The movie is a loosely adaption from the life story of Ip Man (Donnie Yen), the grandmaster of Wing Chun style of Chinese martial art. It focused on events in Ip Man’s life that took place in the city of Foshan, China during the mid 1930’s. Founded by Ng Mui, Wing Chun had a history of a little over 200 years at the time and it prospered with Ip Man. The city of Foshan thrived as the hub of variety of martial art schools where they actively recruited disciples and sometimes they competed against one another in a friendly tussle.
While Ip Man was the most skilled martial artist in Foshan, he did not accept any disciples or opened a martial art school. As an independently wealthy man, Ip Man kept himself a low and private profile living a blissful life with his wife, Cheung Wing Sing (Lynn Hung) and a son, Ip Chun (Li Ze).
However, he still kept practicing Wing Chun daily and exchanged martial art pointers with his friends, especially Master Zealot Lin (Xing Yu) who owned a tea house or meeting with a business friend, Chow Ching Chuen (Simon Yam). Cheung Wing Sing often showed resentment toward Ip Man for lack of spending time with her or his son. One such moment was when a new martial art teacher, Master Liu (Chen Zhi Hui), came during dinner time to challenge Ip Man for a private friendly competition. Chow Ching Chuen would never once see her husband competing, so most of the friendly competitions bear no witnesses. Just like others before Master Liu, he was soundly defeated by Ip Man who took a careful steps to not to embarrass rival martial art masters for being much less capable than him. Master Liu asked Ip Man to keep his defeat just between them but Master Zealot Lin’s younger brother, Shao Dan Yuan (Wong Yau Nam) accidently saw the event.
At Master Zealot Lin’s tea house, Shao Dan Yun decided to narrate about it to everyone where incidentally Ip Man and Chow Ching Chuen had a business meeting. Master Liu felt humiliated upon hearing the news as the event was promised to be kept confidential. He went to the tea house to confront Ip Man and it caused a serious commotion that got the attention of local police, Captain Li Zhao (Lam Ka Tung). While waving his revolver, Ip Man was mocked by Captain Li Zhao and Ip Man seized it using his close quarter combat skill. He politely requested Captain Li Zhao to treat martial arts practitioners at Foshan with respect and returned the revolver back to him.
Thereafter, a group of marauding thugs from the northern region led by Jin ShanZhao (Fan Siu Wong) arrived at Foshan. He intended to build his own martial art school. He and his followers went around challenging Foshan martial art schools’ masters to build his reputation. Jin ShanZhao defeated every masters and he was quite disappointed with the accomplishment until the owner of the noodle vendor informed him about Ip Man. Jin ShanZhao then took his men and barged into Ip Man’s mansion demanding a duel. The city of Foshan’s pride was now at the hand of Ip Man to restore. He swiftly defeated Jin ShanZhao using three of the four forms of Wing Chun: fist, leg, and sword. But instead of a sword Ip Man used a chicken feather duster against Jin ShanZhao’s saber. Ip Man became an overnight hero and people lined up wanting to be his disciples. Keeping true to his words, Ip Man still declined to accept any disciples.
The regal life of Ip Man didn’t last long. In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out and within a year the city of Foshan was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. Ip Man’s family mansion was seized and converted into Imperial Japanese Army’s headquarter. Ip Man and his family were reduced to poverty living in a derelict house. One day, he encountered into his old business friend, Chow Ching Chuen who still managed to run a cotton mill factory during this tough times. Chow Ching Chuen offered Ip Man assistance as he still could not repay the loan he borrowed prior to the war. But Ip Man was too proud to forsake his dignity for food and shelter. He instead chose to work as a humbled coolie at a coal mining company in order to keep his family alive. At the mine, Ip Man was reunited with his friend, Master Zealot Lin. He was also surprised to find many of his martial art peers were working at the mine.
One day, a platoon of Imperial Japanese Army led by Colonel Sato (Shibuya Tenma) came by at the mine with his interpreter, the formerly police officer Captain Li Zhao. Their commanding officer, General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), determined to prove that Japanese’s martial art was far superior to Chinese martial art. They used a bag of rice as a reward to tempt the Chinese martial art practitioners to contest against the Japanese. Ip Man refused to participate but Master Zealot Lin was too eager to take the challenge. At the arena, Master Zealot Lin was no match for General Miura and he paid with his life. The following day, when Colonel Sato and his men once again came to the mine, Ip Man asked whereabouts Master Zealot Lin to Li Zhao. When he couldn’t get a straight answer from Li Zhao, Ip Man was now drawn into the challenge to further inquiry about Master Zealot Lin’s disappearance.
Ip Man arrived at the arena to witness the tail end of Master Liu being shot cowardly by Colonel Sato. The enraged Ip Man challenged to fight ten Japanese pugilists at once in the arena and he beat his opponents one by one with ease until no one was left standing. General Miura was intrigued at the result. With full admiration at Ip Man’s unique fighting skills, General Miura demanded him to come back with the intention to enlist Ip Man to train his Japanese army with Chinese martial arts.
