I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Ip Man

Donny Yen plays Ip Man, the grand master martial artist who I guess was the first to openly teach the Wing Chun style of kung fu. If you’ve heard of him it’s probaly because he was Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun master, although that’s only mentioned in the text at the end of the movie.

Like Ronny Yu’s JET LI’S FEARLESS, IP MAN is a prestige martial arts picture, a fictionalized take on a historical figure, a beautifully shot period piece (in this case the ’30s) mixing drama and inspirational nationalism with topnotch martial arts choreography. The look is a little more timeless than FEARLESS though – I didn’t notice any digital shots, and only a couple wire-assisted moves.

Ip ManWhat makes the movie stand out is Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man, who doesn’t seem at all like your usual martial arts badass. Yes, he he happens to be one of the best fighters anybody’s ever seen, but he’s very modest about it. He lives in a neighborhood full of martial arts clubs and people constantly ask him to be their master, but he’s not interested in teaching. He’s rich (we’re never told why) and lives in a huge mansion with his wife and young son, where he spends his time quietly sipping tea, reading, practicing Wing Chun. (Is that what’s going on in those gated communities? I never realized that.)

In the opening scene another master challenges Ip Man to a private duel – they shut the doors and Ip provides an ass-handing service, and is horrified later when he finds out one of the neighbors spied on him and told everybody what happened. He doesn’t want to embarrass anybody. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another movie badass who cares so much about the feelings of the people he defeats.

There’s kind of a conflict with his beautiful wife, who thinks he spends too much time on martial arts and not enough with his son. So when a group of bullies (led by the star of THE STORY OF RICKY O) comes into town and beats up all the martial arts masters, he declines to duel him to restore the honor of the town. Or at least he tries to decline, but the guy talks so much shit that Ip’s wife gets pissed, says, “Don’t break my things,” and leaves the room. The story and the fights are very interwoven. During the fight Ip freezes in horror when a vase gets broken, and the guy promises to pay for it. (I don’t think he ever does.)

In 1937 Japan occupies China, and things get bad real fast. It might bother some people that the movie chooses to skip over what would be major scenes in a traditional Hollywood biopic, but I thought it was an interesting choice. A montage and some titles tell us about the war and that the Japanese army confiscated Ip’s estate as their headquarters, so all the sudden he’s living in poverty and has to get a job shoveling coal. He’s never really worked in his life but he’ll do what he has to to feed his family, and now he believes that martial arts were a waste of his time. Of course, he will find use for them – training the crew at his mill to protect themselves from thieves, defending his wife from soldiers and ultimately inspiring his countrymen in a public duel against a Japanese general.

The drama is more prominent and effective than in most martial arts movies, but not enough that you could remove the fights and still have a great movie. What makes this really enjoyable is some excellent fights choreographed by Sammo Hung. Yen apparently had to learn the Wing Chun style and did some real method fighting, staying in character 24-7, eating one meal a day, etc. There’s some good weapon fighting, the best being when he uses a long bamboo pole to keep two guys from getting anywhere near him.

The story isn’t as epic as FEARLESS – it only focuses on a short period of Ip Man’s life – and I liked the character enough that when it got to the closing text saying that he became Bruce Lee’s teacher I said, “now they should make THAT movie.” Sure enough my trusty internet tells me that they are planning another one with an as yet undecided fighter to play Bruce Lee as a major character in the movie. We’ll see how that goes.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at 10:51 pm and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Ip Man”

  1. No comments? This movie is awesome!

  2. Ip Man was completely superb. Vern you should check out Donnie Yen/ Wilson Yip’s Flashpoint as well. (I found it to be amazingly badass).

  3. Just watched this. Awesome flick. I can’t believe you didn’t mention the brutality of the beatings Ip Man deals out in the later parts of the movie. He might be a real considerate guy most of the time, but he does not care so much about the feelings of the Japanese assholes he punches in the face and chest 147 times each. I like that he doesn’t really want to hurt anybody, but once he decides that he has to, he gets it over with as decisively as possible. These are some of the most thorough ass-kickings I’ve ever witnessed. Nobody gets up after Ip Man lays hands on him.

    It’s also awesome that people are always, at least in the DVD I have, referring to him as Uncle Man. I want there to be a superhero called Uncleman who will always hook you up with beer, porn, or the keys to his Trans Am in your time of need.

  4. There’s a chance for a serious comparison here involving Ip Man and his choice to not take all the rice and compensation he could have gotten for defeating, like, 10+ Japanese. He had a starving family and starving neighbors. Like, wasn’t that equally stupid and more morally dubious than when Cody refused his share of the money for rescuing Ellen in STREETS OF FIRE?

    Where does it rank on the scale of heartbreaking hardheadedness in the history of BADASS CINEMA’s leading non-compensation-taking badasses?

  5. He took those dudes dignity as compensation and ate that instead of rice, while his family received nourishment by osmosis.

    Seriously, though, I’ve never yelled “Goddamn” out loud during a movie until I saw him snap that one guy’s leg in half.

  6. Paul Whose Computer Has Packed In

    August 23rd, 2013 at 3:36 am

    “Seriously, though, I’ve never yelled “Goddamn” out loud during a movie until I saw him snap that one guy’s leg in half.”

    Fuck, did I get a shortened version? I don’t even remember that part.

    Just saw this one, as I think I mentioned in another thread. I really liked a lot of it but didn’t love it as a whole. Introducing the Japanese occupation through an exposition reel kinda broke it for me. I had no idea it was about a real person (yeah, I know, I know) so had no idea where the story was going.

    One thing I appreciated: IP Man’s wife and son were both, in their own ways, badasses. The scene where the wife sends the kid in to tell IP Man to start fighting before all of their furniture gets broken… priceless. I would’ve liked to have seen more of that from them in the latter part of the movie maybe. I do like the fact that neither ends up as either the token hostage, or killed off to give IP Man a “personal motivation” moment.

    Other than that I don’t have too much about this one.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>