Ip Man: The Legend is Born

tn_legendisbornipmanTHE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN isn’t related to the Donny Yen movies IP MAN and IP MAN 2. I mean obviously they’re all based on the same Wing Chun master famous for teaching Bruce Lee, but this isn’t the official prequel to those ones, because it doesn’t have the same director or producers or anything. It’s like if right now somebody who’s not Spielberg made their own prequel to LINCOLN.

Well, I’ll try to be open-minded if they do that, because when I finally got around to this LEGEND IS BORN one I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a very effective martial arts melodrama with alot of the classic themes: brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, finding a master, challenging tradition, falling in love. As kids Ip Man and his adopted brother Tin Chi go to live and study with the Wing Chun master Chan Wah Shun (Sammo Hung) and become friends with a girl student named Mei Wai. The three grow up to be very close, in fact an incomplete love triangle (Tin Chi loves Mei Wai, Mei Wai loves Ip Man, Ip Man doesn’t notice).

When they’re grown up Ip Man is played by Yu-Hang To aka Dennis To, Tin Chi by Siu-Wong Fan (aka Louis Fan) and Mei Wai by Rose Chan. During a street fair a rich politician’s daughter named Cheung Wing Shing (Huang Yi) saves his ass from a vendor that says he owes money, then he helps her in a scuffle with some thugs. She falls right into the ol’ love, but jealous Mei Wai intercepts her attempts to contact him and he goes off to school in Hong Kong having no idea.

mp_legendisbornipmanLike in the other Ip Man pictures the Japanese occupation is a big part of the plot, but it’s an English speaking white man that pulls a FIST OF FURY, calling Chinese people “sick men of Asia,” and of course Ip Man uses his Wing Chun to shut the asshole up. This makes Man a neighborhood hero and next thing you know he’s getting challenged by an old man in a bakery who completely shows him up, at one point grabbing him by the ear and flipping him. Turns out the old man is Leung Bik, a master who ends up training Ip Man in this modified style of Wing Chun that got him ostracized so he’s out here in a bakery instead of the school. I already loved this training section of the movie before finding out Leung Bik was played by Ip Man’s real life son Ip Chun.

Ip Man was a great role for Donnie Yen, so I’m surprised how easily I accepted To in the role. I have no pre-conceived notions of him like I did Yen, but he seems like a natural fit for this humble, sort of shy but internally strong guy. I said this wasn’t made by the same people as IP MAN, but actually there’s weird overlap in the casts. To actually appeared in both IP MAN and IP MAN 2 playing different characters. Fan was also in both movies in the major role of Jin Shan Zhao, Ip Man’s sometimes rival. And Sammo Hung choreographed the fights for the IP MANs (or IP MEN, whatever) and played Master Hong Zhen Nan in part 2, a similar though more complex character than the one he plays here.

It’s kind of funny ’cause Fan’s about 40 and plays a peer of adult Ip Man in the earlier ones and a peer of young Ip Man here. But I don’t know, he pulls it off. I wouldn’t have thought about it if I didn’t know he was playing a guy that age as far back as STORY OF RICKY in 1991. I always like seeing him in movies, and this is no exception.

The Wing Chun style looks really cool on film, lots of fast open hand strikes and blocks. At first I thought the fights wouldn’t be as outlandish as in the Donnie Yen ones, ’cause the focus is on two people sparring face-to-face to test their skills. But later you do get some flipping, kicking tables, other stuff that involves wires. In the final duel Ip Man has the coolest finishing move I’ve seen in a while, a flying spin and drop that knocks his opponent right through the wooden bridge he’s laying on. Siu-Hung Leung is “action director” and was “action choreographer” for IP MAN, so I guess there’s a connection there too. It’s like when the special effects team for STAR WARS went to work on Battlestar Galactica.

But this is the best type of martial arts movie, where I’m so involved in the drama that I don’t even notice if there’s no fighting for a while. I grew to like the three main characters so I’m still rooting for Tin Chi to figure out his problems and get Mei Wai to notice him and stuff. Of course I’m especially a sucker for the conflict within the Wing Chun school, Ip Man first questioning the authenticity of Leung Bik’s style because it adds high kicks and reverse joint locks, but he learns how useful it is so he shows it off back at home and offends his senior, played by Yuen Biao. He’s not just being a tight ass, he’s mad because the family split up over a disagreement about Leung Bik’s style, and he doesn’t want to insult the memory of his conservative and orthodox master.

