Ip Man | Varied Celluloid

Ip Man

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 15 - 2009
The Plot: Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a very well known martial artist in pre-war China who all in town know to be the best of their best, with his particular form of Wing Chun fist, but does not take on students in order to focus on his family. However, when the Japanese invade China and take seize of his town Ip Man finds himself in the predicament of no longer being able to feed his family. After selling off their valuables, Man is forced to work in a rock mine and turns his cheek when the Japanese come to ask for sparring partner – offering a bag of rice to the winner of any fights – as he knows that fighting in such a way is not the answer nor will it end well for those who partake. However, the offer is more legitimate than it at first might seem as several men do actually walk away with a bag of rice. However, an old friend of Ip Man’s who took on the bargain after only recently joining back up with Ip Man after being lost in the initial occupation. Ip Man’s friend as well as two others take on the general in charge of these sparring sessions, who does not take it easy on them and ends up killing Man’s friend. Now with justice on his mind, Ip Man looks to take on the Japanese in the only way he knows how.




The Review
Ever since bursting onto the main stage with his amazing performance in the second film from the Once Upon A Time In China trilogy (far from his first big role, but definitely the role that caused most Kung Fu fans to take notice), Yen struggled somewhat to find his place within the industry. Although popular and starring in quite a few vehicles that took on a decent amount of success and always remaining a fan favorite it didn’t appear that his star had really grown and started to shine only until just within these past few years. With the SPL/Flash Point series making waves here in the states, his role in Guillermo Del Toro’s take on the Blade franchise and a well received re-release of Iron Monkey into theaters have all helped launch his career as a bonafide A-Lister here in the states with the martial arts community. In much the same vein as Jet Li’s Fearless or several other recent epic martial arts films in the Hong Kong industry, Ip Man is Donnie Yen’s entrance into the big budget retelling of a legend. Ip Man, the man who helped popularize Wing Chun in the early parts of the 20th century is probably best known for his role as Bruce Lee’s first mentor. Something that all but makes him godlike amongst martial arts fans such as myself.

Although I am not familiar with Ip Man’s life story myself, aside from the basics, it becomes obvious that more than likely the film takes quite a few liberties with some of the facts in order to make a more interesting story. In the same way that Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story fabricated a lot of events in order to fill the film with many great street fights that never happened, one gets the feeling that Ip Man does much of the same. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great film mind you! Not by a long shot. This is a Donnie Yen vehicle with the guarantee of action, a more drama oriented retelling of Ip Man’s life might be an interesting version of the story, and it has been said that Hong Kong arthouse filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai has wanted to tackle his own version of the story for a while now – although truth be told, I wouldn’t hold out for that version to be an entirely non-fiction affair either. Yen and director Wilson Yip deliver the more dazzling approach to this real life legend though, and do their best to craft a more inspirational film out of a man who has all but became a folk hero. I don’t really approve of this approach to a biographical picture, the way I see it if you’re going to cover someone’s story then you owe it to them as much as the audience to be as honest as possible and show them real events from that person’s life that ultimately formed the person they became. I still don’t approve of this particular style of creating heroes from men, but with the way Donnie crafts the Wing Chun style into such a brutally effective looking martial art that sensationalizes every fight sequence – it’s hard to stay dissapointed. Does that make me a simpleton? Maybe, but c’mon, I’m a kung fu film fan and as much drama as Yen and Yip pack into this picture at it’s heart the martial arts remains the true star.

After Yen’s incredibly impressive take on the martial arts drama with the new classics SPL and Flash Point, it seemed as if he had already made a large enough impression on martial arts cinema with his new breed of Mixed Martial Arts inspired kung fu choreography. However he does it again with Ip Man in presenting Wing Chun, a martial art usually considered more delicate but focusing upon speed and Yen does just that with his fight sequences. He brutalizes his opponents by throwing an uncountable number of punches like that of a machinegun. Although such techniques by description wouldn’t seem that effective, Yen conveys them in a manner that looks as impressively realistic as the fight scenes from his SPL films. The fight scenes in the film are simply amazing and probably THE reason to see the film, but overall it is a very solid film with a nicely plotted dramatic structure and some fine performances. It was very surprising to find Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, who many other Asian cinephiles will recognize from his work with Japanese filmmakers such as Takashi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura – in the role as the lead villainous Japanese military leader Miura. He had a particularly great turn in Miike’s brilliant Blues Harp, but here he has a more dominating and intense role. Keeping with modern Politically Correct thinking however, his character isn’t the ruthless and morally corrupt Japanese military leader that would have been shown in film twenty years ago but is a relatively honest sportsman who respects Ip Man’s ability. Not completely unlike the Japanese karate master from Jet Li’s recent biopic Fearless, which also took a few liberties with its story. However, with Ip Man the rest of the military is shown to be as vicious as the usual assortment of character in a Hong Kong film.

The Conclusion
Ip Man isn’t a perfect movie, there’s a lot of additional melodrama and sensational plot developments that seem to take the film away from reality but as a work of martial arts cinema I can’t deny that it is a fantastic film. Although another film could very well be made on the same issue and tackle a more realistic look at this man’s life, Donnie Yen’s Ip Man is a full on martial arts film with a fresh take on fight choreography and an epic scale in terms of story. I recommend it for all martial arts fans, as I doubt it will dissapoint.



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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