Starring Donnie Yen, Louis Fan, Simon Yam, Xing Yu
Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung
Directed by Wilson Yip
Ip Man may very well be the crowning achievement for Donnie Yen. After starring in many so-so films of varying quality, he got on a roll of success that starts with Killzone and Flashpoint, and continues with Ip Man. Every martial arts star has a movie that defines them. Bruce Lee has Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan has the Drunken Master, Jet Li has Once Upon a Time in China (both different takes on the same character) and now Donnie Yen can add his name to the list of memorable films with Ip Man.
Ip Man is famously known as the master of Bruce Lee, and the film covers his life just before the Japanese occupation of his home Foushan, to when he escapes to Hong Kong, where a new life (and a young Bruce Lee) will await him.
The movie begins as a Master Liao, a new master just moved to Foushan, arrives to challenge Ip Man to a duel, much to the chagrin and dismay of his wife. Ip Man invites Master Liao to sit with him as they are to eat dinner when he arrived to give his challenge. They do so in an equal parts funny and awkward dinner scene. They soon fight in a fantastic fight that is designed to whet the appetite for the battles to come, and succeeds in this. Ip Man wins the duel, and tells Liao that he’ll keep the duel a secret, so that it won’t affect his own school. Nice Guy, that Ip Man. A polite, honorable mega-badass.
Soon a group of thugs led by Jin (Terry Fan) roll into town not unlike a group of modern street thugs, and make their way to Dojo Street, in what has to be the most badass street in the world. Nothing but kung-fu schools the whole way. They kick the crap out of everyone on the street, looking to establish themselves their own school. By the way, they are country bumpkins, so remember my previous reviews about those kind of guys. Soon the only one left to challenge is Ip Man, and in an absolutely engaging and funny fight, is defeated by Ip Man. (Watch what happens when his little son rides by to give Ip Man a message from his wife in the middle of the fight.)
The tone of the film changes when the Japanese army arrives and take over Foushan. Soon it becomes a harrowing view of the Japanese occupation, and Ip Man finds himself conflicted as his skills and pride as a martial artist comes into doubt. Soon he finds himself fighting, along with other former masters who now live in hovels, for their literal daily bag of rice from General Sanpo, who wants to show that Japanese Karate is superior to Chinese Kung-Fu. After one of the best fights you’ll ever see involving Ip Man vs 10 black belts, a fight that has to be seen to be believed, Ip Man finds himself in hiding from the general, and has to make a choice: either fight one more time or watch his fellow people suffer even more.
Ip Man is a defining moment in the career of Donnie Yen, who both brings his best skills to bear as well as good acting as Ip Man. One of the best martial arts film to display a single style of fighting you’ll ever see.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Sammo Hung does a brilliant job of putting these fights together, beautiful to see, exciting, and brutal all at once. Not a wrong note here.
STUNTS: (9) The stunt work is also great, particularly in the second fight with Jin, and the 10 man battle scene. They sell every scene they are in well.
DIRECTION: (10) Excellent. Wilson Yip directs each scene with energy and fervor, and knows when to be quiet and when to turn up the volume. The dramatic scenes work well, and the action never feels out of place.
STAR POWER: (10) This film cements Donnie Yen as one of the best of all time. Terry Fan, having been out of the martial arts cinema scene for a long time, returns triumphantly in this.
FINAL GRADE: (10) Folks, this is one of the best martial arts films you’ll ever see. An instant classic that won’t get old any time soon.