Ip Man (2008)
Release Date: December 12th, 2008 (China) MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wilson Yip Actors: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Ka Tung Lam, Chen Zhi Hui
t’s a superbly action-oriented kung fu epic with the comparative feel of a Chinese “Braveheart.” It’s a piece of an even larger scale story, sweeping many decades – and this is just the first part. Resultantly, some segments are rushed, while others develop evenly. However, with the careful, precise, and inspiring fight choreography by Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu-hung, and a dramatic presentation by writer Edmond Wong, this semi-biographical martial arts extravaganza, based on the master of legendary Bruce Lee, was nominated for 12 Hong Kong Film Awards, winning Best Picture and Best Action Choreography.
In 1935 Kwangtung, Fuoshan, a town in China known for its dedication to martial arts, Master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) quietly resides in his palatial home (with his wife Wing Seng and young son Ah June), reigning as the supreme kung fu patriarch, proficient in the art of Wing Chun. He is unassuming and maintains a low profile, opting against accepting disciples of his own. Dojo Street, a bustling neighborhood of training schools, students, and teachers, is thrown into disarray by a visit from Jin Shan Zhao (Siu-Wong Fan), a northern “country bumpkin,” who challenges every sifu in the area, wins, and puts Fuoshan to shame. That is until he learns of Ip Man, who swiftly and soundly bests him for all to see.
In 1937 and the years to follow, during the Luogougiao incident, in which Japan attacked the Chinese, Fuoshan is all but destroyed, reducing the city to rubble. Ip Man’s home is confiscated for use as a Japanese headquarters, and he is forced to work for the first time in his life – shoveling coal for scraps of food. Highly skilled usurper and fanatical martial arts practitioner General Sanpo (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) sets up an arena for Chinese fighters to challenge Japanese karate military trainees. He uses translator Li Chian, once an honest acquaintance of Ip Man, to recruit prospects. When Li Chian’s involvement ends in the death of Ip Man’s friend, Crazy Lin, he demands to fight – becoming of great interest to the expressionless general. When Ip Man refuses to train Japanese soldiers (they use martial arts for brute strength, whereas the Chinese use it for compassion and aid), he is targeted for a public fight against Sanpo, followed by humiliation and impending execution.
“Ip Man” (originally titled “The Legend of Yip Man”) features great imagery and even greater action, with enormous sets, stylistic colors, and fast-paced hand-to-hand combat sequences. The bone-crunching choreography is at the top of its game when Ip Man challenges ten soldiers to a duel, and when the villainous Jin returns to Fuoshan as a gang leader, to steal from a cotton factory under the protection of Ip. Grand in scope and praiseworthy in its blend of adventure and drama, Donnie Yen finally gets a mature, lead role to showcase his acting talents along with his indisputable mastery of kung fu. Two more sequels are already set to follow.
– Mike Massie