Synthesizing Zhenshi (Authenticity) and Shizhan (Combativity): Reinventing Chinese Kung Fu in Donnie Yen’s Ip Man Series

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This article argues that Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series (2008-2015) synthesizes two predominant unarmed, hand-to-hand combat traditions of Hong Kong martial arts cinema – what I call zhenshi (真實; authenticity) and shizhan (實戰; combativity), represented by the series of kung fu films featuring Kwan Tak-hing as the legendary Wong Fei-hung and the martial arts action films of Bruce Lee respectively. Despite kung fu cinema’s claim to ‘realism’ since its conception in the 1949, there is a strong suppression of wu (武; the martial) in the genre’s action aesthetics due to the elevation of wen (文; the literary and the artistic) in traditional Chinese culture. By exposing the inherent contradictions within kung fu cinema and incorporating of combative action aesthetics derived from Bruce Lee’s martial arts philosophy and wing chun principles – what I call kuai ( 快; speed), hen (狠; brutality), and zhun (準; precision), the series presents new possibilities of wu and offers a more comprehensive understanding of Chinese kung fu.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-88
Number of pages18
JournalMartial Arts Studies Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2017


  • kung fu cinema
  • wen-wu
  • action aesthetics
  • shizhan
  • zhenshi
  • authenticity


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