I take serious qualms with the way some Koreans hold an intense hatred for Japan, and because I live in Korea, I get to see this whole stupid farce get acted out first-hand. There are more than a few holidays dedicated to Korea "being better than Japan" and quite a bit of rhetoric floating around about how Japan is. To those of you who didn't know this was going on, you might be asking yourselves why this is. Maybe just a semi-friendly competition? No no, this is all about Japan's occupation of Korea, which started around the late 19th century and continued all the way up until the end of World War II. (You might remember the Pacific Theater as being that thing that America won. Amidst all this anti-Japanese, pro-Korean rhetoric, you'd think that someone would take the time out to show a little gratitude to the Americans? But I digress.)
In addition, there's a dispute that has been literally created out of thin air about a tiny rock in the Sea of Japan. An area that actually was explicitly stated to be part of Japan after the US won the Pacific Theater, but that doesn't matter; Korean politicians, for their own personal gain, created a territorial dispute over this rock for the sake of playing politics and continue the anti-Japanese fervor going long, long after Japanese occupation had ended.
Like I said, I take qualms with this, but mostly, it pains me to see this happen. Nowhere in the world should another nation or another group of people be villainized so strongly for something that happened almost 70 years ago. Furthermore, this is the not the only time people fought a war on Korean soil in the past 100 years. Koreans are being killed by other Koreans north of the 38th parallel as I write this very sentence and yet your average Korean citizen cares more about that fucking rock than their countrymen starving to death. It's especially strange, too, when you realize that not many other nations do this sort of thing (except China), despite the list of occupied and offended nations being equal to the number of nations in the world.
The question then is why do the Korean people feel this way? Well, take a look at the films. You wouldn't be surprised if I told you that the Japanese are frequently the villains in Korean movies, would you? With that in mind...Ip Man
Ip Man is a kung-fu movie in the same vein as Korean movies. The Japanese have occupied China, Ip Man saves the day with kung-fu. This is a great movie. It is propaganda, absolutely, but still a great movie.
There are three things I think that can prevent a movie showing historical events with another nation's people as an antagonist can do to prevent it from propaganda (and, making it a better movie). They are:
1) Make sure it's not something people are still angry about. If you've ever seen a movie about the US revolutionary war, you know what it's like to watch a movie and not really care about whatever digression the opposing country committed. The US Revolution was such a long time ago you barely care, but making a movie about 9/11 in the 200s, on the other hand, is clearly banking on people's still fresh memories over the incident.
2) Make the opposing nation varied. They should not all look the same; they should not act the same; they should not be nameless, faceless human-shaped things. Again, featureless antagonists are less interesting bad guys. We see this a lot in movies about Germany during World War II, actually, where we sometimes find Germans who are good, Germans who are evil and Germans who are self-serving all in the same movie. You can make a character detestable, which is the path that Ip Man takes, but that does not make a character interesting.
3) Give them the occasional sympathy. Wars are fought between entire nations of people, and not all of them, on either side, are totally good or totally bad. Ip Man takes a stab at this by also including a Chinese antagonist early on, and reintroducing him later. At both moments, although you are opposed to the Chinese antagonist, what he stands for and what he does, you still understand where he's coming from, what his goals, and can understand his character a little bit. They should have done that with the Japanese characters in this movie as well, who are, sadly, just evil and cruel for pretty much no reason at all.
1) Well made? - Fucking amazing and easily in the top three kung-fu movies ever made.
2) Contributed? - There is something to be said for a movie that outperforms almost everything else within its genre.
3) Good time? - An even better time for me, being a genre fan, but I think everyone would enjoy watching the action here.
4) Watch again? - Unless you're a Japanese WWII, there is nothing unpleasant in this movie, it's a lot of fun, and I would definitely watch it again.
5) Worth it? - Yes, if only to partly understand how some Chinese might view Japan in the modern world.
6) Who should watch this? - Fans of kung-fu movies for sure. I would recommend it to people who enjoy action or drama films as well, but not as strongly.