DVD Ip Man
Wilson Yip brings to the screen the story of a legend in the world of martial arts, Ip Man, a greatly influential kung fu master without whom the shape of Wing Chun and the martial arts movie genre would be very different today. Amid controversy over a rival film being made about the same man, Wilson Yip’s tale is the first to the screen and sets the standard.
Fo Shan, 1935, a town renowned for its martial arts schools and their masters. Among them, one man is heralded as the finest – Ip Man. Despite being sought out by eager learners, Ip Man will not take on disciples, but instead enjoys a bourgeois life of quiet with his wife and son, with the occasional friendly sparring.
The Japanese occupation changes everything. There is no time for martial arts as a hobby, as everyone works themselves into the ground to be able to eat each day. But now, more than ever, it is an important skill as robbers encroach on the good town’s people to steal food and the Japanese officers seek to prove Chinese kung fu is second-rate to their own.
Only Ip Man can prove them wrong, and despite only ever wanting to avoid conflict, he has no choice but to defend the people he loves…
Prepare yourself for some of today’s finest on screen martial arts, and fittingly so, since it is based on the man that trained Bruce Lee. You will only have to wait six minutes for your first taste of action, and from then on you will be hooked, not only by the portrayal of Wing Chun, but on the fascinatingly calm and kind character that is Ip Man.
If Ang Lee and Takashi Miike met in the middle, this is the film you would expect them to make. Wilson Yip has found the ideal balance of style and realism in the combat of Ip Man. It is depicted with beautiful artistry, capturing the poetry of movement without ever departing too far from the realms of reality. Certainly it teeters on the edge of wire work fantasy, as do many (most) martial art films today, but, thankfully, it stays grounded on the right side of that line.
You will quite frequently read that this film has everything you could want from a kung fu flick, and more often than not that just means good fight scenes. But is that all this film is? Action, albeit spectacular, needs to be part of something more captivating. In this case, the allure of the character of Ip Man provides this. Portrayed by Donnie Yen as a serene, controlled master, Ip Man is the nicest guy in town, always smiling and helping others. It’s a wonder he ever fights being that kind hearted. Thankfully, for us, as reluctant a hero as he is, confrontation always finds him, whether it be rival martial arts masters or a Japanese officer. So, when he loses this calm composure in the face of great injustice, it’s as striking as one of his Wing Chun punches.
The film is fiction and Ip Man a character, but within the film’s world, it’s believable enough not to take you out of the story.
Ip Man suffers from the affliction of being semi-biographical in that there is a constant question in the back of your mind, asking, “How much of this is real?” Even knowing that the film had the assistance of Ip Man’s relatives, you’ll still wonder about it, and with a little research, you may be disappointed. But don’t be. Granted, it certainly makes light use of the genuine history of the real Ip Man, with the story a fantastical spin on actuality (complete with a classic final showdown upon a stage before the entire town). The film is fiction and Ip Man a character, but within the film’s world, it’s believable enough not to take you out of the story. Ip Man is someone you’ll root for regardless. It feels hearty, genuine, even very real at times, and that’s all that should be asked of a good story. That and passion, of course, which Wilson provides in abundance.
Wilson Yip is clearly very passionate about his country, bordering on nationalist in the portrayal of the Japanese occupation. But this doesn’t overshadow the movie. It’s just an element to add to the tone, much like the moments of humour. At one point, Ip Man’s son rides into the room on his little bike, mid-fight, to give him a message from mum about the furniture being broken, all the while the challenger is apologising for each accidental breakage. It doesn’t make it a comedy film by a long stretch, but it is there, at least for the first half of the film, and it’s entertaining.
This is, in fact, one of two films about the legendary man to be made in recent years. The second is Wong Kar-wai’s upcoming release, The Grandmasters, starring none other than Donnie Yen’s fellow Hero star Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Besides this (and a clash over similar titles), they look to be very different films. Whether it takes a more faithful approach to the main man or not, Ip Man has set the bar high enough that The Grandmaster may need more than the assistance of wires to get over it.
Ip Man is a stunning piece of Chinese filmmaking, beautiful to watch with a story that lingers in your mind. How true to life this is shouldn’t disturb your enjoyment of the film. The only after-thought that matters is how soon you can see Ip Man 2.
See The Film For Yourself!
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