The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010)

Posted in Reviews by - February 17, 2015
The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010)

In a rush to capitalise on Wilson Yip’s masterful two-part recounting of the story of Wing Chun master Ip Man, with Donnie Yen in the titular role, comes this engaging if slightly misguided fight film. Marketed as a prequel – albeit unofficially, even if many of the original cast return – this focuses on Ip Man’s formative years in Foshan and his studies in Hong Kong prior to the Japanese invasion of China. In contrast to Wilson Yip, Herman Lau never quite shakes off the film’s distinct made-for-TV feel. But as a close study on the Wing Chun style, the film delivers a helpful degree of authenticity thanks to a supporting role from Ip Man’s real life son, Ip Chun. Perhaps as a response to a spate of cinematic incursions on his father’s legacy, Ip Chun shares his own theories on the kung fu style in a series of knowing training sessions in which the film seemingly steps outside of its mostly fabricated set-up. Ip Chun plays Leung Bik (son of Leung Jan), who became Ip Man’s Wing Chun teacher when the young, stoic master relocated to Hong Kong in the 1920s. In this story, Ip Man returns to Foshan to discover cartoon villainy in the form of corrupt Chinese officials, a Japanese general and a broiling love triangle between his childhood friends. The film falters when dealing so readily in fiction and the final twist is unforgivable. But putting factual inaccuracies aside, choreographer Tony Leung is reassuringly accurate during the film’s great action sequences, creating conflict in both emotional and stylistic terms. The scene in which Ip Man is confronted by his own sifu (played with brilliant understatement by Yuen Biao), who sees his disciple’s adoption of foreign styles as a personal insult, is both profound and well executed. Dennis To is strong in his starring role debut, modeling his performance very much on Donnie Yen’s, and kung fu movie fans will appreciate the cameo from Sammo Hung near the start, sparring blindfolded with Yuen Biao in scenes reminiscent of their seminal 1981 Wing Chun film, The Prodigal Son.

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