Okay, we’re a little late to the party on the release of Ip Man (by over a decade). However, with the release of Ip Man 4: The Finale set for Dec. 20th, 2019 some of the Times Ticking team has been going back through the roster—and we noticed some silver screen watches in the series’ premiere flick. This makes some sense considering timepiece trading with Switzerland began in China in the early 19th century. Ip Man itselftakes place in the years leading up to, and during, WWII. By that point in history some Chinese people had carried European watches in their families for generations. Even though China’s own (official) watchmaking industry wouldn’t kick off ‘til the middle of the 20th century, having a European timepiece was not entirely uncommon in many Chinese communities. Thus, Ip Man incorporates the fashion of the time into its depiction of the man who trained Bruce Lee. With the Japanese invasion of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (around the beginning of WWII) eventually reaching Foshan (Ip Man’s home), Ip Man runs into the biopic’s key conflict—which has a direct effect on his personal timepiece.
War Surrounds Ip Man
Before War reaches Foshan there’s some history leading up to Ip’s square-off with Japanese martial artists. The Japanese had invaded once before in the 1890s during the first Sino-Japanese War. Mostly seizing what’s now known as Korea, Japan eventually took over a lot of northern Chinese land. Now it may seem like we’re getting a little off topic but by this point in history both the Chinese and Japanese were importing timepieces from Europe. Some historians believe that some of the first wristwatches in history were worn during this conflict (jury-rigged)—giving Swiss-imported timepieces their place in the greater narrative of Ip Man.
In the late 1920s, civil war in China between the Chinese Communist Party and then key power the Kuomintang (which overthrew the Qing Dynasty) began. This war would reach a stop when the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937—Japan moving south from the Manchurian Desert to claim more of China. By the time Germany invaded Poland (1939), Japan had made its way to Hong Kong, just southeast of Foshan. Where the Ip Man is living—his community of Kung Fu martial artists—soon becomes inundated with a military presence.
The Ip Man was not a poor man. His family enjoyed many luxuries due to a relative wealth—and his abilities as a teacher to train fine martial artists. In the film he has a beautiful estate and an old (presumably Swiss) pocket watch. When Japanese military men take over Foshan they seize Ip Man’s estate, but not his family pocket watch. Being an honorable family man, Ip eventually trades his family pocket watch to get a bag of rice to feed his immediate family. Ip’s pained gesture comes at a turning point in the film. Originally set to keep his head down and labor through the military occupation—the Ip Man continues to be pushed by the Japanese toward retaliation. This is because the Japanese general overseeing Foshan is taking advantage of Foshan’s martial arts history for sport. Eventually Ip Man’s friends are cold-blooded murdered by Japanese soldiers, pushing Ip to take his Wing Chun training to the mat.
Another Subtle Time Teller
With the film taking place in the late 1930s and early 1940s there’s a subtle nod to the increasingly popular style of men’s wristwatches. Ip Man, early on, financially aids a local friend’s cotton mill business. The gentleman who runs the cotton mill is dressed in a very Western style. Instead of more traditional Chinese garments, he sports a three-piece suit and a clean looking wristwatch. If Ip Man embodies a traditional approach to Chinese finesse, his cotton mill friend demonstrates how European influence was affecting Chinese culture and style.
Kung Fu Hustle
Not everyone here at TimesTicking is a martial arts film enthusiast. That being said, a lot of us are pretty excited for the final Ip Man film. The historical context surrounding Ip Man’s life enriches his story as an honorable, strong-willed martial artist. With the final film set to take place in 60s and 70s America, the setting will likely feature other era-appropriate timepieces. Bruce Lee opening a Wing Chun school in the United States was highly controversial to the greater martial arts community. How will the Ip Man handle this controversy? Audience members will have to find out this December. If you’re horologically minded like us, keep an eye out for fast-action timepieces—mechanical and quartz watches just may be on the wrists of a few flying fists.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.