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Recently, V and I caught a showing of Ip Man – The Final Fight. The Ip Man movie franchise was quite a craze in Hong Kong and we are late to the party. I had only sketchy information on what we were in for;  I expected superheroish martial arts and was a little surprised to encounter the aging protagonist on screen. Ip Man, or rather Yip Kai-man, was a real person, a legendary proponent of the Wing Chun school of martial arts, among whose famous pupils was Bruce Lee. The Final Fight deals with his latter days, a return to Hong Kong during the 50s, a tumultuous period of starvation and strikes. Although there were some slow bits– yeah, weird in a martial arts film – we enjoyed it enough to go home and download the first and second parts. I watched the very beginning and end of The Legend is Born: Ip Man. Some general thoughts on the one-and-a-half film/s that I watched:

  1. It’s interesting how the Brits are the archetypal villains. In The Final Fight, they are the oppressors early on, and then the torch of villainy is passed to the notorious gangs of Kowloon City, but the corruption the presence of the colonisers engenders remains a strain throughout, embodied in the character of the corrupt Chinese cop who is a also a student of Ip Man. In The Legend is Born, the conflict between East and West is portrayed through the contest between the brash prizefighting boxer and the Chinese martial artists. The inability of the Westerners to comprehend the Chinese ethos and the disrespect with which the locals are treated is testimony to the simmering resentment that exists even today. On the surface, there are no overt expressions of great displeasure with the British of the kind that is so common in India. And, of course, caught between Britain and China there are many who would choose the former. Though obviously that would not be emphasised in a film for which China would be a major audience. Nevertheless, the positioning of the Brits as the baddies speaks to the sentiments of Hong Kong people that are not often expressed but clearly exist. And I found myself getting caught up in the displeasure at the Western brashness, which obviously being Indian had something to do with, but I also felt offended in a very Chinese way. Not just because it was one culture being contemptuous of another, but because I got how deep the insult would be to a Chinese person. And for this reason, I suddenly felt that many it’s best that people live, govern and be governed by people of the same or similar culture. On the one hand, I see the benefits of multiculturalism in enriching and pushing civilizations further. The greatest civilisations have always absorbed outside influence On the other hand, I am living a different reality.
  2. In the martial arts classes, there were women learning alongside men. The period being portrayed here is the 1950s and earlier, so I wonder if it’s an anachronism. Not only do the women learn, they also are portrayed fighting alongside the men, and sometimes for them. In The Final Fight, one of the women is arrested for beating up a police officer after a police clampdown on a strike and later in the film, another pregnant woman comes to her husband’s defense. She stands over her husband’s beaten up body and assumes the martial arts pose and even land a few punches before getting kicked in the stomach and even then, she doesn’t back down. It was startling to watch.
  3. In both films, there was an altercation with the master of a rival school, which ended in mutual respect. The head of the rival school was in both cases presented as elderly and engaging in slightly dubious practices and initially antagonistic. There was a face-off in which Ip Man triumphed. But he continued to be deferent to the rival school teacher.
  4. Martial arts are really beautiful to watch. The contrast between Western-style boxing which is so brawn-based and martial arts, which has an aesthetic component, is so stark. I’ve always tended to dislike the sport of boxing, but then I did a kickboxing class and I could see the value in it – after all, maybe people do need to defend themselves, and how do you develop those skills without practice (i.e. actually punching each other)? But this film took me back to disliking boxing, it just seems too violent. Wing Chun might be a particularly aesthetically appealing form of kung fu, I could see the source of several of Neo’s moves in The Matrix, but most martial art forms are graceful in addition to being powerful. I guess that’s where the “art” in the name comes from.
  5. If the essence of a culture is encapsulated in its mainstream cinema, then what does Bollywood cinema say of Indian culture (while acknowledging that Bollywood does not represent all of Indian cinema, but does seem to have become its most popular iteration)? That we are at essence melodramatic, maybe. And what does the kung fu film say about Hong Kong culture? That at the heart of the culture is restraint.

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And from that world of discipline and honourable actions, I entered the world of Girls. Have been wanting to watch this series for ages, but finally got V to download it.

It’s clearly meant to be a development on the Sex and the City format. The flamboyant provocativeness of SATC is replaced with this gritty, depressive today. There are echoes of the SATC humour, but it is now less quippy, more wry. If SATC was post-modern, what is this? Post-realism? Return to realism?

As with SATC, I initially disliked all the characters because they seemed not just bitchy, but self-centered. I disliked the girls of Girls initially for the same reason. Then I began to see shades of myself in them. The sexual encounters of these women, particularly Hannah, were what I was referring to in my posts on the amount of sex 20-somethings seem to feel obliged to have, not all of it particularly enjoyable. I would like to say I did not identify with the callous sense of entitlement (the opening scene of the first episode of season one) sets the stage with Hannah defending her right to be supported by her parents but as Indian kids most of us were so there. What’s new is that the recession has become the justification for it.

I can see why this series has struck a chord. I’m hooked.

 

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I nudged myself into reading The Satanic Verses after Joseph Anton, because I suspected it had the most chance of holding my attention after all the side tidbits of the memoir. It’s an impressive, if somewhat fragmented, book, the language and ideas more complex than anything of his I’ve read before so I’d recommend people reading it only after getting familiar with his style.

I can see why it would have offended the staunchly, unquestioning religious, but while he does question religion, and use a specific religion as a trope for that critique, he also exonerates it. “What kind of idea are you?” and “What kind of winner are you?” are the two questions posed at critical junctures of two parallel stories – an episode in the life of The Messenger and that of Gibreel Farishta who takes on angelic characteristics, and in both cases, the answers are not immediately negative. In the tale of the mystic Ayesha who led a village into the sea, too, which is apparently the reworking of a Sufi story, what actually happened (miracle or massacre) is left ambiguous.

If Rushdie is critiquing religion, he is also critiquing himself as mercilessly. It’s hard not to relate the character of Saladin Chamcha to himself, particularly after reading Joseph Anton. If not exactly the author, Saladin  typifies the Indian aspiring to Britain, and it was this journey that fascinated me.

Although the frame of the story is religion, the real subject seems to be migration. If there is a moral to The Satanic Verses it is not so much to debunk religion as to go back to one’s roots.

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