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 recounting of the story of Wing Chun master Ip Man, with Donnie Yen in the titular role, comes this engaging 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. 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 turn from Ip Man’s real-life son, Ip Chun. Perhaps as a riposte to a spate of cinematic incursions on his father’s legacy, Ip Chun shares his own theories on the kung fu style through a series of training sessions in which the film seemingly steps outside of its mostly contrived set-up and into something more authentic. Ip Chun plays Leung Bik (son of Leung Jan), who became Ip Man’s Wing Chun sifu when the young, stoic master relocated to Hong Kong in the 1910s. 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, modelling 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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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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