Donnie Yen finally comes of age…
Review by Jerome: Ip Man is a semi-biographical depiction of the “Grandmaster of Wing Chun” and Bruce Lee’s master, Yip Man prior to his migration to Hong Kong. This reviewer calls it semi-biographical as some of the events in the film never happened in Yip’s life or they are slightly exaggerated.
The film is set in 1930’s Foshan / Fatsaan, Canton province, China a city well known for it’s martial arts practitioners and various martial arts schools. The opening scene treats us to the honing of various Wing Chun techniques on a Muk Yan Jong (wooden dummy) performed by Ip Man (Donnie Yen). Ip Man is a man of wealth and respected kung fu master in Foshan, whom many masters have sparred with upon setting up their new school within Foshan’s Martial Arts Street.
One such master is Master Liao (Chen Zhi Hui), a practitioner of the Phoenix Eye Fist style. The sparring between him and Ip Man is one of pure friendly exchange as Ip invites Master Liu to a meal prior to the sparring match. Ip easily defeats Liu, with a flurry of various attacks and controlled movements, preventing Liu from injury. While Liu admits defeat, he asks Ip not to spread word of this, as it would ruin his reputation. Unbeknownst to them, neither of them knew that Sha Daam Yuen (Wong Yau Nam), younger brother of Martial Zealot Lam (Shi Xing Yu) witnessed the duel. As word of Liu’s defeat spread around Foshan due to Yuen’s gossiping, much attention was brought to Inspector Lee (Gordon Lam) and later on to Master Jin (Louis Fan).
Master JIN Shan Zhao (Louis Fan) and his brethren from Northern China arrived at Foshan to setup their own school. They openly challenged various masters and easily defeated them. However, when it came to Ip Man, he was willing to test how a woman’s kung fu style would match that of a Northern Style. This scene was actually hilarious, as Ip Man’s first son Ip Jun tells him “to put up a fight or else everything in the house will be broken.” As each piece of furniture and antiques were destroyed, Master Jin offered to compensate for the damage. The very determined Jin Shan Zhao is humiliated at his defeat and sets off.
Ip’s good friend Jau Jing Chuen (Simon Yam) requested that his son Gwong Yiu be Ip’s disciple, but didn’t accept him as Ip’s wife, Cheung Wing Sing (Lynn Hung) did not approve of his passion for martial arts. Instead he offered to invest financially into Jing Chuen’s cotton mill.
The outbreak of World War II had resulted in Ip’s estate and wealth confiscated as the armies of Japanese soldiers invading Foshan deprived the Chinese of food supplies. In such dire circumstances, many Kung Fu masters had become labourers to support themselves and their families. The Japanese soldiers lead by General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) invited the Chinese Masters to fight his soldiers. If they won or lost a match they would earn a bag of rice. Thus the ensuing challenges of the Chinese versus Japanese continued.
Donnie Yen fully emersed himself into the role of Ip Man. He was able to channel the morals of a kung fu master. He had trained for a period of 6 months in Wing Chun, researched Yip Man’s life and sustained a balanced diet. Not only does Donnie deliver the goods in the action department, he surprisingly delivers his lines emotively such as when Lynn Hung’s Wing Sing is sick, when protesting against the Japanese General’s subordinate’s killing of Master Liao and his friend Martial Zealot Lam (Shi Xing Yu). Donnie’s acting has matured as a result of starring in Ip Man.
Newcomer, Lynn Hung / Xiong is very lovely to look at. At times, during the film I was wondering what she was going to do. Her most unforgettable scene is the when her character regrets not supporting her husband’s career as a Martial Artist, prior to his duel with General Miura. Her sobbing was very heartfelt.
Gordon Lam has a great supporting performance as Ip’s friend Inspector Li Zhao. He portrayed the role very well and led me to question quite often which side he was on as the outbreak of war had forced him to become an interpreter for the Japanese so he could survive. Despite this, he was willing to suffer so that Ip could escape from the Japanese.
Simon Yam’s character Jau Jing Chuen, has a very easy going personality and emotes the sense of great friendship between himself and Ip Man. His character is also responsible for requesting that Ip Man teach his workers Wing Chun to defend against the blackmailing by Jin Shan Zhao and his lackeys.
Louis Fan’s performance as the cunning Jin Shan Zhao was interesting since the very first time the audience gets a glimpse of him, he is depicted as the Northern Martial ArtistHowever, when he challenges the local masters, his style of kung fu is very aggressive and almost unbeatable. After his defeat by Ip Man, he had become a bandit, robbing Jau Jing Chuen’s cotton mill.
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi embodies the character of General Miura with honour. Rather than killing all the Chinese, he holds the ‘fight for rice’ tournament for the Chinese masters to see whom he’d deem worthy of teaching the Japanese army martial arts. He did not like Sato’s (Shibuya Tenma) killing of the Chinese masters when their backs were turned.
In one scene where Miura and Ip Man are facing each other in the jail cell, Miura offers Ip nutritious food on the condition of teaching Wing Chun to his army. While not a very inviting thing to have done, it showed that he admired Ip’s talent. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi is a practitioner of Judo and was able to sufficiently portray the martial arts crazed General.
Shi Xing Yu portrays his character Martial Zealot Lam exactly how his name is described. His character runs the local teahouse, elder brother to Sha Daam Yuen (Wong Yau Nam) and is also student of Master Liao. He would often spar with Ip Man to annoyance of his wife. His performance is a little short as he has a lot of potential, considering that this is his third film co-starring with Donnie Yen.
Wilson Yip’s fourth film with Donnie Yen is truly astounding. He wanted to tell Yip Man’s story, as it had never been done before on film. He was able to capture the roar emotion and reality of what the Japanese invasion had done to Foshan in the 1930s. Having Yip Man’s eldest son, Yip Jun and his students as the story and Wing Chun consultants gave the film depth.
Sammo Hung’s action direction is top notch, as his experience with his own Wing Chun films Prodigal Son and Warriors Two was well utilised in conjunction with action choreography from Tony Leung Hung Wah.
The only criticisms I have of the film are: -That Yip Man was depicted as working as a labourer when he was actually a policemen in real life -He never actually fought any Japanese soldiers he just refused to teach them -The film should have told whom Yip Man learned Wing Chun from
Despite this, it’s a fairly entertaining film that could have been a little longer than 108 minutes. Luckily enough, I was able to see Ip Man in Melbourne Central’s Hoyts cinema. For those who couldn’t see it the cinema, you can watch it in the comfort of your own home with a release on DVD (Single Disc edition or 2 disc special edition), Blu Ray and VCD. Better yet, with the box office success of Ip Man a sequel is in the works dealing with Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong and his intake of students … (Jerome Fawcett © Copyright 2009)
I rate it 8/10