Director: Wilson Yip
Writer: Edmond Wong
Stars: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam and Siu-Wong Fan
After finishing District B-13 previously, My Netflix Challenge led me to 2008’s Ip Man. It’s a story that I have seen before in other Chinese films, covering one of the most influential Kung Fu Masters in history. Again, this is a movie that I have been wanting to watch for a while but haven’t gotten the chance until now. Illustrating once again part of the reason I wanted to do this challenge. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to watch things I have missed before. So far it has worked out but I have a feeling that it will end sometime soon. Like most things in life, the good times can’t last forever.
The story starts in 1935, just prior to the invasion of China by Imperial Japan. Master Ip is living a quiet life away from teaching his techniques to the locals regardless how much they want to learn. He is always gracious in his refusal to each person. You get the sense that he enjoys the life he is getting to live. All of this changes when the Japanese invade. Like most inhabitants of Foshan where he lives, they suffer greatly at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. Many people have died or moved away and those who have stayed in town are having a difficult time making a living to pay for the food they need to keep their families alive. Even the once well off Master Ip has fallen on hard times. But, like we have come to learn from him earlier, he has a sense of happiness that can’t be squashed. He finds ways to survive while maintaining a sense of moral pride that is something anyone should aspire too. Finally he has his run-in with the Japanese and has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.
This film comes at you in ways that make me very happy. Like I already mentioned, I have seen parts of this story before in other Chinese films where Master Ip is involved. I also have seen other films deal with the occupation of China at the hands of the Japanese. Both stories are handled in a fresh and interesting way. While they may or may not be historically correct, that is a discussion for another time. The point here is telling a kick ass kung fu movie. Every time we see Master Ip get involved in a fight of some kind, it is very clear in all but two fights he is a reluctant participant. With all the skills at his disposal, he is only interested in being the best person he can be. Both the film and Donnie Yen imbue Master Ip with a sense nobility and quiet strength which makes it clear that at any given time he knows that he could kick anyone’s ass, even if his opponents don’t. Even if they don’t see it right away, it is clear within a short time that he is simply the best in every situation. Regardless if it is a fight or a social situation, he is always portrayed as the better man.
The moments that I really appreciated in watching this was the scenes with his family and friends which make it clear that while he is a great man, he does have his faults. There are several moments where we see his relationship with his wife and son and realize that while he is very respected by the locals and friends, his own family doesn’t always feel the same way. He ignores his son to par take in a kung fu demonstration and his wife doesn’t supports his love of kung fu. These moments help humanize a near perfect man as shown throughout the film. While anyone would want to be like him, it’s hard to be that perfect. And he isn’t either, which is nice to know.
Honestly, it’s hard for me not to gush about this film and kick myself for not having watched it sooner. It is just that good and I can’t wait to watch the sequel soon. Donnie Yen is also now on my radar as someone to check out when I see him attached to a project. He had a lot of charisma and charm as Master Ip. If you’re like me and you enjoy good kung fu movies, you are going to LOVE this movie. If you don’t, you might need to seek medical attention for the gaping hole in your head.
RATING: BUY IT!
NEXT UP: Valhalla Rising (2009)