Ip Man Review

Ip Man (2008) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Wilson Yip
Writers: Edmond Wong (screenplay),  Tai-lee Chan (as Tai-Li Chan)
Stars: Donnie Yen,  Simon Yam,  Siu-Wong Fan

When this movie came out almost 10 years ago it had been a while since I sat down and enjoyed a quality martial arts movie. For the previous 10 years I had experienced the beautifully shot “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the “House of the Flying Daggers” much in the same fashion as the previous. I began to get bored of the genre now relying and going back to wire worked fighting sequences that had been long abandoned when Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss” was released to the world in an explosion of no nonsense fighting and straight to the point combat sequences.

I was aware of the role Ip Man played in Bruce’s development as a world class martial artist but forgive me for leaving this movie until now to analyse and review. I will be reviewing the trilogy and breaking down what I experienced as a movie goer and with the forth instalment hitting the big screen in 2018 I felt it was time to “Movie Burn” this film.

Ip Man is one of the first Wing Chun martial artists credited to have introduced its rising popularity and is portrayed brilliantly in 1930’s Foshan, China,

Foshan is a busy and bustling city where many martial arts schools have set up shop to fuel the craze of kung fu training. Every new school will visit Ip Man (Donnie Yen) for a duel challenge as a mark of respect and is always hosted behind closed doors away from public eye so as not to disrespect or damage the opponents reputation.

It is here we learn of Ip Man’s Respect and humility for others and his style is never violent or aggressive, which often gets assumed and mistaken for being weak and passive. I have to admit although the opening 20-30 minutes of the movie was our introduction to the characters and development of what life was like in Foshan 1937 I did think it was light and not having too much of an element of danger.

The mood certainly changes as the story moves on with the invasion of the Japanese who have seized Fo Shan and a darker tone comes down on the movie like a dark veil. Ip Man’s struggles to make ends meet for his family in a terrible time of adversity. It is at this point we see the true character of Ip Man, who is highly respected throughout Foshan. This is obvious amongt his friends in Chow Ching Chuen (Simon Yam), his son Chow Kong Yiu (Calvin Cheng) and Crazy Lam (Xing Yu).

With supplies in his homestead running out for his Wife and Young Son, Ip Man manages to find employment in manual labour and has to abandon his practice of Wing Chun for a more practical lifestyle of survival. The work force are generally made up of martial arts masters who are offered rice to compete in fights against the Japanese military figures. This is where I felt the movie is becoming darker and more sinister as the Japanese are portrayed as controlling and use this platform to embarrass, brag and humiliate the Chinese community at every opportunity in believing their Martial Arts are far superior and more advanced than their enemies.

After discovering his friend who volunteered the day before doesn’t return to work, Ip Man discovers the volunteers are being beaten to death by the military and this is where the action begins to pick up with Ip Man demanding to enter this almost “rigged” competition and reign fire on everyone who stands in his way. This segment reminded me of Fist of Fury (1972) in which Bruce Lee’s Chen Zhen confronts the Japanese in the same fashion for the atrocities the Chinese people endured in these times.

The sequences that followed were shot beautifully and choreographed to perfection. The Wing Chun style is breathtaking to watch and impressive as well and I do believe that this segment was paying tribute to the 1972 Bruce Lee movie. It has to be said that the fighting sequences were the stand out elements in this movie with a classic and traditional simple storyline of period storytelling.

The characters are developed enough to understand and appreciate their struggle against an invasion on their homelands and sympathise with. The acting at times was perhaps predictable and the dialogue in translation at least wasn’t that brilliant from the supporting cast out with Yen’s portrayal of the main man whose lines where minimum and direct.

I enjoyed watching this movie and I have to agree with Donnie Yen in his description of Ip Man the movie. It isn’t an action film in the sense of all fists erm blazing. The movies pace is rather slow and lighthearted to begin with and reaches its bloody climax in some breathtaking cinematography. I would highly recommend anyone who enjoys the genre to watch “Ip Man” and prepared to be dazzled by the master of Wing Chun.

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