IP MAN - On DemandAugust 24, 2010
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: IP MAN from Gravitas Ventures.
Email Sean McPhillips
Ip Man (or Yip Man as many know him) was a legend in his own time. However, the history and ongoing saga of IP MAN “the movie” has become legendary.
Having exhausted every potential iteration of the exploits of hero Wong Fei Hung, save perhaps some futuristic sci-fi variant where he wakes from cryogenic freezing on a China-owned space station to beat some occupying Cylon ass (I get a story credit if this idea is produced), the Chinese movie industry seized upon another obvious choice for deification. Bruce Lee’s teacher. Indeed, Mr. Man (my mom used to call me that when she was cross with me) has a great deal more mystery than his well-documented and infinitely more famous protégé, so the opportunities for exploring variations on his official life and history abound.
Corey Yuen (FONG SAI-YUK, THE TRANSPORTER) was to direct the first version but the studio producing the film shuttered before lift-off. Producer Raymond Wong (producer of at least sixty titles you’ve never heard of though you may have seen his face as an actor (in another fifty) if you watch Hong Kong cinema) then took up the mantle and proceeded to produce his own Ip Man “biopic.” Donnie Yen (IRON MONKEY) was attached to both to play Mr. Man.
At one point Stephen Chow (KUNG FU HUSTLE) was to play Bruce Lee, not surprisingly. This production and title then conflicted with Wong Kar-wai’s (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) plans to do his own Ip Man biopic. Everyone wanted a piece of Man!
IP MAN was finally produced by Wong and directed by Wilson Yip (CITY WITH NO MERCY) and became a huge hit in China in 2008. It was nominated for twelve Hong Kong Film Awards, winning for best film and action choreography (only in China). IP MAN 2 was produced (again with Wong and Yen), was also a hit in 2010, and was screened along with pt 1. at the NY Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center – with a special drop-by from Sammo Hung (If you don’t know how important he is to Hong Kong movies, Ill give you a hint: He gave Jackie Chan his break.) Sammo was action choreographer for 1 and then again while co-starring in 2. His reason for choosing to act in 2: “They paid me this time.”
Set in 30’s Foshan but shot in Shanghai for architectural reasons, IP MAN follows the eponymous martial-arts-master-without-hubris as he spends his days training, talking with friends and engaging in friendly competitions. He is the best and he is respected because of his skill and graciousness. Aside from his wife wanting more attention, his life is wonderful and serene. Then the Japanese invade China.
Ip is reduced to working in a coal mine and stumbles upon a secret fighting ring assembled by the heartless Japanese colonel Miura, a karate master. Miura believes brutal Japanese Karate is superior to the more elegant Chinese kung fu (someone alert Jaden Smith and his parents) and enjoys toying with the captive Chinese, enticing them to win a bag of rice for every Japanese soldier they dispatch (but the deck is stacked). Enter Ip Man.
Ass-kicking and unfairness result in Ip – well, let’s just say Ip Man is the Chinese Rocky, except more intelligent, cultured and reserved. Miura is like Ivan Drago but with the additional mien of WWII war crimes that fuels a multi-generational, mutual hatred so intense, an unnamed young Chinese person I know who watched this, even now, alternated between glee and abject disgust at the Colonel’s cliché plot turns. (The two best villains for the Chinese are the Japanese and the English -- an Englishman is the villain for part 2). Chinese audiences wouldn’t stand for the ending of Rocky 1 and by now you know there’s a part two so…that wasn’t a spoiler, was it?
As you may have guessed, awards aside, IP MAN is an action film, not a real biopic. It’s a pleasure to watch the master of form, Donnie Yen do his thing. (He deserves much more notoriety and respect in my opinion). The rest is a little guilty. This quote from critic Kevin Ma says it all: “Ip was indeed offered the job of teaching the Japanese martial arts during the occupation, and he did refuse out of principle. However, what Ip Man probably didn’t do was beat down ten soldiers at once with lightning-speed punches to the neck.” Flatten your heart, Kevin.
If you like kung fu movies, get Ippy with it on VOD now.
Note: Wong Kar-wai’s version (THE GRAND MASTER aka THE GREAT MASTER) is apparently in post-production and stars Tony Leung (INFERNAL AFFAIRS) and Ziyi Zhang (CROUCHING CUTENESS, HIDDEN AWESOME). I’ll be there with my Wing Chun shoes on.
- Sean McPhillps
Sean McPhillips reviews film & TV for On Demand Weekly. He is a former VP, Acquisitions for Miramax Films. He works as programmer for the Furman Film Series and the inaugural Gold Coast International Film Festival (debuts 6/11). As a writer/director his short films have played in festivals around the world.
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