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#29. Ip Man revisited (Donator's Request) - Review

ip Man screen

The complete disregard for historical accuracy in films is nothing new. Films like Braveheart, 300, The Last Samurai, and Apocolypto have all told enthralling stories while veering from the path of reality.  They are mostly full-of-crap, and that is totally all right with me. Sticking obsessively close to facts does not a good movie make.ip Man poster

Ip Man is no different. Set before and during World War II, the movie tells the story of Ip Man, a master of the Chinese martial art Wing Chun and a local legend of his hometown Foshan. In the film, Foshan is presented in a similar fashion as the dilapidated apartment building in Stephen Chow’s Kung-Fu Hustle. Foshan is famous for its martial arts schools, and each school has a unique fighting style and appearance. The humble and unassuming IP Man attempts to keep a low profile in Foshan, but because he is far and away the best fighter in the area, he is constantly bombarded with challenges and requests to train the less skilled. Eventually WWII kicks off, and through a Cinderella Man method of time transition, we find Ip Man living in a shack with his wife and son. This whole portion of the film is almost an exact rip off of the Ron Howard boxing movie. There is even a scene where Ip Man is competing with other men at a coal mine, where the boss only chooses 10 guys to work that day. Anyway, the Japanese have invaded China, and they are all ruthless trigger-happy bastards. The Japanese general put in charge of Foshan, General Miura, is a master of karate and holds daily martial arts challenges where the winner gets a bag of rice. Without spoiling the rest of the plot, I will say there are of course betrayals and double crosses, murders, heartache, loss, and the common uplifting moments commonly seen in a film of this type.

The hand-to-hand combat in this film is amazing. I mean spectacular. The choreography and performances are as finally tuned as any movie you will see, and graciously it lacks many distracting “wire-fu” or CGI enhancements. These actors are so capable, their hands and bodies move so incredibly fast it really takes you by surprise. It is beautiful. They do embellish at times, like when Ip Man turns into E. Honda from Street Fighter II and strikes his opponent in the chest (or face) with his fists so many times and so fast his movements blur on screen. It did look cool, but I thought it lessened the experience.The Real Ip Man

This brings me to my first major complaint with Ip Man; our hero is too damn good! Again, I do not want to spoil anything, but Ip Man is so proficient in Wing Chun that there is absolutely no apprehension he will always succeed. This lack of stakes seriously disabled my interest in the story. There has to be a chance that your protagonist can lose in a film like this, or what is the point? Imagine if Danny Laruso was kicking the crap out of The Cobras throughout The Karate Kid. By the time he got to the tournament, you would have no investment in the outcome of the big match against Johnny, no matter how many times he tried to sweep the legs. The biggest handicap Ip Man has is the fact he has not trained in three years, but when he is forced to fight again he thoroughly destroys his opponents… and by opponents I should clarify that there are 10 of them!

My other complaint is the lack of respect it shows to its female characters. The only female lead is Ip Man’s wife, and she only serves to either set-up a jumbled attempt at comic relief at her expense (because she is a nag or a bitch) or to cry. She never supports her husband, and Ip Man has no real interest in her other than the typical scenes of a man taking care of his family. It was a missed opportunity for some sincere emotion in a film almost devoid of anything close to feeling. All dialogue and plot progression is in place solely to help move the film along to the next fight scene.

I did enjoy my time with this film don’t get me wrong. Donnie Yen does a great job at nailing the quiet stoicism that makes the titular brawler so interesting, and his physical dexterity and finesse are a joy to watch. The pace is solid, I never really found myself getting bored, mostly due to the abundance of skirmishes, scraps, contests, and altercations presented, each with its own mesmerizing fist-de-ballet. The fact that Ip Man was not only a real guy, but went on to teach Bruce Lee only added to my enjoyment of the film. Still, although Ip Man is based off of a real Wing Chun master, this film never comes close to historical accuracy. Check out the films wiki page if you want to learn more on the film, or Ip Man’s wiki page if you want to read a more authentic portrayal of the master and his life.

Also, I want to thank Everlyn Chen for generously donating on the site. She requested I watch Ip Man and settle a dispute she was having with a mutual friend in regard to the films quality. Not sure if I helped, kind of in the middle on this one. If you like martial arts films, you really cannot miss Ip Man; it defines “badass.” However, I also cannot say it is a good film. It is unoriginal and redundant, and there are far too many plot holes and missed opportunities to qualify it so highly.  Either way, I am glad I watched it, so thanks again Everlyn!

The Real Everlyn Chen

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