fuoshan. Everyone respects Ip Man for the amazing martial-artist that he is and though his skills surpass those of everyone else on dojo street, he has no desire to start his own school. However, Ip Man is the only one that can take on Master Jin, who comes to Foushan from the north to challenge all of the martial-arts masters on dojo street in order to prove that he should and could run his own school. After Master Jin (Louis Fan) beats everyone senseless, Ip Man steps in and serves him properly, sending him and his goons back with their tales between their legs. This victory wins the town their respect back, and the love and adoration for Ip Man by the townspeople grows even more. However, the good times apparently weren't meant to last as the Japanese attacked China in 1937 leaving thousands dead and displaced, and towns destroyed. Ip Man's way of life was forever changed as he and his family now lived a life of poverty. General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a martial-arts advocate, recruits fighters from around Foushan to challenge his troops, and many are willing to participate in order to earn rice to feed their families. However, Ip Man is reluctant to participate until he realizes that the Japanese aren't playing "fair" and are killing people that he knows and cares for. Meanwhile, one of the few working factories is town is bein harassed by Master Jin and his goons and are defenseless against their skills. They employ Ip Man to help them learn how to defend themselves, and in a sense, empowers them as a people. The Japanese General is so impressed with Ip Man's fighting ability that he offers him a position teaching the Japanese troops his style of martial-arts. Ip Man's refusal to help the Japanese in any way makes life for him and his family all the more dangerous and he's left with no other option but to leave the country he loves...but not before he faces the General one-on-one.

I know that Ip Man is a bio-pic of sorts and I've heard and read that it isn't historically accurate, and knowing that the film is a joint venture between China and Hong Kong, I can imagine as much. However, it's not really my job to verify the authenticity of the events taking place, so think of that as a disclaimer to anything I might say about the film. For what it is, Ip Man is an engaging tale of the man who struggled through harrowing times and established Wing Chun as a dominant fighting style. The problem however is that I was left wanting more, and to be specific, more about his personal life. The film is mostly focused on the Japanese attack on China and how terrible the Japanese appear to be (at that time in history of course). The atrocities of war are never fun and they really drive that point home here. Donnie Yen puts in an excellent performance and really tones down his presence in this role which absolutely works. However, his character is really presented in a way that makes you believe he can do no wrong. Clearly Ip Man has no flaws right? At least that's what you're left believing, and we can assume that isn't accurate. The fighting, as with any Donnie Yen film, is pretty much second-to-none, and with Sammo Hung as the action director, I need not elaborate further on this point.

If you want to learn a bit about Ip Man, and I do mean a bit, then by all means see this film, but you more than likely want to see Donnie Yen go to work, and boy does he! I've read that a second film is in the works, which is great because I'm hoping for further elaboration on the life and times of the man that went on to train Bruce Lee. (Lee)

Grade: B

Rough Cut (Korea 2008)

The line between reality and fantasy are crossed in Rough Cut (영화는 영화다), a film that really asks it's audience to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained. That being said, if you can keep that in mind, this film can be quite entertaining indeed.

Gang-pae (So Ji-sub) is a rough-around-the-edges gang boss who's real dream in life has always been to be an actor. He admires the work of one of the biggest leading men in the industry, Soo-ta (Kang Ji-hwan), who fills every stereotype you can imagine pertaining to a stuck-up, entitled celebrity. Soo-ta is having a difficult time as of late because of his short-temper which resulted in him actually hitting one of his fellow co-stars. Now he has the paparazzi all over him and he's even beginning to lose some of his sponsorships. A chance encounter, where Gang-pae requests Soo-ta's autograph results in Gang-pae getting an idea of the type of person Soo-ta really is: a jerk. However disrespected, Gang-pae remains professional (whatever that means in the world of gangs) and shrugs off the encounter with Soo-ta. However, as things get worse for Soo-ta on the set of his movie, he realizes that the film isn't going to come out nearly as realistic as he'd like it to be, so he remembers Gang-pae's desire to become an actor. Gang-pae agrees to help out Soo-ta in his desperate time of need, but as his new official rival in the film he requests that all of the action must be real, including the fights. Soo-ta reluctantly agrees, much to the dismay of director Bong (Ko Chang-seok), because he realizes how much he needs this movie to succeed in order to become favorable with the studio and his audience again. As filming progresses however, the line between reality and film making begin to cross as Gang-pae's dangerous world refuses to take a back seat for his new hobby. Is it too late for Soo-ta to rebuild his image? And can Gang-pae really leave his life as a gangster behind him?

First things first, the premise of this film is quite absurd, because in what reality would a movie studio be willing to employ a "real" gangster in their film for the sake of realism? I'm sure it would not happen here in Hollywood, but I'm accepting the fact that it's a movie, or maybe I don't understand the behind-the-scenes aspect of Korean film making that well. Regardless, it just seems silly in a movie where everything is taken quite seriously to having such an odd element for the story. Premise aside, the acting in Rough Cut is actually quite excellent. Set aside the fact that Soo-ta is the biggest jerk you'll ever see, because that is the nature of his character, but Kang Ji-hwan plays it excellently. I particularly enjoyed So Ji-sub's performance as a man caught between the world he lives in and the world he dreams of. His desire is a great underlying piece in the film that brings out the most emotion in Rough Cut, because you really get a sense of how much he wants to act, but his circumstances don't seem to allow it. There are also some genuinely tense moments when you know that all of the action is "real" and you wonder how far the parties involved are willing to go.

There is a lot of good things going on in Rough Cut, and the performances are what help put it above the "average" label. Again, the story is a little bit out there but manages to be intriguing at times, and the general seriousness of the character's surroundings make it all worth watching. Well worth your time. (Lee)

Grade: B+