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As a long time fan of martial arts films, I was very much looking forward to seeing Donnie Yen starring in “Ip Man.” I’ve been a fan of his for almost as long as he’s been doing his thing, and it always bewildered me he didn’t gain the kind of stardom of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the latter more so than the former. They’ve had a very similar career in the Hong Kong movie scene and Li’s meteoric rise to fame was definitely deserved but Yen is just as good. So it has been great to see him finally getting his recognition over the last few years with a slew of great flicks. “Ip Man” is Yen’s greatest performance to date in my opinion, being both a dramatic role as well as an action packed one.
The film is loosely based on the life of Ip man (aka Yip Man), who just happens to be the teacher of one of the best known martial arts stars ever, Bruce Lee. That doesn’t come into play in this film however and we are treated to a story about how Wing Chun, a martial arts style allowed Ip Man to not only persevere over the tragedies that the Second Sino-Japanese War brought to his small town of Foshan, Guangdong, as well as later become one of the most respected and well-known masters of all time. But this is just the beginning of that story really and it is well told. They took some creative license with the film but it was all meticulously checked and okayed by Ip Chun, the son of Ip Man himself. Also Donnie Yen did a lot of research on the role so that came into play as well.
The sets and the costume design really help sell the time period, and though there are some minor issues with showing the passage of time, the film moves along at a brisk pace, starting with Yen’s Ip Man being a well off gentleman with a family he loves trying to balance that with his love of martial arts and need of a challenge. After an upstart fighter from the North trounce the other masters in the city, he targets Ip Man and challenges him to a fight. What we get is an amazing display of speed and skill from Yen and a beautifully choreographed fight by Sammo Hung. From there the war hits, and Ip loses everything and his family is rendered poor and homeless. I won’t ruin the plot but the next fight scene is just brutal and filled with emotion, and the last scene shows the power of martial arts not just as a fighting method but the spiritual nature of it as well, as people rally for Ip.
The acting is good, and as I said earlier there is real emotion in the characters. You even have to begrudgingly respect the Japanese General Murai played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as he’s a very honorable man despite his army trying to take over the area. All this movie did was make me want to see “Ip Man 2,” which will have a Stateside theatrical release in 2011 (most likely on limited screens though).
The Collector’s Edition of “Ip Man” has a second disc with lots of interviews and behind the scenes stuff. The making of was very informative and takes the most important parts of those interviews and puts them together with other footage. Worth noting is that Donnie Yen, despite being a well versed martial artist, was not a master of Wing Chun and studied for 9 months intensely for the film. By the time the film started production, Ip Chun (a Wing Chun master himself) said Yen was as proficient at Wing Chun and the practice dummy techniques as those that had been practicing for years. This film is a must for martial arts fans, an absolute gem of a film, and definitely one of the best of the decade, if not several decades.
Wilson Yip (director) / Edmond Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Donnie Yen … Ip Man
Simon Yam … Zhou Qing Quan
Siu-Wong Fan … Jin Shan Zhao
Ka Tung Lam … Li Zhao
Yu Xing … Master Zealot Lin
You-Nam Wong … Shao Dan Yuan
Chen Zhi Hui … Master Liao