This semi-biographical film on the famous Wing Chun master who would become the mentor to the legendary Bruce Lee won the Best Picture Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. After seeing this film, you will see why it deserved the award.
The film begins in 1930s Foshan, where many martial arts masters run local schools. However, one of the most respectful masters, Ip Man, does not run a school, but rather live a peaceful life with his wife and their son Chun. When a local martial arts master challenges Ip to a friendly spar as a way to share and discuss their styles of fighting, Ip Man’s technique of Wing Chun is widely regarded to be the best amongst the area.
When a local bandit from the North, Jin Shan-Zhao, begins to cause trouble by challenging the various martial arts masters, he proves victorious. That is, until he takes on Ip Man, who defeats the Northerner with his Wing Chun technique. However, for Ip and his family, things are about to take a very bad turn.
World War II has begun and the Japanese have taken control of China. Once a wealthy man, Ip now lives in poverty and does whatever he can to make sure his family is fed. Working as a coal miner, Ip has practically given up his martial training. Ip eventually gets help from an old friend, Zhang, who runs a local cotton mill. However, when Japanese general Miura, a karateka, begins to challenge and ultimately kills a friend of Ip’s, Ip reluctantly challenges ten karatekas and defeats them all. Impressed with Ip’s Wing Chun, Miura sends a challenge to Ip to see which is better: Japanese karate or Wing Chun kung fu. To make matters worse, Jin has returned to cause more trouble by robbing the cotton mill.
Before the release of this film, Donnie Yen was one of the most highly respected martial arts action stars of the world. In 2005, he brought back the old school style of fight choreography and combined it with the growing trend of mixed martial arts for his film SPL. While he was known as a martial artist and action star, he never really had a project that would showcase both his talent for action as well as his thespian skills, until now. Yen truly breathes the character of Ip Man and with the help of Ip Man’s sons, researched the role. The end result is definitely Yen’s best performance yet as he plays a man who has gone from wealth to poverty, yet never has forgotten the philosophy of martial arts.
What drives an actor’s performance is the performance of the supporting cast. The ever popular Simon Yam does well as Zhang, Ip’s friend who ultimately helps him when Ip ends up living in squalor. In her film debut, Lynn Hung does well as Ip’s wife, who doesn’t like the fact that he always talks about martial arts and feels he doesn’t spend enough time with her and their son. Ironically, when they are besieged by the war, she ultimately understand why her husband must fight for China against the Japanese. Gordon Lam plays the Chinese officer who finds himself torn between his loyalty to his country and that of Japan when he is hired as their translator as a means to stay out of poverty.
With his prolific films on Wing Chun, Warriors Two (1978) and The Prodigal Son (1981), it was only fitting that Sammo Hung would serve as the film’s action choreographer along with Hong Kong Stuntman Association chairman Tony Leung Siu-Hung. While Donnie Yen has been known to be an impressive kicker, in this film, he does a lot more in showcasing the art of Wing Chun. The real Ip Chun serves as the film’s action consultant. Fan Siu-Wong makes for a worthy nemesis as bandit Jin, who thinks his Northern style is better than anyone. As for real-life judoka Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, he impresses well in the action department as Japanese general Miura, who doesn’t want to kill Ip, but rather test his Wing Chun against his style of Karate. This rivalry is a welcome throwback to the classic 70’s kung fu film era, where a lot of films featured the rivalry between Japanese martial arts and Chinese martial arts.
Ip Man is truly deserving of the Best Film Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. This is truly Donnie Yen’s career-defining performance and some of the best fight scenes seen in Hong Kong in quite a while. An instant classic!
WFG RATING: A+
A Mandarin Films Limited production. Director: Wilson Yip. Producer: Raymond Wong. Writers: Edmond Wong and Chan Tai-Li. Cinematography: O Sing-Pui and Chan Siu-Kwan. Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai.
Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Gordon Lam, Louis Fan, Shi Yanneng, Wong Yau-Nam, Dennis To, Tenma Shibuya.