Ip Man (Wilson Yip, 2008)


Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Actors: Donnie Yen, Fan Siu-Wong, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Lynn Hung Doi-Lam, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Xing Yu
Genre: Action, Biopic, Historical

Bottom Line

Kung fu is becoming rare since the Master of Arms in 2006 there was not much left to console himself. But fortunately, Wilson Yip (to whom we owe among others the excellent SPL) who continues his more than interesting collaboration with Donnie Yen comes to put some order in all this by delivering a pure moment of happiness.


Kung fu is becoming rare since the Master of Arms in 2006 there was not much left to console himself. But fortunately, Wilson Yip (to whom we owe among other things the excellent SPL) who continues his more than interesting collaboration with Donnie Yen comes to put some order in all this by delivering a pure moment of happiness on film with this Ip Man which confirms all the good that one could think of him since his conceptual Bullets over Summer.

In just under two hours, he shows that a kung fu film can be a great short film and that a biopic is not necessarily boring and sewn with white thread. Because yes, Ip Man is a biopic, or a kind of biopic because it revolves over a relatively short period of the life of the expert in wing Chun who will later become a master of the discipline, and who will form the largest action movie story star, Bruce Lee.

And if the film is of course centered on the character, Wilson Yip does not forget his environment, because in the background, and even more as the film advances, Ip Man deals with one of the greatest trauma of recent Chinese history, the Japanese invasion of 1937.

The sensitive subject, therefore, treated a little to the way in which American cinema abuses vis-à-vis the Nazis, for example, that a Japanese invader is the devil personified and that he is better dead than alive. We are used to Chinese cinema which is not very keen on finesse or hindsight when it comes to the image of Japanese people.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter because we have here a film of a very high level, carried by an actor in very great shape and a staging perfectly mastered on all points.

To return to this exacerbated nationalism and this form of obscurantism, it must be understood that at the moment the Chinese government is in the process of completely monopolizing the 7th art, sliding its ideas into many new films (until the excess with Founding of a Republic).

This marks a clear step back from the development that we had seen between the Fury of Winning (overtly racist) in 1972 and Fist of Legend in 1994 for example, the latter nuancing the point. Ip Man who wants to be among other things a historical film, therefore, suffers from this manipulation, but it has so many other qualities that we gladly forgive him, even if he remains far enough from the level of Ronny Yu’s film cited above.

In fact Wilson Yip, perhaps too quickly put on the pedestal of the revival of HK action cinema, is raising the bar rather well after his Flash Point not uninteresting but rather wobbly. Quite simply by stopping to make tons of them, by putting things down and by treating his subject seriously. Because if we can be slightly disappointed with regard to the historical aspect (very romanticized) of the film, or the construction of the story which suffers from a big ellipse in the central hinge, the pure action side is real happiness.

The first half of the film focuses on the life of Ip Man before the Japanese arrived and shows us a lighthearted, wealthy master who seems very happy but whose total abandonment of the martial arts sows discomfort in his family.

We see some slices of life, we see his wife who suffers from the lack of interest he has in his role as a father, we especially see a character as powerful as nonchalant, solid and not have the slightest doubt about his level, which immediately makes him very attractive because showing a destabilizing setback towards any dramatic situation.

The rhythm is rather well managed between the linear narrative and the fights, numerous and always impressive, showing to perfection this quiet force that does not even need to attack to put its opponents on the mat. There is also a lot of humor that confirms the lightness of this part.

But things change completely after the Japanese invasion, the film gets darker, we start to see the dead, the photo changes and the humor disappears. Therefore the fights are much more bitter and violent, Ip Man forgetting the basic principle of martial arts which must not do evil out of revenge.

But while we had barely had time to see the capabilities of Wing Chun, which only showed itself in its “defensive” form, which was already effective in the first part (apart from a few offensive moves), it became a pretty demonstration mind-blowing.

It’s very simple, on the whole film the fights, and on this point this time Wilson Yip is not stingy, are exceptional. The choreographies of Sammo Hung (who as action director has probably shot them all) are magnified by a Donnie Yen finally rid of his slightly pretentious acting tics.

The actor gives himself thoroughly in this role, unrolls superb movements and above all impresses with his speed of execution. You have to see him chaining blows to understand the thing well but it’s going at an unreasonable speed! In addition, Ip Man is part of this “realistic” vein that has reappeared for some time and which leaves aside the use of cables so that we believe in it, and it works.

The only downside to these many fights is that Ip Man is so easy it never seems to be in danger. Whether 1 on 1 or 1 against 10, he spreads everyone with the same ease, including in the final fight. It’s a shame but it’s still a pleasure to see such a demonstration of martial arts of all kinds, so well-staged.

Because it is extremely well done, and above all very well mounted, which allows you to take advantage in detail of the slightest movement executed by actors who show real martial ability (basically we are not in front of the young generation unable to lift the leg).

Donnie is impeccably close and astonishes even by his qualities of dramatic play, and he easily overshadows all the supporting roles, yet all interesting. Because it is Simon Yam who represents modern China who opens up to industry and business with the rest of the world, Gordon Lam who symbolizes these Chinese fell into collaboration (surprising self-criticism in a film bordering on propaganda) or the group of bandits illustrating a certain form of chaos outside the cities, all have something to say and to show but remain behind the image of the master.

Very effective in action, less in historical re-enactment and in drama, Ip Man is nonetheless the best in kung fu film since the Master of Arms. Too short, we can wait impatiently for the rest, it will hit Hong Kong screens in late April.

Nicolas Gilli

Hi, I'm Nicholas Gilli, I'm a blogger who is very much interested in blogging about film-making gadgets. I have experience as a cinematographer in the film industry for more than 15 years. My blogs would comprise of articles about film making gadgets and guides on how to use them. Even if you are a beginner you will learn a lot about cinematography here. Happy reading.

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