WHAT IT IS: Ip Man, a martial arts master, renowned for his kung fu style (Wing Chun) and soon to be for his many disciples, including Bruce Lee, must go against his own code of conduct to protect his fellow chinamen when war breaks out.
HOW IT IS: Directed by Wilson Yip, Ip Man, a blockbuster Hong Kong production, has won several high prizes in its home country, including Best Picture 2009. And its appeal is undeniable: a man, up against impossible odds, triumphs by sheer determination and skill. As a historical film, one could argue that it is biased, as was Purple Butterfly (Ye Lou, 2003) before it since it portrays one-dimensional and brutal Japanese soldiers as the movie’s villains. There, Ip Man’s story regresses into a simplistic mass audience tale instead of venturing into the increasing complexity of Hong Kong Martial Arts films like Tsui Hark’s Once Upon in China Trilogy or, more recently, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers.
However, the action is what this movie does better than most. Choreographed by legendary actor/director Sammo Hung, the fighting scenes are brutal, with intense close-ups on the action taking place. It is in sharp contrast with the 60’s-70’s style of martial arts filmmaking where the effect would rely heavily on sound. Here, a punch makes us cringe, a kick jump; we are enthralled in the action as if it were live. At 44, Donnie Yen is spectacular, conveying, without fault, the quiet strength of a kung fu master.
Although it suffers from too broad strokes when it comes to its historical characters, Ip Man, succeeds with bravado in its action direction. It is a sight to see.
If you like: Martial arts films, Biopics, Purple Butterfly, The Once Upon a Time in China Trilogy.