Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Visible conflict

Perhaps one definitional difference between genre and art is that genre is content with the depiction of conflict and its resolution for its own sake. "Art" could be defined as the reaction to such conflict and its working out, whether the reaction is that of individual characters, a society or both. In such a manner, art can conveniently be built on the foundations of genre, without disturbing it.

The delight and trap for genre pieces is that, being rooted in depictions of the same conflicts being played out in the same way, court a stifling uniformity. (Another perspective would focus on the ceremonial quality of such depictions, especially relevant with films from more ceremonial cultures than our own.) Ip Man 2 (2010) addresses the problem of potential monotony head on and frames its conflict in purely visual terms to an extent that would delight Hitchcock.

The film's conflict is that of East versus West; the theme is local pride among the Chinese of Hong Kong in the teeth of domination by Western colonial powers. The ideas play out in breathtakingly simple form: A boxer named Twister (who should have been called "Crusher" like those brutes in the Bugs Bunny cartoons) has arrived at Sammo Hung's club to box with some other Westerner (whom, we never find out). Instead, he insults Sammo and fights him to the death, leaving the Ip Man (Donnie Yen) to defend the honor of kung fu and Chinese culture in general.

Thus, the East-West conflict is not something merely described, discussed, reacted to, perhaps dramatized in a montage of vignettes. It is palpable and manifest in every frame of the last half of the film. The very mixing of the two styles of boxing makes visible not only differences in culture, but in the aspects of personal character valued by those cultures. The West favors shows of strength, bluster, and overwhelming force; the East favors skill, surprise, and exploiting the opponent's vulnerabilities.

An overheated Hong-Kong Rocky? sure. But cinematic? Textbook case. And it doesn't hurt that Donnie Yen is such a compelling and charismatic performer.

No comments:

Post a Comment