Friday, April 15, 2011

"Ip Man"(2008)d/Yip Wai-Shun

If you know anything at all about the late Bruce Lee, international martial arts movie superstar, you know before developing his Jeet Kune Do style, or the "way of the intercepting fist", he studied traditional Wing Chun kung fu under the grandmaster of that particular style, a quiet little old fellow named Ip Man.If you're having trouble imagining just how adept at the pugilistic arts the guy who taught Bruce Lee had to be, wonder no further, thanks to the semi-biographical cinemagic of director Yip Wai-Shun.If you only see one kung fu movie for the rest of the year, this one has gotta be it.With Jackie Chan's portly pal, Sammo Hung, an action star/director in his own right, on board as the fight choreographer, and star Donnie Yen, who'd already appeared with Michelle Yeoh in a Wing Chun origin picture of the same name in 1994 directed by Yuen Woo Ping, starring as the Chinese aristocrat responsible for the propagation of Wing Chun to the outside world, Ip is an amazing ride, packed with jaw dropping fights and the raw nationalist emotions evoked by the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, and subsequent Chinese misery under the jackboots of the Japanese Imperial Army at the time.To be honest, I haven't paid much mind to recent kung fu fare outside of Chan/Biao/Hung, and wire fu has always been a drag to me, but this flick opened my eyes towards the new wave of martial arts movies.Naysayers will cite the glaring historical inaccuracies in the story, but face it, hairsplitters, it's not a documentary, it's a movie, and a kung fu movie, at that.In fact, Ip is arguably the best kung fu movie since Liu Chia Liang's Drunken Master II(1994).Yeah, it's that good.
Master Liao's(Chen Zhi Hui) phoenix eye fist doesn't compare to Ip Man's(Donnie Yen)Wing Chun.
1930's Foshan is a bustling community of competitive southern style kung fu schools, but the most skilled martial artist in the region is top Wing Chun proponent Ip Man(Donnie Yen), an unassuming, independently wealthy man with a wife and small son, who couldn't be bothered with taking in disciples or opening a school for himself.His wife, on the other hand, is often frustrated by the frequent duel challenges that interrupt their family life.His latest challenger, Master Liao(Chen Zhi Hui), sits down to dinner with Ip and his family before being rendered humble and helpless by Ip's close quarter locks, grabs, and devastating rapid fire gaitling gun multi-punches.Though Ip vows to keep his hasty pummelling of Liao a secret, the match is witnessed by a young local retrieving his kite from Ip's property.His commentary causes a commotion in town, forgotten when a group of cocky northern style masters stroll in looking to challenge all the masters in Foshan.Their leader, Master Jin(Fan Siu-wong) brutalizes most of the other school's teachers, planning to open his own school in the area, when a local waiter reminds him to be the best, you have to beat the best, and in Foshan, that is Ip Man, of COURSE.Lin rudely barges into Ip's home, using insults and character attacks to spur the man into a duel, which Ip's wife even agrees to, so long as her house remains in one piece.Unarmed, Lin's northern fists and kicks are easily countered by Master Ip, and when he frustratedly draws his sword, Ip wields a feather duster to embarrass the young hothead, and return the region's martial pride and respect as Foshan's hero...that is, until the Japanese invade in 1937.
Master Lin(Yu Xing),a zealot from the north, gets (feather)dusted up by Master Ip.
Under the tyrannical rule of the imperial army, Foshan is thrown into a dark period of hunger and poverty, with Ip forced to seek gainful employment as a coal mine coolie when his family finally runs out of priceless antiques to pawn for sacks of rice.General Miura(Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), an expert karate practitioner, sets up an arena where Chinese can fight their hated Japanese masters and winning a match means a sack of rice for your family.Ip's friend, "Crazy" Lin(Xing Yu)agrees to fight the general with two others, and is beaten to death in the process, leading Ip to volunteer for the next day's matches.He watches Sifu Liao catch a bullet in the head when he fails to defeat three Japanese at the same time, and requests not three, but ten black belts(!) to fight when his turn comes up.With his dead Chinese friends in mind, he violently breaks and batters the ten experts in a matter of moments.After he helps his friend Chow Ching-chuen train his cotton mill workers in self-defense when Master Lin and his gang reappear looking for easy payoffs through bullying, he has a rematch with Lin and easily defeats him, warning him afterwards never to return again.Miura grows impatient while waiting to see Ip's flawless skills in action, and when Ip thrashes a group of his soldiers when they harass his family at home, he sends more to the cotton mill to voice his threat:Either Ip teaches Wing Chun to the Japanese army or he will forfeit his life.Not only does Ip refuse the offer, he challenges the general to a duel, which the military leader cannot refuse due to the impending Japanese humiliation if he did so.The general sets up a ring in the town square, where both men square off in front of the whole province.Ip promptly uses Miura's limp body as a makeshift Wing Chun training dummy in front of the cheering Chinese masses, spurring Miura's deputy, Sato to shoot the victorious expert.A melee ensues, during which Chow and Ip's wife gather up the wounded hero and flee to the less dangerous climate of British-owned Hong Kong, where Ip would famously teach his kung fu to many famous disciples, one of which being the movie star, Bruce Lee.But that's another story...
This black belt karateka will be taking a lengthy sabbatical from kicking with that leg, courtesy of Master Ip.
Sammo was chosen as fight choreographer due to his earlier works, Warriors Two(1979) and Prodigal Son(1982), both films detailing the creation of Wing Chun kung fu.Director Wong Kar-wei vocalized his intent to do a biopic on Ip Man himself, but it spent ages in development hell while producer Raymond Wong's effort here, had full consent from Ip's sons in researching then recreating elements of Ip's life.A sequel, Ip Man 2, which we'll be examining here at a later date, was released two years later.As for this movie, everything's in place for total satisfaction from martial arts movie enthusiasts, and I can hardly envision anyone screening it and disliking it.On the scale, it merits a perfect four wop score and comes with my highest recommendation.You won't be disappointed.
You don't wanna meet either of those cinder block triphammers up close.


Ty said...

Excellent Film! The fight choreography was amazing! Donnie Yen is at his best.

beedubelhue said...

Reaffirmed my love for good kung fu movies, this one did.Top notch!


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