Plot: A biopic of Master Ip Man (Donnie Yen), a famous martial arts instructor, who, later in his life, taught Bruce Lee. This film chronicles his early years, during the occupation of China by the Japanese on the eve of the Second World War.
Review: When I saw that IP MAN, the latest from Donnie Yen, and director Wilson Yip would be one of the opening films at this yearís edition of the Fantasia Film Fest, I was psyched. Iím a huge Hong Kong action cinema junkie, and while their recent output has been rather sparse, Yen & Yip are two guys who consistently make amazing action films.
I never really got why itís taken Donnie Yen such a long time to break through as a leading man in Hong Kong action films. Heís charismatic, is a solid actor, and boosts incredible martial arts skills that put many of his contemporaries to shame. Heís been around for years- and often seemed on the cusp of stardom (his climatic battle with Jet Li in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 is a classic), but for one reason or another- he never really broke through, either at home or abroad (Yenís English is impeccable- as he spent much of his youth in the U.S).
Happily, Yenís career finally hit itís stride a few years ago when he teamed up with director Wilson Yip in an awesome low-budget Hong Kong actioner called SPL (released as KILLZONE in North America), that broke through in a big way, and also made a star out of his onscreen adversary, Wu Jing (whoís latest, LENGENDARY ASSASIN is also screening at Fantasia). Since then, theyíve made several excellent films together (including the awesome FLASH POINT, which, like KILL ZONE/SPL has been put out on DVD by the awesome Asian action label Dragon Dynasty).
IP MAN is something of a departure for Yen & Ip, as their films are generally modern, police thrillers, packed with numerous MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fight scenes. Here, theyíve gone back to a more traditional style of Hong Kong action filmmaking, which , not coincidently, seems heavily influenced by Bruce Leeís own FIST OF FURY (and the classic Yuen Woo Ping/ Jet Li remake- FIST OF LEFEND). The martial arts on display are far more traditional than the type weíve seen in some of their other films, but is nonetheless absolutely incredible to behold. My only issue with the fights is that, as Ip Man, Yen is almost too invincible, as the film lacks a truly worthy opponent for Ip, although his climactic battle with Hiroyuki Ikeuchi is still pretty awesome- and had the Fantasia audience roaring with approval.
In addition to the incredible fight scenes, IP MAN also has a surprisingly solid story. While Iím sure itís probably a somewhat exaggerated account of IP MANís life under the Japanese, itís still interesting to see a really solid film made about t the period. The production values are also top notch, as this is obviously a fairly lavish production by Hong Kong standards. The film was a big hit in Asia when it came out a few months ago, to the extent that a sequel is already in production. Any aficionado of Hong Kong action films owes it to themselves to check this flick out, and I highly recommend ordering the region free blu ray thatís available on yesasia.com. I know I willÖ