Review of Ip Man

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Review of Ip Man

If no one's going to do it, I might as well be the one. Here goes: I confirm that Ip Man is one of the best martial arts films of all time, and among the (very, very few) best Chinese films this year. Hands down.

So, there.

But can Donnie Yen act?

We all know Donnie's not exactly known for acting prowess. His job is to kick butts in movies, and he's been doing a pretty good job since Iron Monkey, et al, and getting better since coming back from Hollywood and pairing up with Wilson Yip and Sammo Hung in the mercilessly punishing SPL. Very surprisingly in Ip Man, he shows off a side we've not seen much of - he fully embodies the character of the great wing chun master, striking a nice balance of humility, strength, dignity, confidence and compassion.

Yes, Donnie can definitely act, and while he's been doing a kind of mixed-discipline martial art form in his last few movies, here he uses wing chun with such grace and power. You know you're watching a good kungfu film when the moves of each character reflect the character's personality, and you can tell clearly the difference in each fighter's skills. Ip Man's flurries of punches, fast as lightning, are both delightful and amusing (eliciting laughter from the audience, but it's laughter from recognition and awe).

While the movie adopts the same kind of overwrought, nationalistic fervour in dealing with the Japanese occupation of China, which we've seen in so many Chinese movies before this, Ip Man uses it as the turning point in the lead character's life, events that tip the scale for him and finally give his martial arts skills a larger purpose and context. Ip Man, famously known as Bruce Lee's master, starts off as a person content with his life as a well-off family man who practises wing chun but isn't caught up in the race to set up, nor interested in setting up, a martial arts school in kungfu-mad Fo Shan. The start of the film is full of hilarious moments, showing off the master's playful side.

But when the war comes to Fo Shan, he is forced to give up his mansion and live a destitute life, working in a coal mine and struggling to feed his family.

Here, the character exemplifies a man who has not let the material decorations of his life fuel his pride, but instead lives an internal humility that allows him to easily fall from a respected wing chun master and a wealthy man to just another labourer in times of war, with his dignity completely intact. Yen manages to carry off that subtle dignity, and from then on, the film is entirely his, resting completely on his shoulders. This is also when the character realises there is a larger purpose for his martial arts, and he turns into a fearsome fighter, taking on 10 karate exponents in a scene very much inspired by Bruce Lee's Fists Of Fury and Jet Li's Fists Of Legend (which was also inspired by Fists Of Fury). Ip Man then becomes the embodiment of the classic hero - reluctant and hesitant, but resigned to the role all the same. He knows what he must do, because no one else can do it. And what a fantastic job Yen does, his performance controlled and precise, very much like his fight moves.

I dare venture to say, this is the age of Donnie Yen. With Ip Man, he has definitely and finally arrived in a huge way. Forget everything you thought you knew about him from Iron Monkey and all his other earlier works. This will be the film that defines him, not just as a martial artist, but also as an actor.

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More about Ip Man

anton_esDecember 18, 2008 1:22 AM


madmonkeyfistDecember 18, 2008 1:36 AM

Dang, I cannot wait for this to come out on DVD.

Afro SamuraiDecember 18, 2008 1:52 AM

hell yeah! Donnie Yen has always been the man, especially in HK and martial arts movie lovers circles, its no surprise to us that he is definitly one of the greatest. Hopefully ths will get a limited release here in the U.S.

MilkywayDecember 18, 2008 2:51 AM

Wasn't so sure at first but responses for the movie turned out to be greater than I expected (all praises), as was the total gross of the opening day (14 million yuan, DAMN!!!)

Kurt HalfyardDecember 18, 2008 5:04 AM

Awesomeness. I'm now officially looking forward to this one.

PapigiulioDecember 18, 2008 7:00 AM

Nice, deffo want to see this one and yeah I agree that Donnie Yen has been very underrated.

sureshotDecember 18, 2008 8:09 AM

CMonnnnn, Please come out soonnnnn on dvd...Holy crap I gotta wait a few monthes for this...

Agent WaxDecember 18, 2008 12:22 PM

I was going to review IP MAN after watching it last night, but I guess now I needn't bother, as Stefan here pretty much summed it up well. This film will be a huge hit, and is considerably better than the bland Fearless. I'd just like to add that, having trained in Wing Chun for several months a few years ago, Donnie uses MOSTLY authentic Wing Chun moves for most of his fights. If you can stomach the historical inaccuracies (Ip was a cop and he had 2 sons who should be teenagers during the timeframe of this film), it's definitely a much watch for kung fu film fans. Oh, and one other thing: Ip left for Hong Kong in 1949 due to persecution from the communist party, which had just risen to power. Guess why they left THAT morsel of information out of the film...

hellDecember 20, 2008 8:18 AM

omg i have to see it

JahsoldierDecember 23, 2008 10:13 PM

Can't wait for this one :)

PapigiulioDecember 27, 2008 9:34 PM

Definitely need to see this asap. Only heard good things about this ,and after SPL, DTG and Flash Point I just can't get enough of WY and DY movies.

Ard VijnDecember 27, 2008 9:53 PM

Visitor is Tetsuo, Ironman and The One all in one!
Busy guy... :cheese:

mistereshDecember 27, 2008 10:04 PM

Complementary YOU'RE CRAZY throw in. But now interested in catching a viewing.

johnDecember 28, 2008 12:24 AM

Is this film going to see a dvd or region free blu-ray release soon? It sounds really good!

cpa314December 28, 2008 4:03 AM

give it a month or two and your bound to see a blu-ray or atleast a HK version DVD to come out. I'll definitely be buying that!

momodotcomDecember 28, 2008 5:11 AM

I am so excited. I've sat through the obvious good DY stuff,
but also the horrible or very aged (Circus Kids, High Voltage).

I can't wait to see this!

Itto Ogami loses DaigoroDecember 28, 2008 8:52 AM

YaaaaYYY for Donnie! This was a must see for me since that first trailer. I've heard the question asked who would carry the torch for martial arts films with Jackie and Jet about to pass on, I know Donnie is about from the same era but looks like he's carrying it.

James MarshDecember 29, 2008 9:52 AM

I'm going tonight - will let you know tomorrow (Tuesday)

Ard VijnJanuary 6, 2009 6:24 PM

Great reviwe, Stefan!

The Visitor and I went to see this last night (my job happened to take me to Kuala Lumpur and I was very pleased to notice that movies are shown with English subs around here!) and I fully concur with your review.

I'm still not very impressed with Donnie Yen as an actor, but this role fits him well and the fights in this one are absolutely amazing.

StefanJanuary 6, 2009 7:24 PM

Ard, I wish I could've been there to join you guys!! If you happen to pop by Singapore one day, I'll bring you to a cinema showing Hindi flicks exclusively, with subtitles of course :D

IEDPartyJanuary 17, 2009 9:16 AM

Fucking over for everything else.

zen99January 23, 2009 11:04 AM

I have a non-subs copy and just watched it and everything said here about this no-wire-fu movie and Donnie's acting mirrors what I think about the flic. It's really good and DOES remind me of FIST OF LEGEND. Sammo's choreography is EXCELLENT and the film is just very measured and RIGHT (anti-Japanese sentiments not-with-standing.) Whew, the fight scenes are good. Really good and appropriately staged/shot.

Jidd LubinFebruary 16, 2009 12:38 AM

the dvd is on ebay