The patriotic narrative of Donnie Yen: how martial arts film stars reconcile Chinese tradition and modernity

Celebrity Studies

Stevey Richards

11 April 2019


Mainland China’s rejection of various traditional institutions and the Maoist political doctrine in the period following Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 resulted in ideological disorientation. To address this, the Chinese government has begun to promote traditional martial arts as a practice and as a cultural object to foster a renewed sense of national identity. However, this process of ideological fortification is complicated by Chinese martial arts’ connection to the country’s imperial system, which collapsed in the face of colonial aggression at the end of the 19th century. This article will explore how Chinese film star Donnie Yen negotiates traditional Chinese martial arts’ problematic ideological position via the Ip Man film series (2008–2015). It draws on Ellis Cashmore’s notion of celebrity narrative and Richard Dyer’s concept of star image to examine how these films have rendered Yen as a patriot and allow him to reconcile ideological contradictions within Chinese martial arts’ status. Finally, it establishes that this operation is reinforced through Yen and the Ip Man franchise’s relationship with the deceased star Bruce Lee, and concludes that martial arts film stars’ images may effect ideological reconciliations between contemporary and traditional Chinese culture.

About the Author

Stevey Richards is currently studying for his PhD in film studies at the University of Winchester, where he also frequently teaches Film Studies. His thesis deals with the semiotic analysis of Kung Fu in mainland Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. He has been studying Chinese martial arts, including Wing Chun, for over fifteen years.



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