Yip Man’s life under the Japanese occupation & then in Hong Kong. The misery to which this notable was brought, the destruction of the way of life which allowed for these martial artists to thrive reminds us that war is about killing. Facing mortality is our question. War is destroying China & the Chinese way of life. Encroaching modernity is not merely Japanese war. Yip Man’s fedora recalls his Western education in Hong Kong; the brothel where the martial artists meet has an elevator; occasionally, we see photographs.
Technology cannot comprehend this way of life. The Chinese masters ignore it, until they no longer can. Then the contest changes its meaning. The art of war means also warlike art. One of the young contenders allies himself with the Japanese & becomes a ruler, destroying the others. The daughter of the old grandmaster now seeks to kill this man, whether to avenger her father or to regain his technique from this usurper.
Yip Man now moves to Hong Kong, where he has to make a living by opening a school & taking students. He dislikes the idea; he dislikes the fighting that goes on between youths; we remember he dislikes the revolutionary anger of the young Chinese students. That he has never wanted to teach for the money bears out his nobility, his rejection of vulgarity. But his conservative tendency requires a more serious inquiry.
His dialogue with this daughter is the reflection on their past. They love their way of life, they love the martial art, & they love each other. How much of that did the destruction of China destroy? The woman abandons everything human except vengeance. She refuses to teach, she refuses even to show the man her technique. Looking back, one sees time collapsing; there is no longer any way to live; opium & death await, like the night.
Yip Man makes a show only of his endurance, which is more or less not making a show of anything. Man is not a snow-tipped mountain, but man looks at the snow-tipped mountain. The obvious conceals an understanding of being; the doings of men conceal the meaning of life. But art should not conceal death. Facing death, man learns that there is only a looking back to things, but never a going back.
The master gradually withdraws in his teaching, which becomes a way of life. The daughter had thought to inherit her father’s knowledge, including by avenging him. Does not revenge depend on her father’s failure, who ruled over a world whose end had come? The end makes the obvious seem artificial, full of assumptions about time. Seeing things as they are is seeing them pass.