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Ip Man, from zero to hero

By Wei Xi  (Global Times)

08:46, March 13, 2013

Kevin Cheng stars in TV series Ip Man. (GT Photo: Courtesy of Suzhou Funa)

For decades Huang Feihong and Fang Shiyu were the most well-known true names in the Chinese kung fu movie and TV world, but in recent years a new-comer has taken all the attention. Ye Wen (1893-1972) is now the most popular kung fu action star.

Four movies about Ye have been made since 2008: Ip Man (2008); Ip Man 2 (2010); The Legend is Born - Ip Man (2010); and The Grandmaster (2012). Now, a TV series called Ip Man is about to air and another movie Ip Man: The Final Fight is due out in a few days. There's even a rumor about a possible Ip Man 3.

From zero to hero

Ye Wen was born in Foshan, a city of Guangdong Province and spent his later life in neighboring Hong Kong. He became known as Ip Man and was a master of Wing Chun, a popular style of Chinese kung fu. His famous student was Hollywood action star Bruce Lee. Yet, despite both identifications, he was little known outside the kung fu circle until Hong Kong director Wilson Yip's 2008 movie Ip Man.

The movie starred Chinese kung fu actor Donnie Yen, and though it possessed little innovation as a kung fu flick, the movie made quite a stir back then.

The reasons behind the success seem obvious. First of all, there are a fixed number of kung fu movie fans in the Chinese mainland. Second, before the screening of the first movie, publicity focused on the fact that Ye had been the teacher of Bruce Lee and a kung fu master, creating a curiosity among the audience about what such a legendary figure would be like. Also as Ye was linked to the complicated period when China was besieged by imperial powers making his story sound more interesting. Together with the personal attractiveness of leading actor Donnie Yen, the popularity of an Ip Man movie was assured.

However, after Ye's story became known to almost everyone, the remaking of it runs the risk of saturating the audience.

Getting bored

"I am kind of a disciple of Wing Chun… but I have to say that Ye Wen… has been over consumed. Ninety percent of his stories ... are made-up, and the other 10 percent are suspected of being exaggerated," a moviegoer in Guangzhou Province surnamed Lao said.

Some netizens have mocked that Ye Wen has already fought hooligans, the Japanese invaders, and Western fighters, so now there's no one left to fight except maybe aliens.

Yet, Herman Yau, director of The Final Fight, and Fan Xiaotian, director of TV series Ip Man are confident about their works.

According to a report from the Shanghai Evening Post, Yau said that as a legendary figure, Ye's spirit should be protected and not allowed to be over consumed. But the key is to consider what another movie might bring to the audience.

In an interview with the Global Times, Fan said that in the Ye Wen on TV "is not portrayed in the traditional way but contains modern people's understanding of that time period." The story is led by Ye's thoughts on social problems and life values.

To prove the TV series Ip Man is well received among viewers, Fan said that five mainland TV stations are airing the show and Hong Kong TV station TVB bought the overseas broadcasting rights, which makes the show available in countries like Singapore, Australia, the US and Canada since yesterday.

Story innovation

Despite conflicts between filmmakers and moviegoers, Zhu Yuqing, managing editor of movie section, Media & Entertainment Industry Reporter magazine, said that innovative ideas are what matters in movie or TV works.

"There are over a hundred movie or TV story episodes on Huang Feihong but such works still have an audience," he told the Global Times in a phone interview. "There's no such thing as over consumption of a successful series. Only those repeating the same ideas will bore the audience."

Zhu said the same theory also applies to other types of works, using the example of the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf animated movies.

Zhu said this year's film had a 25-percent drop from last year due to repeating the same ideas. "Movies and TV series are based on innovative ideas. The biggest taboo is repeating the same thing again and again."

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