×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ip Man

Manna for those who like their kung fu straight and wireless, their villains Japanese and their heroes unconflicted Chinese patriots.

With:
With: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Xiong Dazhi, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Calvin Cheng, Fan Siu-wong, Lam Ka-tung, Yu Xing, Wong You-nam, Chen Zhihui, Lynn Hung. (Mandarin, Japanese dialogue)

Strongly recalling the best Hong Kong studio productions of the ’70s, period chopsocky “Ip Man” will be manna for those who like their kung fu straight and wireless, their villains Japanese and their heroes unconflicted Chinese patriots. A very loose biopic of the early life of Ip Man, pioneer of Wing Chun fighting and later master to Bruce Lee, this Donnie Yen starrer proved a surprise hit in Asia over the Xmas frame, with a sequel already in the works. Western ancillary looks strong among fans of classic H.K. cinema, with midnight fest slots also beckoning.

With its pared-down plot, ’30s China backlot sets and character expressed via fighting, there’s such a consciously old-fashioned feel that you almost expect Angela Mao to pop into frame and finish off a few Nipponese baddies. Jet Li starrer “Fearless,” also about a kung fu grandmaster, had a similarly old-fashioned disdain for modern-day wire-fu, as do the pics of Thai enfant terrible Tony Jaa. But with Yen’s dignified title perf and helmer Nelson Yip’s unflashy use of widescreen, “Ip Man” positively luxuriates in its retro glory.

Yarn opens in 1935, just prior to the Sino-Japanese War, in Foshan, Guangdong province, where there’s a martial arts school on every corner. However, undisputed numero uno is Ip Man (Yen), who doesn’t give classes, is a paragon of humility and, when challenged by rivals, fights them behind closed doors to protect them from embarrassment when beaten.

Opening half-hour establishes Ip’s minimalist style and unflappable courtesy, as he politely demolishes newcomer master Liao (Chen Zhihui) and then whips the ass of a pugnacious Northern thug (Fan Siu-wong) with a feather-duster. Marbled with humor and inventiveness, and employing just occasional slo-mo, these fight scenes, directed by vet action star Sammo Hung, grip through their sheer virtuosity rather than visual flash.

Story proper begins in the second act, set in 1938, after the Japanese have reached Foshan, the population has shrunk from 300,000 to 70,000, and Ip and his family are destitute. With his wife (Lynn Hung) sick, Ip finds work at a coal mine alongside other former martial artists, who are demeaningly offered bags of rice by the local commander, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), to take part in competitions vs. Japanese fighters in his private dojo.

Scene is thus set for a classic demonstration of the superiority of Chinese over Nipponese martial arts as Ip, following the death of Liao, takes on 10 Japanese without hardly breaking a sweat. Third act finds him agreeing to teach the bullied staff of a cotton mill owned by old friend Zhou Qingquan (Simon Yam) and then taking on Miura himself in a public mano-a-mano.

Yen, who’s taking on real star charisma in middle age, is aces as Ip, with a simple dignity that exactly mirrors the movie’s own and a gracefulness in combat that’s very different from his trademark whiplash style. Supporting perfs are strong, from Yam’s silky smooth businessman to Lam Ka-tung’s cop-turned-collaborator Li Zhao.

Ip Man

Hong Kong-China

Production: A Mandarin Films release (in Hong Kong) of a Mandarin Films (H.K.)/Beijing New Film Assn. (China) production. (International sales: Mandarin, Hong Kong.) Produced by Raymond Wong. Directed by Wilson Yip. Screenplay, Edmond Wong, based on an original screenplay by Chan Tai-lee.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, DV-to-35mm), Oh Sing-pui; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music, Kenji Kawai; production designer, Kenneth Mok; sound (Dolby Digital), Chin Wing-lai; sound designer, Kinson Tsang; visual effects, Asia Legend; action director, Sammo Hung; martial arts co-ordinator, Tony Leung Siu-hung; assistant director, Chan Po-chun. Reviewed at Shaw Lido 5, Singapore, Jan. 6, 2009. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: With: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Xiong Dazhi, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Calvin Cheng, Fan Siu-wong, Lam Ka-tung, Yu Xing, Wong You-nam, Chen Zhihui, Lynn Hung. (Mandarin, Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe's The Lighthouse' Wins Cannes Critics' Award

    Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, won the Cannes Film Festival critics’ award for best first or second feature in Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, one of the first prizes for which “The Lighthouse” has been eligible at Cannes. The award was announced Saturday in Cannes by the Intl. Federation of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content