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Pop Culture

Ip Man beating Star Wars proves audiences here are suffering from Universe Fatigue

Films with content across every platform are wearing audiences out

I don't know about you, but I am a little tired of Universes. I have trouble enough coping with the one I'm in now, but as a professional consumer of entertainment, I'm up to my neck in others.

DC Comics (Batman and Superman) has a dense Universe, but the biggest, most spandexed- out empire of them all is Marvel (everything else, from X-Men to The Avengers to Guardians Of The Galaxy).

But looking at the way Star Wars: The Force Awakens lost the top spot at the local box office after just one week, I'd say that I'm not alone in my Universe-induced apathy. Other Singaporeans seem to be suffering from Universe Fatigue, or UF.

UF is a malady gone pandemic in recent years. It's tied to the rise of nerd culture and its insatiable appetite for content across every platform.

UF symptoms include nausea, and when an elderly space smuggler shows up on screen, you know why audiences cheer, but can't muster the same emotions.

It's the cramp in your guts when you realise the characters speak English, just not the kind you understand, because every line of dialogue in a movie sounds like: "No! You must never use the Gorblorf Portal to cross into the Blarmfarg Zone! You have to deploy the Splorg. It's the only way, dummy." Well, obviously.

Interestingly, it was Ip Man 3 that knocked Star Wars off the top spot here. The Hong Kong martial arts movie, with its relatively small share of 55 screens compared with the 115 screens of its Jedi-based competitor made more than $3.5 million as of Dec 30, enough to take No. 1 away from Star Wars, which was in its second week.

The trend continues into the current week. As of Jan 3, Ip Man 3 stays in top place for the second week in a row, earning thrice as much per screen as Star Wars.

I believe that the Donnie Yen vehicle won both weeks because to enjoy Ip Man 3, you do not need to arrive knowing how, in the video game, Ip Man was wounded in a battle with a Mumpfmador and so carries a scar. Nor does Yen's character fight villains avenging a father killed in a spin-off cartoon featuring his 10-year-old nephew, L'il Ippie And His Wing Chun Champs.

Ip Man films are a franchise, not yet a Universe. They stand alone, with no relation to other sets of films featuring affiliated heroes nor do they come from a factory churning out Ip Man television shows, games and books.

Making my head hurt all the more is how Star Wars has not one, but two Universes. There is the fictional one, with lore from games and television. Then there is the meta-Universe of film fandom, in which the faithful geek out over the minutiae of actors, props and costumes.

With Ip Man 3, you leave the cinema clean. It is self-contained. All threads are tied, no mysteries linger, no baddies have been hurled into a void from which none may return (unless you stay for the post-credits sequence, which shows them returning, maybe. Or maybe not).

That post-credit teaser? It used to be cute. Now it's a chore. Especially when it panders to geeks by referencing characters only they will recognise.

The top-grossing movies in Singapore last year were franchises: Jurassic World, Furious 7, Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Yes, the last movie is based on the Marvel Universe, but it's the uber-Universe, the one Universe that rules them all and, for many, worthy of trying to come to grips with.

Now, it looks like The Force Awakens was just an appetiser. One spin-off, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will open this year and more are planned.

Also coming soon is the Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and the first movie in the expanded DC realm, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. On the way is Suicide Squad (DC), four Marvel properties: X-Men, Captain America and Deadpool, and then Doctor Strange.

UF sufferers like me will find this year tough. I plan to open Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki site, and start reading.

But it might be too little, too late. There is the smell of money in the air. How long before we have the Ip Man League Of Hong Kong Heroes?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Filmgoers down with Universe Fatigue'. Print Edition | Subscribe