The biographical-action-drama, Ip Man¸ takes a number of liberties in this historical action/drama piece during the 1930s Japanese occupation of China. We briefly see the city before the war as home to many competing martial arts schools, something that I imagine is played up a little for the film, and Mr. Man (Donnie Yen also seen in Rogue One) is the somewhat aloof master who does not operate a school or generally get entangled in the affairs of the martial arts schools. This is apparently due to his wealth rather than some ideological dislike towards competition. Nonetheless, his mettle is tested a number of times by outside challenges that terrorize the city and ultimately the commander of the Japanese forces in Foshan. The movie’s final match is absolutely fantastic and the whole film does what many western action films don't, they actually show the combat without a bunch of cuts! You can tell that the actors actually know what they’re doing – for more on this, check out the brilliant series Every Frame a Painting on Jackie Chan’s similar methods.
Overall the movie is satisfying, if not a little dragging in the middle. Some turning points can easily be anticipated but at the end of the day, we’re watching a martial arts movie and the action is sublime. An interesting thing I noticed though was the interpretation of the Japanese forces. It’s very clear that the Chinese sentiment towards Imperial Japan is very similar to our typical portrayal of the Third Reich in Germany. The Japanese soldiers and officers are very flat and unabashedly evil characters, a little simplistic (if not uncomfortably close to the truth in some cases) but it gets the job done. The most interesting character is General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) who backs himself into a duel with Ip Man himself. Miura is well cast though I was curious to his ethnic background as he didn’t look stereotypically Japanese like his second in command. Later I confirmed he is Japanese but of El Salvadorian and Korean heritage as well.
The Real Ip Man
Think of the most famous and legendary martial arts master you can! I hope your first thought was Bruce Lee or Jet Li, or maybe even Jackie Chan. Anyway, Bruce usually gets credit for being the best of the best, but he had to have had a teacher right? Well yes of course! Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr. Lee’s teacher was widely renowned for his skill in Wing Chun, a form of Chinese martial arts. Ip Man, sometimes spelled Yip Man, was the undisputed master for many years, garnering a popular following in his adopted home of Hong Kong – he moved there from the movie’s film location of Foshan after the end of the Chinese Civil War, having been a member of the Kuomintang, the nationalist forces that battled the (and lost to) the communist forces.
Ip Man wasn’t originally released in the United States during its theatrical run but through the wonders of the Internet you can see this brilliant martial arts film (calling it a kung-fu film would be inappropriate). Grab some popcorn and enjoy!
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Released: December 2008
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Wilson Yip (Hong Kong)
Starring: Donnie Yen (Hong Kong), Simon Yam (Hong Kong), Lynn Hung (China),
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Japan)
Available on: Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube
This recommendation was originally written in 2017, with minor updates since.