Fo Shan, China. 1935:
The Fo Shan province is flourishing, with bright banners, flashy fireworks and a regional reputation for its many martial arts schools. Many Masters run schools along the area of town center called Marts Arts Street. Among the masters is the world’s champion of Wing Chun, a man named Master Ip.
Ip Man is a semi-biographical drama based on the challenges faced by the modern father of Wing Chun. (The history of Wing Chun actually dates back to the Ching Dynasty, almost 300 years ago.) The film’s first act portrays several stories about the master, including his ability to disarm a gun-brandishing cop, his humility not to embarrass another Master, and, of course, his unrivalled prowess in combat. During this time, Ip Man (aka Yip Man in the film’s original title) is revealed as a pacifist and a philosopher. When a pack of roaming Kung Fu fighers enter the town and begin to dominate each of the head instructors of the schools, Master Ip alone is able to defeat them.
Fo Shan 1937:
During the Sino-Japanese war, Fo Shan lost over ¾ of its population to invading Japanese forces. Master Ip’s school is confiscated by the Japanese. His family is forced to live in poverty. In keeping with his humility, Ip gains work at a coal mine and factory. Many of the workers are former school owners and martial artists. The Japanese general overseeing the province has a fascination with Kung Fu, and offers several of the workers an opportunity to fight in exchange for a bag of rice.
One of Fo Shan’s young students, a promising martial artist named Lin, agrees to fight. The general decides to become personally involved, and he kills Lin during the fight. When Lin goes missing, Master Ip volunteers to join the tournament. Ip learns that Lin was killed, and witnesses the murder of another of his old colleagues. He promptly challenges ten of the Japanese fighters in the film’s pivotal scene.
Ip faces the overwhelming situation of one man against an army. His faith in his practice is shaken. Still, his family is there for him, and he knows he must provide for them. Trouble soon rises in the form of the bandits he defeated two years before. Master Ip agrees to train his people, realizing that his role alone as a fighter may not win a war, but his role as a teacher will go farther. When the general’s henchmen come for Master Ip’s family, he understands that he has trained his entire life for the conflict ahead.
Sammo Hung directed the action scenes, with Leung Sin-Hung in charge of fight choreography. Hung explains that martial artists don’t take long pauses and poses when fighting, and he keeps the majority of the film’s dozen fight scenes under two minutes.
Yip Man was the mentor to Bruce Lee, which is completely irrelevant to the film, but much of the film’s message, and Yen’s acting, make a great deal of sense for those familiar with Lee’s philosophy. Yip man is central to Wing Chun, just as Lee created Jeet Kun Do with many of the same core ideals. Master Yip would go on to found the Wing Chun Athletic Association, and to teach the discipline to many students. Wing Chun is currently practiced in 64 countries, and is the most popular of the styles that emerged from Southern China.
One of the signature training mechanisms of Wing Chun is its wooden dummy, called the Mook Jong. For more information on this martial art, please visit www.wingchunonline.com.
Donnie Yen immerses himself in the role of Ip Man. He is emotionally understated, but viewers can empathize with him when he discovers his family and his people are in danger. He portrays Master Ip as a man of feeling but never one to lose control. The film starts relatively slow, by design, but accelerates nicely to the final confrontation.
The film runs 107 minutes, with 41 minutes of extras. DVD Bonus materials include a “Making of Ip Man” feature, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, a shooting diary, interviews with cast members, and the film’s trailers.
The film’s official site is www.ipmanmovie-us.com.