As Hannah Wurf recently pointed out, many of this year's films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars have foreign policy themes. Similarly, Chinese films can often reflect the domestic political agenda and themes of the Chinese Communist Party. Yip Man 3, released last week in China, is an excellent martial arts movie. But it also embodies the six worldviews recently put forward by Dr Merriden Varrall in her paper Chinese Worldviews and China's Foreign Policy, and reflects many aspects of the Communist Party's domestic political discourse.
Yip Man 3 (the third in a series directed by Wilson Yip that star Donnie Yen as Yip Man) is 'loosely' based on the life of the Wing Chun Master Yip Man. The real Yip Man is highly respected for promoting Wing Chun (a form of martial arts) internationally. He was also the teacher of Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong American martial artist and actor.
The latest sees Yip Man movie living in Foshan in 1959 where he is trying to lead a normal life with his wife and young son. However, a low-profile life is not to be for Yip Man. His son's school, a prime piece of real-estate, is targeted for a land grab by a group of 'baddies' led by Mike Tyson in a role as a businessman named Frank, in collusion with the British authorities. Once again it falls to Yip Man to protect the good citizens of Foshan from the foreign invaders.
This plot line embodies the first of Merriden's worldviews: that China has suffered a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign imperialists. As Merriden notes, the 'outside power in question changes according to politically expedience.' This is also the case in the Yip Man series. In the first Yip Man (2008) we see Yip Man fighting off the Japanese army during WWII. It's not surprising that 2008 also coincided with a deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations. In the latest Yip Man movie the foreign powers are American and British. Sino-US ties worsened during 2015 as China continued its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea and accused the US of interference in its 'internal matters.' The latest movie reflects the tensions between the US and China with the colluding foreigners interfering in the internal affairs of Yip Man's community.
In both movies Yip Man defeats his foreign rivals. While Yip Man couldn't single-handedly fight off the entire Japanese army, he was able to beat the military commander in charge of the unit in Foshan. In the latest film, in an engaging fight scene between Yip Man and Frank, Yip Man wins the grudging respect of his opponent. Consequently, Frank agrees to keep his hands off the territory of the local population. While there is no clear winner in the fight between the two (a three minute timed combat), the implication is clear: Yip Man's skills are superior to those of Mike Tyson. The upshot of the most recent tensions between the US and China is also far from clear, but the film suggests the Chinese could be hoping that, like Frank, the US will be suitably impressed by China's military might and resist further interference.
Throughout the latest film (and the previous installments), the local community is always shown working together as a family to fight off the corrupt British policemen and the American gangsters. Yip Man's students from his Wing Chun academy take turns guarding the school, while the shop owners give Yip Man free food when his in protector mode. Such unity ties in with the worldview that China is a family and that 'we are Chinese first and foremost.' Together, the community of Foshan bands together to protect themselves from outside attacks.
The Yip Man franchise also reflects other worldviews. For instance, the 'unique' nature of Wing Chun mirrors the 'uniquely unique' nature of the Chinese. Throughout the movie, Yip Man is also depicted as doing his utmost to walk away from conflict, ignoring taunts and trying to keep his community safe. Yip Man personifies a China that is 'peaceful, responsible and non-imperialist/colonialist.' However, given the fact that cultural characteristics are unchanging, he cannot help but be drawn into the conflict with his violent and imperialistic American/British/Japanese enemies.
Yip Man 3 is sure to be a box office hit in China. It's already done well in other Chinese speaking markets. When it opened in Singapore in December, it beat Star Wars; The Force Awakens to the number one Box Office hit. The success of Yip Man 3 suggests that when it comes to entertainment, those in the Sinosphere prefer to see their own stories told.
While Yip Man 3 is a martial arts movie first and foremost, it also offers a glimpse into how Chinese people perceive themselves and the world around them. For those wishing to better understand contemporary Chinese thought, a viewing of this highly enjoyable martial arts film could be a valuable two-hour investment.