Meanwhile at Chow Ching Chuen’s cotton mill factory, Jin ShanZhao and his men staged a robbery and demanded a ransom in exchange for their seized supplies. Apparently, Jin ShanZhao had also recruited Shao Dan Yuan into his axe-wielding gang. After the incident, Chow Ching Chuen decided to seek Ip Man’s help. Ip Man agreed to train the mill workers with Wing Chun and the factory turned into a de facto martial art academy. Jin ShanZhao and his men returned and the mill workers tried to defend themselves but they were no match for Jin ShanZhao’s thugs. However, this time around Ip Man was able to help them and once again he had to face Jin ShanZhao. Jin ShanZhao was handily defeated with the fourth form of Wing Chun, the long pole. Ip Man then advised Shao Dan Yuan to choose the correct path and informed him about his brother’s tragic death.
All the while, General Miura grew impatient as Ip Man never did return to the arena and he was nowhere to be found at the coal mine. He placed Ip Man on the wanted list. Colonel Sato and his men found Ip Man’s residence and in order to protect his family, Ip Man inflicted great injuries upon them. Li Zhao then took Ip Man and his family refuge into his home. However, to avenge his defeat, Jin ShanZhao disclosed Ip Man’s whereabouts to the Japanese. General Miura and Colonel Sato stormed the mill with the army. Although Ip Man was tipped off by Li Zhao, he decided to forsake his own life in exchange for the mill workers’ freedom. With great sadness, he hastily arranged for his wife and son to leave Foshan for Hong Kong.
In front of the mill workers, General Miura demanded Ip Man to train his Imperial Japanese Army but Ip Man instead challenged him for a duel. General Miura accepted it and arranged the life-and-death match at Foshan’s town center where he wanted the residents to witness Ip Man’s defeat. In the town center, excited Japanese soldiers cheered on their general while their counterparts were forced to watch in silence. In the ring however, with each of Ip Man’s attacking strikes, he won back the dignity of the oppressed people of China. As his supporters began to cheer him on, Ip Man became more courageous and daring. Suddenly at a crucial point whereas Ip Man was about to deliver his final and deadly blow, Colonel Sato responded by shooting at Ip Man. It sparked a scuffle between Foshan’s residents and the Japanese soldiers and the scene turned into mayhem. Ip Man was taken away amid the chaos. He and his family survived and managed to escape to Hong Kong.
Ip Man is absolutely one of the best martial art action films in years and quickly becoming a classic martial art movie. Not only the fight scenes are astonishing, it has one of the best ten against one melee action since Bruce Lee’s The Fist of Fury. Put aside historical accuracy , martial art fans will get a real treat with variety of martial art sequences. Sammo Hung and Leung Siu Hung did a fantastic job choreograph Wing Chun fighting form depictions. Clearly, Ip Man brought Donnie Yen to the top of his acting career, he’s no longer carrying that label as the most underrated martial art actor.
Credit is due to Wilson Yip for this martial art action masterpiece, it was a great touch to switch from colorful imagery of the first half into dark and gloomy tone cinematography once the second half began as the city of Foshan besieged during the wartime portraying a destitute living ahead. The flow of the movie from the first half to the second half is well structured. The supporting casts gave standout performances from Simon Yam to Fan Siu Wong. Of course other than perhaps Jet Li, no other actor could have played a better Ip Man role than Donnie Yen. This is the fourth projects for both Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen, their collaboration proved be worth watching.
Ip Man is a top notch production and it set the standard for future action movies. It is highly entertaining and a must see movie even if the audiences are not martial art action genre fans.
Donnie Yen … Ip Man
Simon Yam … Chow Ching Chuen
Fan Siu Wong … Jin ShanZhao
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi … General Miura
Lynn Hung … Cheung Wing Sing
Lam Ka Tung … Captain Li Zhao
Xing Yu … Master Zealot Lin
Li Qi Long … Master Li
Chen Zhi Hui … Master Liu
Shibuya Tenma … Colonel Sato
To Yue Hong … Hu Wei
Li Ze … Ip Chun
Wong Yau Nam … Shao Dan Yuan
Cheng Ka Sing … Zhou Guang Yao
Chinese Title: 葉問
Director: Wilson Yip
Screenplay: Wong Chi Mun, Chan TaiLi
Producer: Wong Pak Ming
Director of Photography: O Sing Pui, Chan Siu Gwan
Action Choreographer: Sammo Hung, Leung Siu Hung
Art Director: Mak Gwok Keung
Image Designer: Lam Wai Kin, Lee Pik Kwan
Composer: Kawai Kenji
Filming Locations: Shanghai, China
Release Date: December 19, 2008
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
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