Flash Point (2007) — November 18, 2014
About 20 minutes into the climax of the movie, after he has been beating the hell out of a guy (and being equally beaten in return) for some time, Donnie Yen, for the first time in the film, takes his jacket off, as if to say “OK, now I’m really gonna get violent.” He does.
By the numbers cop/Triad movie. Donnie’s the cop who breaks all the rules, Louis Koo is his partner, undercover among ethnically outsider criminals (Vietnamese in this case), on the eve of the Handover. The details of the criminal organization, the investigation, the legal ramifications of anything, are basically ignored, as is pretty much anything else outside of the basic narrative tissue connecting the action sequences. Yen’s previous collaboration with director Wilson Yip, SPL: Sha Po Lang was a meditation on fathers and sons as much as a cops-and-gangsters story, but there’s none of that here. Instead, it’s Donnie leaping from one brutal fight to the next, culminating in the final, MMA-derived (lots of Muay Thai elbows and knees and wrestling holds) bout of fisticuffs.
The film opens and closes with Donnie, who has consistently brutalized suspects on- and off-camera, being asked if he’d ever assaulted an innocent person. His non-answer would be telling, but these questions seem like they come out of another movie, one where it would even be possible for Donnie Yen to be wrong about anything.
Ip Man (2008) – April 4, 2019
Might be best considered as an action film with no relation to actual history or reality. That solves the fact that it’s wildly inaccurate and often nonsensical, but only makes its more puffed up pretensions (the score, the shift to muted colors once the war begins) more irritating.
Turning Ip Man into a cross between Wong Fei-hung and Huo Yuanjia was I guess some kind of a smart idea, in that it allowed the industry to recycle a bunch of old ideas (and Mainland-market friendly nationalism) under a new name.
Ip Man 2 (2010) — August 22, 2013
I’m still not comfortable with the glossy digital plasticity of the 21st century kung fu film, but this one has some nice moments in its first half, following Ip as he slowly struggles to build his school and a reputation for himself as an exile in post-Civil War Hong Kong. Sammo Hung plays his rival, a somewhat corrupted Hung Gar master with some bad apple students and a soft heart. And then the movie turns into Rocky IV.
I’m not quite a huge Donnie Yen fan, yet. He’s a great martial arts performer, of course, and he imbues Ip with the right amount of quiet dignity, despite his slight frame (first Sammo and then the British simply tower over him). I wish the film had more of that understated quality. Instead the drama is wildly overblown, with the villainous British boxer unbelievably cruel and racist and menacing, a snarling mass of slow motion muscle pummeling the audience as much as any unfortunate Chinese man that gets in his way. Ip seems like a swell guy who lived through some exciting times, I would hope a film adaptation of his life would reflect in its dramatic approach the moderation of his philosophy of life. We’ll see what Wong Kar-wai does with it.
Ip Man 3 (2015) — April 5, 2019
I know it’s just a silly action movie and not actual history but it drives me nuts that Donnie built this whole movie about Ip Man’s relationship with his wife during her illness and death when in fact they didn’t even see each other during the last ten years or so of her life.
It’s gross. But hey, Donnie fights Mike Tyson and Zhang Jin is pretty cool.