Starring To Yu-Hang (Dennis To), Fan Siu Wong (Louis Fan), Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Rose Chan, Ip Chun
Fight Choreography by Tang Tai Wo and Kam Loi Kwan
Directed by Herman Yau
After Donnie Yen had a ton of success with the Ip Man series, Ip man has become what Wong Fei-Hung was: the subject of a ton of films. Some good, some bad, but the character, based on the real man, has ingrained itself into Hong Kong cinema, and now, with quite a few films in various stages of production, Ip Man is going the same direction as well, but there is a danger as Donnie Yen’s series is damn good, with a third official sequel on the way, and is a hard act to follow, and here we have a film that traces Ip Man’s life before the events of the Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip classic. Does the early story of Ip Man hold up compared to Yen’s version? In many ways it does.
The film stars To Yu-Hang as Ip Man, who, as a young boy along with his adopted brother Ip Tin-Chi (Fan), are brought by their father, a wealthy businessman, to learn Wing Chun kung-fu from Sifu Chan Wah Shun (Hung) and his senior Ng Chung (Biao), and both boys befriend a fellow female student Lee Mei Wai (Chan). Tragedy strikes early as Sifu Chan Wah Shun dies suddenly, leaving the school to Ng Chung, who is told by Wah Shun to pay special care to Ip Man’s training as he is a natural. They grow up together within the school, and Ip Tin-Chi falls in love with her, but she’s in love with Ip Man, who seems as if he might reciprocate until he meets Cheung Wing Shing, daughter of the town mayor of Foshan. Ip Man doesn’t have time for romance as he goes off to college in Hong Kong. Time passes, and Ip Man, after a confrontation with a douchebag whom he shows the finer points of Wing Chun, meet Leung Bik (Ip Chun) who came from the same Wing Chun school as Wah Shun but was left because of his unorthodox style of Wing Chun. While Ip Man learns from Bik, Ip Tin-Chi becomes a successful businessman himself with the Wing Chun Martial Arts Association, and Ip Man returns home and resumes his romance with Cheung Wing Shing, but little does he know that the Japanese who have come to Foshan for business mean to do a lot more, and threaten everything that Ip Man holds dear, but there are other secrets that could destroy him as well…
This film, while not connected to the Donnie Yen version, echoes quite a bit of it to the point that they may as well be connected. The camera work as well as the story pacing is very reminiscent of the other series. Herman Yau does a good job with telling his story, even if that story is a bit far fetched. I don’t know much of Ip Man’s real life, but I doubt he fought the Japanese THAT much. The other item that bothered me was what I’ll call the big twist in the story, that comes after the midpoint. I didn’t know what to make of it, even though there are hints that are laid earlier in the film, but once certain events started happened, I had guessed what the twist was, but the twist just felt too…operatic for a story like this. The performances are good , led by To Yu Hang, who does a good job as the young Ip Man, balancing badassness with inexperience. Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao were great onscreen together as they always are, and it’s a treat we should appreciate as we don’t know how many more times we’ll see those guys together on screen. Fan Sui-Wong was fantastic and had a good chemistry with both Yu Hang and Rose Chan, who was good, but her character just annoyed me with her crappy attitude (She turned into a hater, whom as we all know, is gonna hate) to no end, making it hard to be sympathetic with her as events unfold. The introduction of Leung Bik was a treat, played by Ip Man’s real son Ip Chun. He even has a fight scene with To Yu-Hang which was fun as well, and the training sequence was also well done and entertaining (are training sequences making a comeback? I hope so!) .
The fights are good, particularly the fight with Ip Chun and Yu-Hang, which shows off a lot of traditional Wing Chun, and the fight where Yuen Biao takes on a group of assassins (Biao’s still got it!), and any of the fights involving Fan Siu Wong. The fight between Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung brings back fond memories of their younger selves, which is a treat for fans of their 80’s work. The choreography (thankfully) wasn’t what’s been coming out of Hong Kong in recent years (anything by Donnie Yen excluded) and was well done with a little wire work here and there, but not much. The climax fight between Ip Man and Ip Tin-Chi was fantastic, and Wing Chun here, as with the entire film, is every bit as well done as the Donnie Yen series.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights were well shot and choreographed in the Wing Chun styles, and are every bit as exciting as the Donnie Yen films. One could say they are too close to that series, but as the overall film may as well have been an official prequel, that’s ok.
STUNT WORK: (8) Some wire work was done, but what little there was didn’t distract from the fights. The stuntmen did a good job with the falls, particularly those falls through furniture.
STAR POWER: (9) Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, rising star Rose Chan, and Fan Sui Wong speak for themselves, and hopefully we will see more of To Yu-Hang. Don’t forget Ip Chun was a treat to see.
FINAL GRADE: (8) A well made film that tells the fictional beginning of Ip Man, with a good cast and great fights that show off the style of Wing Chun.
NEXT: Lo Lieh is out to kick all kinds of ass in King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death)!
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