Overall: If you’re looking for historical accuracy Ip Man falls short as much of the story is pure invention. But as a first class martial arts movie Ip Man impresses. With a more straightforward plot than your usual martial arts film, one that offers a familiar movie narrative – a struggle against an imperial aggressor – there is recognisable storyline here for western audiences. That’s despite some heavy handed Chinese propaganda.
The fight scenes themselves in Ip man are impressive, without being ridiculous and there is a reliance on the speed of Wing Chun rather than Superman flying antics. Donnie Yep’s portrayal of Ip Man is noble and moving and adds weight to fight scenes that have seen the film lauded as one of Hong Kong's Top Ten.
Ip Man vs History
Ip Man is a martial arts movie. That may sound obvious, but it’s worth saying because the film has shipped a lot of criticism for its fantastical take on history.
Made famous as the Sipu (master) of Bruce Lee and master practitioner of Wing Chun style martial arts there are currently numerous films about Ip Man in the making. But if you’re looking for an accurate historical portrayal of the grandmaster’s life, this isn’t it. Apart from being born in Fo Shan, refusing to train Japanese soliders in martial arts and being handy with his fists, Ip Man the film invents just about everything else. It’s also worth mentioning that Ip Man’s training of Bruce Lee and life in Hong Kong isn’t covered in the film – although Ip Man 2 has already been released.
Instead, the film documents the struggles of Ip Man and the Chinese people during the Japanese occupation of China during World War Two. Independently wealthy, Ip Man has his money and his house confiscated by the dastardly Japanese during their occupation and is forced to work as a coal mine coolie (worker). After witnessing repeated Japanese brutality, Man decides that he will seek revenge by fighting in Japanese General Miura’s martial arts dojo – where the General is trying to prove the supremacy of Japanese martial arts over Chinese.
As Ip Man tries to rebuild his life, the General seeks him out for a final showdown.
Historically, it’s mostly fairytale, but the heart pounding patriotism and simple tale of good vs evil makes for a fantastic film.
Ip Man Movie full review
Too frequently Hong Kong martial arts films have been based around two or three set piece fights – albeit spectacular ones – with a plot and characters thrown in later. At their best they can be fantastical and at other times laughable, full of clunky characters and clunkier dialogue.
Ip man does much to ignore this legacy with a simple but engaging and exciting plot driven forward by the superb Donnie Yen. His understated Confucian approach to Ip Man is faultless and his quiet pride and determination lends more weight to the fight scenes – which are superb. While martial arts fans used to high wire stunts and people being punched through windows will be disappointed, there is a realism to the fight scenes. It's far more satisfying. Yen gets to mix it up both in one on one duels and larger crowd fights and his 7 months spent dieting, studying Wing Chun and learning alongside Ip Man’s sons in preparation for the role shows .
It’s a tribute to one of the greatest martial arts masters that ever lived.