Punch-loving patriots

Tyson targeted, as nationalistic action plots keep movie-goers happy

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Xiong Dailin, who plays the kung-fu master’s love interest

After scoring a part in The Hangover franchise, former boxing champion Mike Tyson took to the stage, appearing in the Broadway show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth three years ago.

The performance, directed by Spike Lee, offered a warts-and-all account of the boxer’s tumultuous career. Tyson said he hoped it was just the beginning of his stage success. “I think fighting is for saps now,” he told the New York Times.

In late March, the boxer announced his next steps as an actor: he will join the cast of Ip Man 3, the latest biopic of a kung-fu master made legendary by Hong Kong movies recently.

Hollywood Reporter says Tyson will play a real estate developer who is also a street fighter and will do battle with Donnie Yen, who plays the lead character Ip Man (the starlet Xiong Dailin will also reprise her role as Ip’s wife).

When asked if he was worried about squaring up to the former boxer, who is notorious for his unpredictable temper, Yen said that he would be prepared.

“I have also asked the film bosses to buy extra insurance for me since my kids are still very young,” he joked.

The two previous Ip Man films were released in 2008 and 2010 respectively, before China’s film boom began in earnest. The third chapter – tentatively scheduled for a 3D release in the first quarter of 2016 – is likely to be a much bigger hit. One reason for Ip Man’s popularity, some critics have suggested, is that the films appeal to the nationalist sentiment of Chinese audiences. In the first movie, set during the Japanese occupation, Ip outfights Japanese karate masters. In part two he finds himself boxing in Hong Kong against Twister, a British champion backed by a corrupt police superintendent who wants to uphold the physical supremacy of the white race (although Twister boxes with his gloves on, Ip hammers away with his bare fists). And now Ip will be vanquishing Tyson, the former heavyweight champion of the world and once the self-proclaimed Baddest Man on the Planet.

Reportedly the film will also feature a digitally-resurrected Bruce Lee, who was once a pupil of Ip Man.

Another domestic offering using a similar strategy to tap patriotic fervour is doing surprisingly well at the box office. Wolf Warriors, a kung-fu-meets-military tale that stars Wu Jing, raked in over Rmb300 million ($48 million) in ticket sales in just one week.

“The success of Wolf Warriors reminds people a lot of the Ip Man franchise. Even though they (Yen and Wu) look different, they both shamelessly play the nationalism card,” says Southern Metropolis Daily. “One of the most popular phrases in Wolf Warriors is: ‘No matter how far, we will hunt down those who offend our great nation,’ which sounds very similar to the theme of the first instalment of Ip Man.”

Wolf Warriors, which is playing in 3D and IMAX, reportedly took Wu seven years to complete and he told reporters that he had even sold his house to pay for the project.

In the film he plays a soldier who is kicked out of the special forces and joins a mysterious group of insurgents known as the Wolf Warriors that helps to defend the country from terrorists.

“This film shows the extraordinary lives and combat experiences of the country’s special forces. It is so testosterone-fuelled that it gets the audience’s blood boiling. The gun battles and fight scenes are so intense they are almost suffocating. It really sparked the patriotic spirit within all of us, ” one appreciative fan raved on weibo.

“It is not easy to use the ‘nationalistic card’ too often,” Southern Metropolis Daily then warned. “But as long as the timing is right, the effect is amazing. In recent years, there are not many films like the Ip Man franchise that has tapped the sentiment. And Wu Jing’s Wolf Warriors has successfully filled that empty space.”

Hollywood has been using the same strategy for years, says Sina Entertainment, with films like Independence Day and Armageddon shamelessly tapping American pride to sell tickets.

“So many Hollywood blockbusters make millions of people around the world pay with their own money to be brainwashed to accept America’s patriotic spirit. This is something we should learn,” the news portal noted.

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