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The Case of Ip Man: Postcolonialism, Nationalism, and Soft Power Currency in Twenty-First Century Chinese Martial Arts Cinema

By Andrea Tang


This paper explores the literary, historical, and political dimensions of Hong Kong action filmmaker Wilson Yip's biographical film series Ip Man (2008, 2010),which details the life and times of the titular wing chung kung fu master, who later became famous for mentoring martial arts legend Bruce Lee. The two films are particularly notable for the strong nationalistic and postcolonial rhetoric that color the tenor of the narrative. The first installment in the duology takes place during the Japanese invasion of China in World War II, and revolves around the machinations of the Japanese general Miura and his interactions with the defiantly patriotic Ip Man. Similarly, the second installment takes place in British Hong Kong, and deals in large part with a rivalry between local Chinese martial artists and an English boxer. This paper will analyze how language and violence function in these narratives within the context of China's martial arts tradition, as well as the historical legacies of Japanese and British imperialism. Using a framework primarily informed by Franz Fanon's theories on postcolonial violence and Joseph Nye's concept of soft power in international relations, this paper ultimately concludes that Yip has reinvented Ip Man as an icon of Chinese power in the twenty-first century on both a national and global scale

Year: 2012
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