BY now, you just can't go wrong with Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip combo. Their 2005's SPL, 2006's DRAGON TIGER GATE and 2007's FLASHPOINT are all guaranteed edge-of-your-seat action extravaganza. Not surprisingly, their fourth collaboration is also happened to be one of the most highly-anticipated HK film blockbusters of the year. The good news is their latest venture, IP MAN delivers as a successful action film that packed with a big wallop, and given the lackluster HK films this year, this one is certainly a blessing. The bad news is, it fails squarely as a credible biopic that surprisingly too streamlined to cater for the most undemanding.
Based on the real-life martial art master, Ip Man, who pioneered the Wing Chun, the film focuses on the height of his popularity circa 1930s in Fo Shan, China. Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a rich martial art master who is very respected among the locals as well as every martial artist in the territory. Unlike the town of Fo Shan which is mostly lined with different martial arts school, Ip Man is such a modest individual that he refuses to take on any students. He has a beautiful wife, Zhang Yong Cheng (Lynn Hung), and a son, Ip Chun (Li Ze). Throughout the first half of the film, we learn about Ip Man being challenged by Master Liao (Chen Zhi Hui), only to be embarassed later until he becomes a subject of gossip by Shao Dan Yuan (Wong You-Nam), a kid brother to Master Zealot Lin (Xing Yu), in which Lin is also under Master Liao's teaching. Then there's the arrival of a band of outsiders, lead by a cocky kung fu master, Master Jin (Fan Siu-Wong) who comes all the way from the north to start his own martial arts school. But his first mission is to defeat every other competitor in the town, in which he succeed so easily. Of course when he encounters Ip Man, he loses for good. Then comes the era of the Japanese occupation where people in Fo Shan suffered greatly. The former policeman, Li Zhao (Lam Ka-Tung) is now branded as "traitor" as he worked as a translator for General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), who wants to test the Chinese with his Japanese martial arts. Ip Man and his family are now reduced on forcing to move into smaller space. He manages to find job as a construction worker and gets to fill his empty stomach with potato. When Li and the rest of the Japanese soldiers arrive to announce about the benefit of getting a sack of rice if anybody can beat Miura's team of Japanese martial art students. Among them who agree is Master Zealot Lin. And when Ip Man finds out that Master Zealot Lin died from the deadly beating of Miura during a bloody fight, he wants to seek justice. Eventually, Miura is so impressed with Ip Man's Wing Chun skills when he manages to take 10 of his students single-handedly that he asks him to teach Chinese martial arts to his soldiers. Of course Ip Man doesn't agree to do so, and well, you know the rest.
It's rather sad that Edmond Wong's screenplay apes too much on the well-worn popularity that mixes the first half's comedy hijinks of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA and the second half's FEARLESS-like vibe to the degree of patchy storytelling.
The actors are mediocre at best, but it's a surprise to see the usually ego-driven Donnie Yen manages to tone down and portrays his Ip Man character with grace and down-to-earth persona. But the filmmakers are mostly interested to depict him as your average noble caricature who fights for his country, rather than a flesh-and-blood being.
Still, fans wouldn't mind much as long as Donnie Yen kick ass, in which he delivers as usual. His art of continuous punches and his Wing Chun martial art skills are certainly a rousing spectacle, especially such scenes when he takes down 10 of Miura's students and the mano-a-mano finale between him and Miura.
Though the film could have been better, IP MAN remains one of the most entertaining HK films of the year.
And there's already a confirmed planning for the sequel to IP MAN where the film will focuses on his journey to Hong Kong, and opens a new martial art school there. One of the students there is the famous Bruce Lee. Bring it on!