There’s a great scene where he angrily fights Ip Man to try to discredit those techniques. Ip Man doesn’t know how hard to fight back, he obviously doesn’t want this at all, and others are yelling and trying to break it up. I love that when a fight scene is also an emotional climax, and this is a version of that I don’t remember seeing before. It’s actually upsetting.

The emotions are also high when Ip Man and Tin Chi have to duel. So much history between them. It hurts that they’re fighting. But it’s a great fight.

I assumed this was gonna be a cheapie, but actually it’s a slick, classy production just like the Donnie Yen ones. The director is Herman Yau, who I convinced myself was the director of BEST OF THE BEST. But it turns out it wasn’t the Eric Roberts classic, it was a Hong Kong film that had that as the English title. Next Yau will be doing IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT, which will have Anthony Wong (VENGEANCE) playing Ip Man in his sunset years and is not to be confused with Wong Kar Wai’s THE GRANDMASTER or IP MAN 3D which is supposed to be the final Donnie Yen one. That’s a lotta Ip Man, but if FINAL FIGHT is as good as this one then I’m all for it. The more the merrier.

Ip Man, you da man.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2013 at 2:32 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Ip Man: The Legend is Born”

  1. They’ll be another IP MAN film coming up. IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT starring Anthony Wong.

  2. I wasn’t sure this one would be any good, but your positive review has changed all that, I will be searching this one out!

  3. My favorite thing about the other IP MEN movies was Donnie Yen’s performance, which I thought was one of the better badass leading roles in recent memory. He really nailed the guy who doesn’t WANT to kick your ass, but since you insist…

    All this to say that an IP MAN sans Yen was not something I was interested in, but the review has me intrigued. I’ll check it out.

  4. There is another IP Man movie coming out in March with Anthony Wong in the role as IP Man.


  5. My bad I completely missed Felix’s post.

  6. So is this another movie where Ip Man has to defend the honour of China from an eeevil foreigner? I don’t mind that much since Ip Man is a great character and a lot of awesome American action movies are much more blatant propaganda, but still, sometimes these movies make me feel a wee bit gross. Older HK movies like the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series had evil Westerners as villains but they seemed more moderate in their approach; a lot of it was about Wong Fei Hung learning to adapt with the changing times.

    Anyway, this movie sounds pretty good. I too love a good emotional/fight climax, especially when it’s reflected in the fighting style and choreography. One of my favourite parts of martial arts films is when you have a clash of two different fight styles and the two fighters have to size eachother up and try to find and exploit weaknesses in their opponent’s technique.

  7. Franchise Fred approves of multiple parallel franchises about the same thing. I actually think it would never been cool if NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN took off and there were rival Bond movies every alternate year. I guess it becomes like CSI or LAW AND ORDER diluting the franchise. I don’t know, I haven’t seen every episode of those shows. That might make Franchise Fred explode.

    Or if the BORN LOSERS continued to make movies while Billy Jack had his own franchise going, or if Richard Kimble got framed again while Tommy Lee Jones was busy chasing Wesley Snipes. Or if both DANTE’S PEAK and VOLCANO were huge hits and RETURN TO DANTE’S PEAK came out the same year as VOLCANOS.

  8. Well like I said Crustacean it does deal with the Japanese occupation again. So it definitely has that aspect. Luckily the main showdown is a little more complicated than an “eeevil” Japanese guy. But there are some of those in there too.

    I know what you mean though. I can kind of laugh it off but I wish the modern Hong Kong movies weren’t so propagandistic.

    That kind of nationalism is why I prefer THE BIG BOSS to FIST OF FURY, and why I really appreciate the more nuanced handling of the conflict in FIST OF LEGEND. Notice that Jet Li’s version was a more modern treatment of the subject, but since then the political changes in the country regressed the movies back to being good Chinese people vs. evil Japanese people again. Is it possible we could ever see another ROCKY IV/RED DAWN era here?

