I wrote this review as part of the IMDb Top 250 movies project at Head in a Vice. You guys should totally check it out, as it’s an interesting project: the top-rated 250 movies reviewed by movie fans.
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Written by: Edmond Wong
Watch out for: Donnie Yen
Pitch: A Chinese kungfu master fights evil Japanese psychos during the Sino-Japanese War.
Ip Man is based on the story of a Chinese kungfu legend, who would one day be recognized as one of Bruce Lee’s early mentors. When the Japanese invade China, he uses his kungfu to inspire Chinese pride and fight against the oppressive Japanese soldiers.
Being the story of a kungfu legend, you’d expect the fight scenes to be pretty impressive… and they are. Donnie Yen, who plays the titular Ip Man, throws his punches and kicks around with such speed that it’s easy to see how he influenced the great Bruce Lee. The choreography is tight, and the action quite realistic in that there aren’t any “floaty” wire-work moments that are so prevalent in Asian kungfu movies.
There are also quite a few fight scenes to enjoy, though the climatic fight scene is quite a letdown because it still seems too one-sided in favor of the powerful Ip Man.
Check this fight scene from early in the movie.
Where the movie really falters though, is in the story. It’s a rather generic story of a rather proud guy who goes from being rich to being poor, and then ends up using his kungfu skills to liberate the downtrodden people of his country. Worse still… it’s all completely made up.
If you look up the history of Ip Man, you’ll find that the entire 2nd and 3rd acts of the movie never happened. It’s true that there was a kungfu legend named Ip Man, but he didn’t fight the Japanese, and he wasn’t even in China during the Japanese occupation! The glaring historical inaccuracy just makes the whole movie feel like nationalistic propaganda.
Imagine Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter being marketed as a true story, and you’ll realize just how far-fetched and wrong Ip Man is.
Ultimately, historical accuracy isn’t necessary for the enjoyment of a movie, but the problem with Ip Man is that its so cliched and generic that it really isn’t entertaining at all. You sit through scene after scene, just waiting for someone to start smacking someone else with fists of fury.
The story is also brought down by the lack of a decent supporting cast. All of the other characters are 2-dimensional caricatures, whose various fighting styles are more distinctive than their personalities.
The Japanese get it the worst… these guys are all demonized like Jews and Englishmen in a Mel Gibson movie. Just when you think the Japanese general might be a pretty honorable guy, he does something to revert to being an “evil for the sake of being evil” character again.
But that all said and done, the fight scenes really are spectacular, and are worth the price of the DVD by themselves.