Random Rewind: Ip Man
Ip Man (2008) is a Hong Kong film starring Donnie Yen, directed by Wilson Yip with fight/martial arts choreography by Sammo Hung. It’s a very semi-biographical film, very loosely based on the life of martial arts master Yip Man, who was a practitioner of the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu and was a onetime teacher of a young Bruce Lee.
Now before I get into the review, let’s clear up some confusion about the films name which is also the name of the protagonist in the film. Anyone who is a knowledgeable martial artist or a martial arts aficionado, have always known the Wing Chun master who at one time taught Bruce Lee as Yip Man. Until this movie came out the spelling has always been Yip Man and not Ip Man, but I can see how both spelling can work and ultimately it probably doesn’t make a difference. The other confusion is people not in the know referring to this movie as I.P. Man, as in letter I, Letter P Man. This one I don’t get at all. I even heard those same people who refer to the movie as I.P. Man thinking that this is going to be some kind of Chinese superhero movie as in Bat Man or Super Man. Wrong. Ip or Yip if you prefer is the family name. Unlike here in the west, in the east your family name/surname comes first. For the sake of alleviating any confusion on the name I will refer to the protagonist as Ip Man to stay consistent with the title of the film.
Donnie Yen is an action/martial arts actor that is really hot in the east. For some time I have been hearing the name but have not seen any of his films. I finally got to checking him out and to be honest with you I wasn’t impressed at all. What I mean is not impressed with the hand full of films that I had seen. Donnie Yen is great when he is fighting on film and that is impressive, but the movies have been so mediocre that I couldn’t see what the big deal was. If you just fast forwarded to the fight parts you might be pleased, but the films are lacking. A good example of this is Flash Point (2007), the fights are great, but the movie is just not that good. That is until I saw Kill Zone (2005) that is also directed by Wilson Yip with fight/martial arts choreography by Samo Hung, who also stars as the antagonist in this film. I’ll get to a review of Kill Zone one day, it’s a good movie, but we are here to talk about Ip Man.
Donnie Yen plays Ip Man in 1930s China. The approximate setting of the film is 1930s Foshana, an area in southern China where there are several martial arts schoolsset up. Ip Man is one of the few martial artists who doesn’t have any students, lives with his wife and child, and spends his day training. He occasionally spars with other local martial artists and takes challenges from martial artists from other areas in China. He is very proficient in fighting and is highly respected and regarded for his skills. Life is good for Ip Man, that is until the Japanese invasion and occupation of China in the late 1930s. Foshana a once prosperous area is now occupied by the Japanese military and all martial arts schools are closed down. Ip Man as well as his contemporaries lose their homes, schools and wealth and are forced to become laborers to survive and support their families. There is a Japanese general who sets up sparing matches for his troops against local Chinese martial artists. If a Chinese martial artist defeats a Japanese Karate practitioner, he will earn himself a bag of rice. Without giving the whole movie away, the general and Ip Man’s paths cross and it gets brutal.
Ip Man is an action film with a few dramatic elements thrown in and it all works. The film is beautifully shot and the look of Foshana before and after the invasion is a nice contrast. Donnie Yen is a natural in portraying Yip Man, confident yet soft spoken without losing any charisma on screen. The fights are all exciting and original and feel real. Every encounter matters and is memorable. What I also like about this film is that unlike other period martial arts films that have come to the west, this is not a two or three hour epic. Not that there is anything wrong with a long epic, but it’s refreshing to see a movie that can get it done in a bit over 90 minutes and is as satisfying as a longer film. The only slight negative in the movie might be how the film romanticizes Ip Man and makes him into this perfect hero with no personal flaws. There is another film due to come out that is supposed to be more historically accurate about the life of Ip Man, but I believe it’s still far from being completed. Either way Ip Man tells a story and entertains, so the fact that it isn’t 100% historically accurate should not deter anyone from watching this great film.
Check it out.