  9. I’ve to say that Jackie Chan’s latest film CHINESE ZODIAC is pretty propagandistic as well.

    Have you caught it yet, Vern?

  10. I once had a Chinese professor who claimed that the current government has so drilled the hatred of Japan into the population, the current young generation hates the Japanese more than the generation that suffered under Japanese occupation.

    And considering all the awful things Tokyo did while in China, color me impressed.

    (Meanwhile rest of the world scratches their head, wondering why China vividly hates the nation of Hello Kitty and Godzilla and Lupin III.)

  11. “Is it possible we could ever see another ROCKY IV/RED DAWN era here?”

    Vern – I don’t think thats the proper analogy. The 1980s for all their faults, the Soviet Union was a super power that was America’s rival and as its chief ideological foe, along with being a police state, its an easy bad guy target for the movies. Its why into the 1990s after the Cold War, Hollywood kept reusing ex-KGB agents as bad guys because (1) we didn’t have new bad guys to take over at the time, and (2) either them or Triads or Skinheads it felt like.

    Now contrast that with the new (abysmal) RED DAWN where Russia is seen invading America because….well, no reason is ever given and it makes no sense. What profit is there for a corrupt cynical oligarchal semi-democracy like Putin’s Russia in taking over America? (Not that the original RED DAWN was necessarily logical either, but at least as a fantasy it made sense, you know ideological battle to the death like WW2 was between the Fascists and Democracies/Communists.)

    Japan now (as been since post-WW2) is a Democracy. The worst thing they’ve done really is what, whale hunting? Making them out to be the Satan of your country now is just both weird and nonsensical. Just like Russia invading America in the RED DAWN remake. At least if it was the West being demonized, that would make more sense since China wants to replace America as the world’s superpower. (But then that would put a cramp in their profitable exports to America and Europe, now wouldn’t it?)

  12. Russia didn’t invade in the RED DAWN remake. It was originally China, but then they realized it would cut into their profits so they CGIed in North Korea.

    Still, a stupid idea.

  13. I also didn’t like the propaganda elements of the other IP Man films. I appreciated the martial arts, filmatism and performances but the jingoistic subtext prevents me from really enjoying them.

    Have any of you guys seen LET THE BULLETS FLY? I think it is a great action film and dark political comedy as well as being one of the most subversive films to come out of the Chinese/Hong Kong film industry is some time. I highly recommend it to anyone that has not checked it out. It was in Netflix streaming at one point, but I am not sure if it is still available.

  14. “Russia didn’t invade in the RED DAWN remake.”

    Actually Mr. Majestyk, they did. China, err I mean North Korea, invade America and later its shown that the Putin’s Russia joined the war by invading America’s Eastern seaboard. (Informing us by expositionary dialogue given by Thor.)

    (Seriously all the people who shat on John Milius’ original movie need to watch the remake. The original, whatever its flaws, is an interesting TWILIGHT ZONE fantasy episode compared to the remake’s banal stupidity.)

    Charles – Wait and Beijing actually released it? Actually I’m now intrigued.

  15. Really? I mean, obviously I didn’t see the movie because, you know, standards. But really? Was there ever a reason for Russia to jump in? Or was it just like a reference to the original because you know the guys who did the remake are superbig fans you guys.

  16. Mr. M – Nope they never gave a reason. If this was still the Cold War, you wouldn’t really need a reason to explain the why I suppose. But they didn’t. Its like a Neocon fever dream, where of course Putin would jump America. I’m surprised they didn’t also have Iran and Syria invade and rape Boston too while they’re at it. Just odd.

    But see China? Russia didn’t threaten to ban RD or whatever nonsense to force post-production editing. Russians may complain about their treatment usually in recent movies (and some which I can’t blame them), but thats all it is: complaining. But they still screen the movies.

