Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen have done a lot of movies together in the last five years including Dragon Tiger Gate, Kill Zone, and Flashpoint. This duo has had a knack of combining strong stories with fantastic martial arts. In 2008, they decided to take on the story if Ip Man, the grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun. Ip Man also had a few famous students including the legendary Bruce Lee. Can Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen produce another quality martial arts flic?
In the 1930’s, Foshan was the center of Chinese martial arts and had plenty of masters willing to teach anybody who was willing to learn. But the most skilled man of martial arts in all of Foshan is not on the front lines teaching students. He’s back in his mansion with his wife and child and goes by the name of Ip Man (played by Donnie Yen). Ip spends his days training and studying his art of Wing Chun much to his wife, Cheung Wing-sing’s (played by Lynn Xiong) dislike.
Ip Man also spends his time occasionally dueling other masters like Master Liu (played by Chen Zhihui) in friendly but closed door contests. He also uses some of his money to invest in a local cotton mill ran by his friend Chow Ching-chuen (played by Simon Yam). Despite passionate requests from students like Lam (played by Xing Yu) and others, Ip Man won’t teach Wing Chun to the others in the small city.
One day, Jin Shanzhao (played by Louis Fan) invades the town with his gang of thugs and goes around Foshan battling the other masters in their chosen martial art. His plan is to beat all of the masters and open up his own successful school. However, he hears that the most skilled martial artist is in the form of Ip Man. At first Ip refuses the contest but then after a little goating, he accepts. He quickly beats Jin Shanzhao and thus holds up the reputation of Foshan.
But tragedy strikes Foshan when in 1937 the Japanese invade the small city. People are forced to live in the streets and work for bags of rice. This also includes Ip whose home is claimed by the Japanese and used as their headquarters. After much anquish, Ip finally accepts a job at a coal mine. There he learns that the Japanese General Miura (played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) with the help of Colonel Sato (played by Shibuya Tenma) are offering bags of rice to martial artists who can beat their Japanese soldiers in matches.
However, Ip Man realizes that people who go to these matches don’t seem to come back. He eventually goes off and investigates the proceedings. There he sees people like Master Liu fight for the bags of rice. He also learns that one of his long time friends, Li Zhao (played by Gordon Lam is no longer a policeman, but a translator. The whole spectacle angers Ip Man and he demands a match against ten opponents simultaneously. Can he win and somehow regain the honor of the Foshan people?
As mentioned in the opening, I am somewhat familiar with the combination of Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip. Typically Donnie takes on both acting and producing. In this feature, he focused solely on his acting and left the fighting choreography to Sammo Hung who is certainly a legend in his own right. Donnie is very gifted behind the camera, but it was nice to see him focus strictly on his acting. The movie certainly benefited from it and he put on a stellar performance.
Furthermore, he was helped by strong casting in almost all of the major roles. There is not enough that can be said about the performance Lynn Xiong puts on despite it being her first motion picture. She plays well the part of a loyal wife but also willing to stand up for her family. Louis Fan shows a lot of depth in his role and despite his villain persona, you can’t help but like him a little. The only issues one could consider weak in the film was that it did tend to be flashy and over dramatize certain events. Ip Man probably didn’t take on ten men at once, but it was certainly fun to watch it on screen.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 Widescreen. Filming for this movie took place in Shanghai but they took painstaking effort to recreate Foshan as best they could. It certainly shows with beauty and grace everywhere you can find. However, there are some minor problems with the picture washing out. There are various scenes where one is excellent and the next almost looks black and white with a golden overtone. It is definitely watchable but there are flaws.
The audio is presented in original Cantonese and optional Mandarin or English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound. For purposes of this review, I dabbled mostly in the English dub and switching to the other languages for reference points and important fight scenes. Amazingly, the English dub is very good. The only knock against it was the volume level which was a little bit higher in the other two languages.
The dialog is quite clear and once you get out of the opening, one shouldn’t have any problem understanding what is going on. Sound effects, especially in the fight scenes fill the channels and give this presentation a lot of oomph. Subtitles are very adequate and you can toggle between English for the Japanese parts (used by the invading soldiers) in the English dub or English for the whole movie if desired for the other two languages.
- Automatic Trailers: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, White Wall and 9th Company
- Trailer 1:46: Appears to be the American trailer for the film and it is pretty poor honestly. Makes it look cartoony.
- Original Theatrical Trailer 2:17: A much better trailer, this was the one used to promote the film over in China.
- The Making of Ip Man 18:33: Your basic making of featurette which is basically snippets of what you will see from the full interviews on the DVD extras disc. They touch on various highlights such as Donnie Yen’s incredible aptitude in learning Wing Chun, Sammo Hung’s involvement in the action sequences, and various characters in the film. There are pieces of film also mixed in for effect. The ending talks about the tiny details of family they mix in with the action and how this is Yen’s greatest work to date.
- Deleted Scenes 3:19: Three scenes are presented here. The second scene would have killed a character that will actually come back in the sequel. The third scene is the beginning of an alternate ending and honestly would have not made much sense. Furthermore, these scenes are displayed as if they were part of a film strip and it is very hard to watch.
- Shooting Diary 5:27: The first couple of minutes are mostly promotional in nature including footage from the premier and press conference. The second is a montage of production snippets and great fight footage.
- Behind the Sets 6:26: This feature takes the best three sets of the movie, the Cotton Mill, the Streets of Fo Shan and Ip Man’s Home and gives a great bit of detail about them. All of the sets were made to look authentic down to the tiniest detail. It is hosted by the stars of the movie and the director.
- Interviews 88:54: This is the major chunk of the dvd special features and has interviews from Wilson Yip, Donnie Yen, Gordon Lam, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, a montage from Ip Chun, Wilson Yip and Sammo Hung, Louis Fan, Sammo Hung, Lynn Xiong and Simon Yam. With the exception of the montage, every star gets their own interview.
- Most of them last 5-8 minutes except for the Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen pieces which get over twenty minutes each. Each actor or actress interview seems to follow the same script where they introduce the character and ask them how they prepared for the role. From there, most of them asked how it was to work with Donnie Yen and then it would usually end with a self-promotion bit where they tried to sell the movie (Sammo Hung wins top honors here).
- Highlights include Wilson Yip and his technical details about the movie, Donnie Yen’s method of studying Wing Chun as well as his research into the character, Sammo Hung and how he choreographed the fights, and Lynn Xiong. This might be her first film but with what she showed in Ip Man and her breathtaking natural beauty, she should have a long film career.
Despite the fact that this movie is still relatively new to American shores, the sequel is already out as of late April of this year. It focuses Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong in 1949 where he begins to teach the art of Wing Chun to others including Bruce Lee. Interesting note, Sammo Hung takes on a major role. Hopefully this film gets the blu-ray treatment down the line (and hopefully I can review it as well).
The original crafts a superb story with awesome action and a stellar cast. Yes, some of it might be called over dramatized, but it is actually a wonderful film and an enjoyable one. The video and audio do have their issues with a little bit of washout and low volume, but it should only detract the hardcore nitpickers. The extras flesh out a ton of information and only lack in pure presentation. I give this film an easy recommendation and hope that all martial art fans add this one to their collection.