Yip Man or Ip Man was a real martial artist and considered the Grandmaster of the martial arts style Wing Chun. His legacy includes establishing the Hong Kong Wing Chun Athletic Association. He also had many students, some who became famous in their own right, such as Bruce Lee.
The story begins in 1935 in the bustling town of
. This is a unique little place, as the majority of its residents are martial artists. Apparently this is where many different schools have accumulated over the years, and the streets are brimming with demonstrations of skill and techniques. In a setting populated by masters of martial arts, one stands above the rest. He’s a master of masters. Ip Man (Donnie Yen) lives peacefully in a large mansion with his wife and son, practicing and developing his signature style, Wing Chun. Our first introduction to the style and Ip Man’s obvious skill is in a friendly sparring match with another master. It’s a teaser of a fight, as Ip Man simulates what would otherwise be killing blows on his opponent. The plot comes around a few years later, when Foshan Japan invades and Foshan is practically wiped out. Ip Man attracts the dangerous attention of General Muira (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a karate fanatic who likes to hold martial arts tournaments in his spare time (using Chinese civilians as sport). China
The movie is essentially divided into two parts, 1935 and 37. The time period causes a drastic shift in tone and cinematic style that turns the seemingly lighthearted action flick into a period drama. The first part of the movie is a lot of fun to watch. The setting of pre-war Foshan is a lively and unique place. I like the idea of a town inhabited only by martial artists. Just watching the way life seems to happen in a place like that is really entertaining. Ip Man has to deal with a constant stream of challengers and would-be disciples, and the personal conflict comes with him trying to juggle his dedication to his fighting style and spending time with his family. The action scenes come when a group of new and aggressive fighters looking to open a school go around publicly beating all the other masters. Ip Man is forced to step in. These scenes serve as a great introduction to the characters and the city they inhabit. It also shows how important martial arts are to the culture and why it can be seen as a symbol of nationalism, which brings us the second part of the movie, 1937. The Second Sino-Japanese War has entered
and almost completely demolished Foshan. Ip Man and his family are living on the streets. Many people are impoverished, even more are dead. Even the look of the movie is different. Where there was once vibrant colors and sunlight, now there’s grey skies and dirt. The grayscale of the picture makes everything seem grim and gritty, particularly affecting the fight scenes. China
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Speaking of which, let’s talk about Donnie Yen’s fight scenes. Donnie Yen is an amazing physical performer and some of the duels in this are jaw dropping. The choreography by Sammo Hung is masterful and serves as a really good display of the Wing Chun style. Of all the fights sequences in the movie, there’s one scene in particular that comes to mind and it’s a battle between Ip Man and ten black belts simultaneously. It’s a frantically fast and shockingly brutal fight scene in which all of the previously graceful and elaborate moves are turned into force and anger. Limbs are snapped and faces are pounded into with more punches than I could count. Donnie Yen’s skill and speed are captivating to see in action, and scenes like this are what solidify him as an action star and rank him up there with the greats.
The drama of the character also develops from the original light humor to him questioning his purpose and value in the new times. In the scheme of a country at war, developing his fighting techniques just doesn’t seem that important. Over the course of the movie he learns that his ability to fight (particularly against the Japanese martial arts) means something more to everyone. His fight with General Muira becomes symbolic of Chinese unity fighting back against their oppressors. It’s gets a little heavy handed, but that’s usually to be expected in an epic martial arts movie.
While a martial arts movie set in the backdrop of war isn’t exactly an original concept, Ip Man is still an entertaining and exciting action film. It tells a good story based loosely on a real life martial artist, has some unbelievable action scenes, and plus you get to watch Donnie Yen kick all kinds of ass.