Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sitting in your childhood karate uniform realising you were never as good as your mum said you were
Running Time: 106 minutes.
Format: 35mm film.
Director: Wilson Yip.
Writers: Edmond Wong and Tai-Li Chan.
Cinematographer: Sing-Pui O.
Awards: Donie Yen won the Jury Award for Best Actor at the Beijing Student Film Festival where Wilson Yip won Favourite Director and more.
I can’t say I have ever been a fan of Kung Fu movies. I would say it was a type of movie I assumed I wouldn’t like, so I never really watched them, but Ip Man certainly had my full attention. So, for everyone out there thinking ‘martial arts isn’t for me’, the charismatic charm of Ip Man may prove you wrong.
Set in 1935 in Foshan, South China, Ip Man is the biopic of a Chinese martial arts hero, ‘the undisputed Kung Fu master of China’, in a time where martial arts schools were on every corner (so you know he has got to be good). Only Ip Man hasn’t taken on the role to teach Wing Chun (the form of martial arts he is credited for spreading the popularity of), instead he spends the majority of his time away from the public eye, or at least tries to; he dedicates time to developing and perfecting his martial arts style, one that is not violent or aggressive but logical, calm and powerful. Every master in the city is eager to battle with him, to show their respect to Ip Man and to improve their reputation. The outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese war throws our characters out of their routines; when Ip’s family home is claimed as the Japanese headquarters in Foshan and the family lose all their wealth, Ip is forced to take a job at the coal mine. We see how the invasion puts everyone in the city on the same level, with no money, fewer jobs and a painstaking need to look after their families. The Japanese General, a karate enthusiast, establishes an arena for the men of Foshan to fight against Japanese military trainees with the opportunity to win a bag of rice if they succeed. After witnessing the unfair and degrading extremes the General is putting the men of Foshan through, Ip steps forward. Although desperate to provide for his family, he isn’t after rice, he fights for dignity and to honour the men before him who had been humiliated.
Ip Man is certainly a film for the action admirers, and it doesn’t take long before it kicks off. I am clearly not a martial arts expert, but I was impressed with the choreography of the film, there seems to be such an array of different styles of Kung Fu, so many settings and such a powerful narrative that make the minimal moves of Wing Chun look poetically effective.
The sequels didn’t grip me in the same way. Ip Man 2 (2010) and Ip Man 3 (2015) managed to get progressively more ridiculous, not in narrative – well kind of, it was somewhat believable considering the era it was set (although I still find it difficult to believe almost everyone Ip Man encounters constantly wants to challenge his Kung Fu ability over the years). The scenes in each of the sequels begin to look more and more like movie sets; there is one fight scene in the third movie that is set in what appears to be a fish market, although it just feels like a lot of troughs of water and empty crates, which make for perfect props when a scene needs to look busy and hectic during a fight scene. It does seem to make the films enjoyable in another way; the second and third movies felt satirical… especially when Mike Tyson turns up.
Chinese cinema is far behind that of Hollywood in its questionable attempts at equality, in fact, my biggest gripe with the film was that women only appeared as nurses or teachers, but I did keep reminding myself that this film is set in the 1930s. All in all Ip Man is filled with a positive message, that violence is not the answer and martial arts should not be used to hurt other people, but it is an art form, a symbol of discipline and balance.