  17. I’m sorry, but the propaganda aspect is why I don’t bother with modern Chinese movies, especially when it has to do with the Japanese, it’s just a big turn off to me

    I mean say what you will, but a country with a military as large as China being filled with so much hate against Japan is no laughing matter

    and it seems woefully hypocritical to me as well, yeah Japan, like Germany, did fucked up things in WW2, but both countries changed they’re acts, China has not, they’re a Communist country with something like Tiananmen square much more recently in their past critiquing a Democratic nation, there’s something a little off here

    basically I think the Chinese’s attitude is different than ours about the Holocaust, it’s not so much that they hate man’s general inhumanity to man, but the fact that it was the Japanese that did something to the Chinese, do you think they give a shit about the Holocaust or would give a shit if say the Soviet Union had slaughtered a bunch of Japanese civilians during WW2? no, I’m willing to bet they would love to get “revenge” and do even worse to the Japanese than what happened to them

    and either way it’s just not right to hold a grudge against a nation like that for something in the past, it doesn’t do anybody any good

    so yeah, China is being a bully in this situation and I just don’t have a desire to see any movies feeding into that

  18. Griff, you are always admonishing us for not liking FORREST GUMP and saying “you don’t have to agree with a film’s message to like it.” Doesn’t China get the same consideration? Do you seriously not watch Stephen Chow movies?

  19. sorry, I don’t think the GUMP comparison holds water

    I mean yeah, you don’t HAVE to always agree with’s a movies message to like it, bu that doesn’t mean that you have to always turn a blind eye either, sometimes the message can be too much and comparing FORREST GUMP to Chinese propaganda is more than a little hilarious

  20. I mean, I would say to you that you dislike FORREST GUMP for being mildly conservative but are fine with Chinese propaganda potentially fueling a future war?

    ok then….

  21. I think the jingoism of the original two Ip Man movies was undercut by the fact that it took place in the past. During WWII and the British colonization of China, the Chinese were in fact the “good guys.” I don’t necessarily have a problem with them building an underdog movie around this time period. That’s not to say that I’m completely okay with the film, or it’s depiction of the Japanese. It is fascinating to see a popular film with a political message coming from another country. It’s interesting to note that the Japanese general isn’t some mustache twirling villain. He’s somewhat sympathetic. Now, that either means the film is trying not to promote unrelenting hatred of the Japanese or it means that the film’s propaganda is smart enough to use the exception in order to prove the rule.

  22. RBatty024, I don’t think it is just about promoting hatred it is also about creating social/cultural scapegoats that are designed to distract the audiences from the very real injustices they face in modern China.

    Here is what I wrote in the IP MAN 2 thread:

    “The nationalistic sub text of the IP MAN films are hard to ignore, and rather off putting considering how the Chinese government treats it’s citizen’s and control’s it’s media. It is as if the films are designed to distract you from the oppression under the current Chinese government, and remind you the real bad guys are the Europeans and Japanese.”

  23. But gump DID fuel two future wars…it’s directly responsible for dubya getting elected (I’m not the only one who’s argued that) and he started wars!

  24. I think it’s easy to sit back, as non-Chinese, and look out how immersed, say IP MAN 2 is in China’s culture. Is the point that you prefer films that AREN’T a product of the culture from whence they came? Because I don’t believe they exist.

    Eg, (and Griff’s going to think this comparison holds even less water but oh well) a movie like FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS features these twenty-somethings who have sort of nebulous jobs that in real life would *maybe* pay them the barest living wage, but they all live in these spacious Manhattan apartments. This movie is obviously a product of a culture that constitutes 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of its resources. U.S. consumer culture, if not checked, isn’t going to destroy Japan, it’s going to destroy the entire world!… but nobody’s going to get up in arms about FWB because the fact that FWB reflects a given culture is just another interesting thing to discuss about the film, not a reason to boycott.

  25. FORREST GUMP does not know kung fu. I rest my case.

  26. Charles – I think you make an interesting point. Creating external enemies definitely works to suppress dissent inside a country. (That’s certainly what happened in the U.S. following 9/11). And the nationalistic message did bother me at times. I think it’s perfectly legit if this subtext was too strong for you to enjoy the film. But one of the reasons why I watch foreign films is to get a glimpse into the culture of other countries. I find this sort of thing fascinating, so I definitely don’t want to boycott Chinese films because I find their message objectionable. I’m more likely, however, to avoid American movies that have offensive political messages just because I’m already immersed in that world, and I don’t need to see a movie that regurgitates regressive politics. I guess it’s a thin line to thread.

