Ip Man  (2008)

When the average person thinks of Kung Fu, the first name that pops into your mind is Bruce Lee. Did you ever wonder who taught the master? Ip Man was a grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu, and brought that style worldwide recognition when Lee became famous.

In Pre-World War Two China, the town of Foshan is known for being home to kung fu masters. Different masters have set up different schools to teach different styles, but all teachers pale in comparison to Ip Man. Despite being the best of the best, he's a humble man, a loving husband and father, and the origin of the cliche of the non-violent martial arts master who prefers not to fight, but will retaliate when pushed to the brink.

The brink arrives first when a group of thugs want to set up their own school in town, and proceed to beat their way through the other masters. Ip Man finally send them back to where they came from, but not long after, the real suffering begins when Japan invades China. The town is devastated, the schools shut down, and Chinese forced into labor camps. One of the Japanese generals hosts fighting tournaments, where Chinese do battle with Japanese soldiers.

The movie hits all the usual steps of a kung fu movie. The stoic, pacifist master; the cocky villain; the wimpy student who learns to stick up for himself; the death of a friend that sparks the rage in the hero. Despite being made in 2008, it actually felt like I was watching a flick from the 70s. It was a weird style, using motifs from those old movies while sort of trying to explain that those movies got their inspiration from real life. How much of this biography is "real life" is up for debate, as much of it has been embellished and dramatized.

When it comes to kung fu movies, you have to accept that the action and the acting typically won't be at the same level. The beginning of this movie had a few examples of acting so bad I nearly gave up, but the solid presence of Donnie Yen made up for it, and the action blew everything else out of the water. There was plenty of reliance on wire-work and fast camera cutting, but the speed and fluidity of Yen's attacks were evident no matter what. The first few scenes were beautiful, but when Ip Man reaches his breaking point and challenges ten Japanese fighters simultaneously, things got so crazy I actually yelled out loud more than once during the fight.

Was it the best kung fu movie I've ever seen? Nah, "Enter the Dragon" probably still holds that place in my heart. Is it worth your time to watch some epic fighting? Definitely.

[Celluloid Hero] gives "Ip Man" a 6 out of 10.




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