Ip man is a very loose biopic of the early life of Ip Man, pioneer of Wing Chun fighting and later master to Bruce Lee. With Ip Man, Donnie Yen takes on his meatiest role yet. He’s played the central hero before (in Iron Monkey, for example) but they’ve all been a bit over the top. It’s been some time since we last saw a biopic on one of the Chinese’s martial arts folk heroes, with Jet Li’s Fearless being the last memorable one to hit the big screen.
In this fictionalized biopic, Ip Man is portrayed as the best of the best in 1930s Foshan, China, a bustling city and home to countless martial arts schools keen to recruit new disciples. Ip Man, an unassuming aristocrat who spends much of his time perfecting his skills, however, never intends to show off kung fu in public and keeps his fighting behind closed doors so as to protect those who might challenge him from the embarrassment of defeat. Yup, he’s that badass. The bulk of the story gets set in the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, and it’s not all fight and no story. It pushes Donnie Yen to act more than he’s had to for a while, and he does a great job.
Ip Man doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to martial arts action. Donnie Yen has always been serious about martial arts, and he certainly delivers in his portrayal of the founder of Wing Chun. It’s like poetry in motion with some astounding closed quarter combat utilizing plenty of upper limb strength. There is a scene in this movie that shows 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. My expectations from Donnie Yen on the dramatic front have been raised significantly, and I look forward to seeing the already announced sequel.
Every aspect of the film—acting, plot, editing, camera work—is kept in check, and Ip Man delivers with poise and precision when necessary. This is a film that should not be missed and Donnie Yen is slowly but surely becoming my favorite martial arts star. Action junkies will be holding their breath to see if the martial artist and actor can outdo himself. This film comes highly recommended.