  27. Renfield, there is a big difference because in the US we have the freedom of speech, a free press, and the government does not control our media the way China’s does. All Chinese films and their content/message/subtext must be approved by the Chinese government. American films can be jingoistic and include propaganda, but they also can be the vision of a singular artist that the government hand no hand in crafting or approving. Modern Chinese films made in that system are never the voice of a singular artist. At best they are voice of the artist filtered through the Chinese government, at worst the films are merely a vehicle for propaganda.

    RBatty024, I think you might be misunderstanding me. I am not saying people shouldn’t check out the IP MAN films because of their subtext. If anything I agree with you that you can learn a lot about other cultures by consuming their films, television, and music even if the message or subtext is offensive. I am just saying the message/subtext prevents me from enjoying them, because I am uncomfortable with the propaganda aspects of the films considering the way the Chinese government treats its citizens. I miss the old Hong Kong film industry and the martial arts/action films it manufactured before mainland China took over. When I see a film like one of the IP MAN pictures it only serves as a sad reminder that these days HK/China doesn’t make martial arts films without at least a little propaganda mixed in.

  28. Have you seen Act of Valor, or any other film featuring US military equipment? The govt gets a say.

  29. Charles–

    But doesn’t that make American films all the more culpable for the ideologies they espouse? At least we have a choice. Regardless, I’m no communist but I find it fascinating to watch even a fairly westernized film like KUNG FU HUSTLE and see all the “go proletariat!” propaganda that suffuses it.

    On the other side of the coin, I’m curious to check out this THIS IS NOT A FILM film from Iran…

  30. Charles, I’m afraid the propaganda you’re talking about has been around since the good ol’ days. Just look at Bruce’ films. And wouldn’t you say that it’s mostly directed at Japan? And since Japan refuse to apologize for the war crimes committed against China during WWII, can we really blame film producers for using them as bad guys? It’s a bit like our view on nazis. There’s no better bad guys than nazis.

    renfield, “go proletariat” is just common sense, not propaganda.

  31. Jareth Cutestory

    March 4th, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Quick question, Griff: Have you ever seen Ridley Scott’s BLACK RAIN?

  32. I am going to have to apologize because I think my lack of writing skills is failing me in trying to make my point. I understand there has been propaganda in other Chinese/HK films before mainland China took over. However, there were also a lot of films that came out of HK that had no elements of propaganda in them or were subversive that would never get past the modern Chinese censorship process. My problem with the propaganda in the IP MAN films is that it is government approved, and because the government controls the media there is no chance that someone else will be able to release a film that offers a counter point to the propaganda in the IP MAN films. Part of the role of propaganda is to shift blame or create social scapegoats. Over the course of history the Japanese have done horrible things to the Chinese, but what threat does Japan pose to modern China or Chinese citizens. I would argue that the average Chinese citizen has more to fear from their own government than they do Japan, but there will not be any Chinese films made that explore that idea that are released in China under the current regime.

  33. Charles, I think you underestimate the patriotism of the Chinese people.

  34. What do you mean pegsman?

    Also, I want to be clear, I am fully aware there are propaganda films being releases in America, but the difference is that there are others films or media being made that offer counter points to that propaganda. In China that is not the case all media must go through the same approval/censorship process, and dissident or subversives voices are filtered out.

    While we are on the subject of Chinese & American propaganda in film, did you guys know that China helped fund THE MUMMY 3 to promote Americans & Chinese working together to American audiences?

  35. I mean that the “evil Japanese” angle is something that sells a lot of tickets in China, and that movie producers would have chosen that route even without government medling.

  36. Pegsman, I don’t disagree with you. I am sure patriotism is profitable in countries all over the globe. However, it is not the patriotism/jingoism alone I am concerned with, it is the unchecked patriotism/jingoism presented through government controlled media and how that media is used to manipulate its citizens that concerns me.

  37. I don’t think we should overestimate just how hands on the Chinese governement are, either. There are a lot of movies coming from China these days that I have trouble finding any propaganda in. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

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