James Helsby

LRE #31: Ip Man

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:
Ip Man

Release Year: 2008

Staring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan

Is there such a thing as a perfect Martial Arts movie? I would like to think so. And for once, my wife agrees!

Ip Man is a film that I saw about 6 months ago. The reason why I didn’t write a review of it then, was because I wanted to confirm that I wasn’ just crazy for thinking so highly of this film. So I needed to seek out a counter point. I needed to wait until I could sit with someone, and watch; to see if it was just me who was so blown away.

The time was right, and I was finally able to sneak Ip Man into the netflix queue. It was late at night (1130p) when we started the film, and I wasn’t sure if my wife would go for it. Well, as it turns out… I was right all along.

Ip Man is whats called a biopic. In the literary world, it could be called a semi-biographical story. It follows the tales of Master Ip of the Fo Shan province in China. He is a legendary and unmatched master, in a place known for it’s incredible Kung Fu schools. Of all the schools (dozens if not hundreds) and all the masters of those schools (again, dozens, if not hundreds) there is none who can hold their own in a fight with Master Ip. Master Ip, is a gentle and kind man, who would just as soon offer a pending challenger a meal, as he would raise a fist. Master Ip’s Wing Chun fighting style has become the thing of legend. This is all during the early part of the 20th century, and war is coming to China.

Donnie Yen as Master Ip

In  1937, the Japanese invade China and force poverty upon the people. A great many die from starvation and disease in the coming years, and Master Ip is forced to give up his happy existence, to pursue a meager job in order to bring home enough rice to keep his family alive.

When a powerful Japanese General expresses an interest in seeing how the Chinese fight, as compared to his own Japanese soldiers and their Japanese fighting style, Master Ip volunteers to demonstrate. Not for the rice given as rewards, but to exact vengeance upon the cruel oppressors.

None can stand up to his fighting prowess. And in some of the most amazing fight scenes I have ever (read. EVER) seen, Donnie Yen (Master Ip) shows that his is more than a force to be reconed with. He is more like a force of nature, or a manifestation of balance to the Japanese hostility.

The film was made in 2008, and released in Hong Kong and garnished 12 separate Hong Kong Film Awards, including ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Action Choreography’ . The choreography was done by Sammo Hung, a very well known martial arts fight choreographer, who had a minor acting career in the US in ‘Martial Law’ along side Arsenio Hall. But don’t let that fool your. Hung has an extraordinary career acting and fighting with Jackie Chan, and Bruce Lee, to name just a few.

Master Ip (Yip) on the left, Bruce Lee on the right.

And Bruce Lee is perhaps one of the reasons why this film has an audience. Bruce Lee was a student of Master Yip, the real life man whom the movie was based on. Master Yip, once freed from the Japanese oppression, was able to establish a school for teaching Wing Chun. That school produced over 100,000 students, including Lee.

And while there may be some controversy about whether or not the facts are accurate in the film, there is one thing that can not be argued. The film is amazing. It was filmed with an incredible amount of detail, and should really be watched in HD to get a sense of it. The actors, including Donnie Yen, and Simon Yan (Chow Ching-chuen, friend of Ip), Fan Siu-wong as Jin Shanzhao (a bandit from the North), and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as General Miura, all add very believable parts to the mix.

But really, it isn’t the story that most people watch fighting movies for. It is the action. In this regard, like Master Ip in the movie, Ip Man has no equal. There are movies that have more fighting, there are movies that have more violence. But Ip Man builds a balance between the two. The speed of the sequences is amazing, and most of the time the fighting is finished before you have even had a chance to comprehend what is going on. But the phrase ‘rapid fire punches’ truly has its home here. The are several scenes where Donnie Yen is landing upwards of 5 – 10 punches per second on his opponents, leaving them nothing but a quivering mass on the floor.

So there you have it, an attempt at a review that leaves me shaking with excitement. Ip Man was amazing. It was violent, and not for children. But the story was good enough to keep you watching even if you don’t like the fighting. And the fighting is awesome enough to keep you watching, even if you don’t like the story.

But somehow, I doubt those two statements will be true. Much like Master Ip, the movie is a perfect balance. And with the sequel Ip Man 2, having just barely been released (and garnishing even MORE praise than the first) you really should watch this film, before everyone else finds out about it.

How painful was it:  Perhaps one of the best movies I have ever seen. Not just martial arts, but of  any. Amazing.

Rating: 10/10. Beautiful, intense, excellent acting, amazing choreography.

The Wife’s Retort: I never thought I would love a fighting movie. 10/10

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