Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen are a golden duo for Hong Kong cinema. The turn of the millennium wasn't easy for Hong Kong action flicks and for a long time there wasn't much out there to strengthen the believe in a hopeful feature. But when SPL hit the screens things took a turn for the better and Yip and Yen turned into the hottest HK action duo almost overnight.
Ip Man marks a change of scenery for Yip and Yen. Rather than set up their film in modern day society they flip back in time a good hundred years or so. Yip Man is China's main representative of the Wing Chun style and a true hero of the people, standing up against the Japanese when they invade China. If you're somewhat familiar with HK cinema two titles will probably pop up into your mind immediately. And if you're wondering why the film isn't called Yip Man then, it is because Wong Kar-Wai is holding that title for his own bio-epic about the man.
The film plays like a mix between Fearless (Li's latest big martial arts epic) and Fist Of Legend (one of Li's most notorious films), which should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. The storyline and fighting style is close to that of Fist Of Legend, the setting and focus on the hero is very similar to Fearless. Together they make for a compelling film while just a little lacking in the action department.
Donnie Yen is made to play a role like this, especially in the beginning of the film when he remains untouchable. His Wing Chun style is strong, fast, controlled and to the point. He likes to toy with his opponents but never gives the impression of not being in control of the fight. There are some cool moves to showcase too but it is simply not as impressive as other styles. Yen might hit harder and faster but the choreography feels less like ballet. In the end, it all comes down to personal taste of course.
The film looks very detailed and a lot of attention was paid to the props and setting. It looks pretty expensive and probably was, on the other hand, it feels less energetic than Yip's previous films. Not that the film calls for an in-your-face approach, but it would've been nice to get some more landmark shots in there and even though the action is well translated to the big screen, it could've used a little more oomph.
There's also some humor to be found in the film and for a change it is pretty subtle for HK standards. There's a little scene with Ip Man's kid coming in on a tricycle to pass a message from his wife that caught me quite off guard. It's little extra touches like these that liven up the film a bit. The proceedings of the film are pretty typical beyond that and those who are expecting some exciting twists and turns should probably lower their expectations. Ip Man is a typical martial arts hero type film.
The acting is all around strong for a film like this. Yen knows how to make a role like this work and a special mention goes out to Simon Yam who seems to be getting better and better at picking out his films. Add to that a solid final battle and as an action fanatic you can't really go wrong with a film like Ip Man.
It is not as exciting and grand as similar films, but Ip Man turned out to be an extremely solid entry in the ever growing list of Yip and Yen collaborations. If you liked Fearless, you will probably like this one too. Which one you like best is probably dependent on what martial arts styles you prefer.