With movies like SPL and Flashpoint, Donnie Yen has been on one hell of a roll lately, and that momentum continues with Ip Man, a biopic that retells the story of the man that would become Bruce Lee's sifu. Mixing dramatic scenes that actually bring some real emotion and some extremely solid fight sequences, Ip Man shows that the kung fu genre isn't quite dead yet.
Taking place in the city of Foshan, an area renowned for its' martial arts, Ip Man is a man who enjoys the respect of everyone in town after beating down Jin Shan (Fan Siu-Wong), an outsider who comes to Foshan to try and take over all of the schools. After the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, Man is captured and asked to throw a fight against the local commander (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) to quell the townspeoples' rising animosity.
Ip Man was a major hit in many areas in Asia, and garnered twelve Hong Kong Film Award nominations. But all that is not without a bit of controversy. Most biopics are a bit loose in the area of truth, but Ip Man takes things to another level. Most historical accounts point to the fact that Ip Man actually left Foshan during the war, so, of course, there was no training of an entire city by Ip Man, nor did he deal a major blow to the occupying Japanese by fighting them.
There's also some very obvious jingoistic undertones present here. You're not going to see anything like the "no dogs or Chinese" scene from Fist of Fury, but for the most part, the Japanese characters are treated fairly poorly. The commander is painted in a somewhat decent light, but he's surrounded by cronies that subscribe to every ugly stereotype, most notably a colonel whose mousy looks and sadistic attitude seem to be ripped straight from a 1970's film. Overall, it's nothing too terrible, but one would think that maybe Chinese film-makers could move on from having to depend on such broad caricatures in this day and age to get reactions from their audience.
Some note must be also made of the acting, which really goes all over the map. Many of the young actors present, especially Li Ze, who plays Ip Man's wife, subscribe to the over-the-top melodramatic school, and threaten to derail the movie at points. But thankfully, the veterans supply an anchor that makes the exposition scenes all that much more plausible, and actually moving in parts. Donnie Yen himself deserves a special nod, making what could have really been a cardboard cutout into a interesting character.
What really sets Ip Man ahead of the pack are its' fight sequences. Sammo Hung's work has been really up and down over the past several years, but this definitely fall towards the upper end of the spectrum. There's a great mix of wire-assisted acrobatics and grungy, fist-pounding, brutatilty that will satisfy both old and new fans of kung fu action. Sure, there's nothing here that's totally mind-blowing, but there's a good amount of moments that will make you jump a little bit out of your seat.
Yes, Ip Man does have its' flaws. If you're a nitpicky viewer or someone looking for a sweeping epic, then you might be disappointed here. But for those looking for a kung fu movie that delivers a bit of pathos along with the ass-kicking, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Ip Man. This isn't the greatest film ever made by any stretch of the imagination, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and manages to actually please the audience in the process.
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