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  Ip Man Ippee-kai-yay mother****er!
Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Stars: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung Doi-Lam, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Fan Siu-Wong, Xing Yu, Wong Yau-Nam, To Yue-Hong, Li Qi-Long, Chen Zhi-Hui, Shibuya Tenma, Li Ze, Calvin Cheng Ka-Sing, Zhou Zhong, Zhang Bo, Mao Wen-Jun, Lu Kai
Genre: Drama, Martial Arts, Historical, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Winner of Best Picture and Best Action Choreography at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards, this martial arts biopic recounts the life of Ip Man, a much-celebrated Wing Chun master whose most famous student was none other than Bruce Lee. The real Ip Man made a cameo in schlock biopic Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth (1977) and is here played by action star and avid Bruce Lee fan, Donnie Yen. Although Yen has always been an outstanding martial artist, his cold demeanour makes him better suited to playing villains, as too often he fails to engage as a hero. In this instance however, Yen’s stoicism serves him well.

The film opens in 1935 when Foshan in the Guangdong province was a hive of kung fu schools each competing for superiority, although most acknowledge the modest, upright and philanthropic Ip Man is the greatest fighter of all. In an amusing and illustrative scene, Ip Man invites a challenger named Liu (Chen Zhi-Hui) to dine with him, his wife Cheung (Lynn Hung Doi-Lam) and little son at their favourite restaurant. They exchange pleasantries over tea and dim-sum for a while, then have the most polite yet ferocious fight you may ever see.

Ip Man is victorious but promises to keep their duel a secret so Master Liu may continue to earn a living with his martial arts school. When cocky young Yuan (Wong Yau-Nam) brags to his restaurateur brother Lin (Xing Yu) about seeing the secret fight, Ip Man chastises him for humiliating Liu. “Chinese martial arts are Confucian in spirit. Their virtue is benevolence.” Over ensuing episodes, the film continues to underline this altruistic philosophy.

Although Cheung would rather her husband spent more time with his family than fighting, she recants when ragged, ruthless master Jin (Fan Siu-Wong - whom fans may recognise as star of the ultra-gory The Story of Ricky (1992)) swaggers into town and brutalizes every other fighter around. He battles Ip Man in his luxurious home - in another witty touch, the fight is constantly interrupted by Liu’s offers to pay for any broken valuables and by Ip Man’s tricycle-riding little boy who brings stern rebukes from mum - until the former is disarmed with a feather duster.

Years later, the Japanese invade. Ip Man loses his home and lives with his family in poverty, coping with sickness and starvation. He is reduced to labouring in coal mines while fellow martial arts masters fight Japanese karate experts just to earn one bag of rice. The redoubtable General Miura (an intimidating Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) fights opponents three at a time and kills Lin and Liu. Meanwhile, Yuan has foolishly joined a triad gang led by Jin, who attempt to extort money from Ip Man’s closest friend, Quan (Simon Yam - nicely cast against type), the owner of a cotton mill. So Ip Man trains Quan and all of his workers in wing chun, in return for room and board for his family. When General Miura learns of this, and later sees Ip Man in action, he demands he train Japanese soldiers in Chinese kung fu. Instead, Ip Man challenges Miura to a public match - but even if he wins, what chance does he have of making it out alive?

As often with Hong Kong biopics, one suspects historical accuracy has been mixed with a healthy dose of pulp fiction. However, Ip Man is a lavish production of a kind rarely seen in recent HK cinema and its intentions are laudable. It is the latest in a string of ambitious films Yen has made in collaboration with Wilson Yip Wai-Shun, who started his career making offbeat horror comedies like Bio-Zombie (1998) and The Mummy Aged 19 (2002). Following breakthrough hit S.P.L. (2005), likeable comic book fantasy Dragon Tiger Gate (2006), and underwhelming crime actioner Flashpoint (2007), this sweeping historical drama is their most impressive effort yet.

The fight sequences were directed by the great Sammo Hung and crackle with his trademark wit and energy, but the film is more concerned with stressing the principles behind martial arts. Master Ip stresses humility, sincerity and community spirit and preaches respect for women, for your opponents and your fellow man. Like Fist of Fury (1972), the film is something of a hymn to Chinese national pride, but in the least jingoistic and most uplifting sense. Integrity and humanity are prized above all else. A sequel is in the works.

Cine-Asia’s two-disc DVD includes interviews with the stars and choreographer Hung, a “making of” documentary, a location and set design gallery, trailers for this film and other DVD releases and some deleted scenes.

Click here for the trailer

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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