Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
Saturday, April 22, time 3.00 PM

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IP MAN

In Hong Kong’s early post-handover years, Wilson Yip found acclaim with small com­edies and crime-linked dramas that peaked with Bullets Over Summer (1999) and Ju­liet in Love (2000). That reputation changed in 2005 when Yip teamed up with actor and martial arts choreographer Donnie Yen and switched to full-on action with SPL. Yip and Yen followed in short order with Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) and Flash Point (2007), but it wasn’t until 2008 that they delivered a major landmark for Hong Kong cinema in Ip Man.
The action biopic chronicles the early years of Ip Man (or Yip Man), the kung-fu mas­ter celebrated for spreading the wing chun school of martial arts before his death in 1972. When Yip and Yen approached the project, Ip was best known for his postwar teaching in Hong Kong, where his most famous wing chun student was a teenage Bruce Lee in the 1950s.
Audiences are introduced to Ip (Yen) while he’s a well-off martial-arts master in his southern Chinese hometown of Foshan, and his skills are first on display in a friendly bout against a local challenger. Another fight against a rough-and-tumble adversary from up north (Louis Fan) makes it clear that Ip is the town’s man to beat and, after Japan’s invasion of China, the occupying forces catch on as well. Reduced to shov­elling coal during the war to make ends meet after his mansion is confiscated, Ip is eventually spotted by General Miura (Ikeuchi Hiroyuki) and asked to teach his skills to the Japanese.
Ip’s firm refusal to Miura is the peak of the strident patriotism on display in Ip Man, which joined a long line of martial-arts pictures of Chinese heroes standing up against foreign aggressors. The filmmakers weave in diverting threads as well, especially early on as Ip balances kung fu with sedate family life, and in his teaching of wing chun to bullied staff at a cotton mill. Where Ip Man stands on shakier ground, however, is as a reliable biopic, with aspects left unclear when historical detail is glossed over or ignored.
But with most viewers simply looking for high-end action and content with a loose introduction to the principal character, Ip Man scored well in cinemas and on interna­tional release through home video. Key to the movie’s success is Donnie Yen’s toned-down performance, more reserved and accessible after the star’s previous three films with Wilson Yip. The wing chun moves are direct and never showy, and this makes for an intriguing counterpoint as the hero takes on fierce northerners and Japanese foes. The tournament template that has made it into many a kung-fu film sneaks in with showdowns at the local Japanese headquarters and on a public stage, and the action choreography, lensing and editing present the bouts legibly and forcefully.
Ip Man went on to grab Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and two sequels followed for Yip and Yen to cover Ip’s life in Hong Kong. Further movies on Ip have ranged from a prequel through to art-house treatment in Wong Kar-wai’s The Grand­master. Yen’s star has burned brighter in the wake of his Ip Man hits, leading most recently to major Hollywood roles. But he hasn’t turned his back on Hong Kong film and his Ip Man performances: late in 2016 Yen announced that he and Yip are up for making Ip Man 4.
Tim Youngs
Film director: 
Yip Wilson
Year: 
2008
Running time: 
107

Photogallery

  • Ip Man 00
  • Ip Man 01
  • Ip Man 02
  • Ip Man 03
  • Ip Man 04
  • Ip Man 05
  • Ip Man 06
  • Ip Man 07
  • Ip Man 08
  • Ip Man 09
  • Ip Man 10
  • Ip Man 11
  • Ip Man 12
  • Ip Man 13
  • Ip Man 14
  • Ip Man 15