May 24: Ip Man | A Martial Arts Film
In the category of A Martial Arts Film, Max chose Ip Man (2008), directed by Wilson Yip, written by Edmond Wong, and starring, Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, and Louis Fan.
On top of that, it stars Donnie Yen, who shone in every moment he had in Rogue One.
Ip Man takes place before and during the Japanese occupation of China — we open in a bustling village where many martial arts schools make their home. Ip Man is a master, but doesn’t have a school. People challenge him often, yet they never win. It’s a peaceful world — idealistic, too.
However, we jump ahead a few years and find that the Japanese have invaded, Ip Man’s house has been stripped from him, and the once quaint town is now a slum. The Japanese military have set up base here, and it’s a struggle for the citizens just to get rice to eat.
Through a chain of events that start with Ip Man seeking day labor, he reconnects with old friends only to find that the Japanese general is challenging Chinese martial artists to duels. While resistant at first, Ip realizes his friends have died at the hands of the Japanese and takes on 10 at once. Ultimately, Ip both teaches his townsfolk how to defend themselves and inspires an uprising through his bravery and dedication to them.
The martial arts in here — mostly Wing Chun — are phenomenal. The action is kinetic and a good blend of the slow, methodical shots you want for actual martial performance and the fast paced editing that makes cinema exciting. If you thought Yen was great in Rogue One, his work here is far superior. It’s easy to see why his star is rising here in the west — he’s just a blast to watch.
If I have any complaint it’s that women aren’t much a factor in this film — at one point, Ip’s wife stands up to an out of town challenger who insults both her and Ip. I thought perhaps we would dip into her being a master, as well, because they kept describing Wing Chun as a woman’s art. However, this wasn’t developed further and she became more of a set dressing herself after that.
The out of town challenger was also an intriguing character, and while he did return later, not much came out of his role then. I at first thought he and Ip would align in order to fight the Japanese, but it didn’t occur within this film. There are sequels, so perhaps this is explored further on down the road.
The historical inaccuracy behind the film doesn’t detract from the overall themes — and I really liked how the film dips back into the truth in letting the audience know what happened on down the road as an epilogue. That is, they bring up his path to led to him teaching Bruce Lee.
As a folk tale, this is a great film — it’s rooted in history, but a bit embellished, and has a great dramatic arc. While some of the characters can come off as flat and there are a few plot threads I would have liked to see followed more, the main story driven by Yen’s Ip is great, compelling, and well worth the viewing.
Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.