"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
If I've learned anything from John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," it's that you should never let the truth get in the way of telling a good story. Many famous martial artists have become folk heroes in China and have had their lives turned into action flicks. Wong Fei Hung is probably the most popular and has been portrayed on screen by both Jackie Chan ("Drunken Master" & "Drunken Master II") and Jet Li (in the "Once Upon a Time in China" series). In fact, Jet Li has played other folk heroes like Fong Sai Yuk (the eponymous "Fong Sai Yuk I & II") and Huo Yianjia ("Fearless").
"Ip Man" stands as the first film based on the life of Ip Man, a master of the Wing Chun style, who trained many students in the martial arts. Without a doubt, Ip Man's most famous pupil was a fellow you might have heard of by the name of Bruce Lee. The star of "Enter the Dragon" wasn't just about kicking butts on screen; he was an ardent believer in teaching the philosophies behind martial arts. It's easy to see who instilled these ideals in Lee. As portrayed by Donnie Yen, Ip Man is a highly skilled master, but he is first and foremost, a man of great generosity and modesty. He prefers spending time with his family and practicing Wing Chun in solitude.
The film opens in the 1930's in the Southern city of Foshan where Ip Man is widely respected by ordinary citizens and martial arts instructors alike. When a rival, Master Liu (Chen Zhihui), issues a challenge to Ip Man, he reluctantly accepts and even invites Liu to have dinner beforehand. Ip Man doesn't extend the same courtesy to Jin Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong), a loudmouthed fighter from the north who believes his skills are superior to everyone in Foshan.
Things take a turn down a darker path when the Japanese invade China in what would be known as the Second Sino-Japanese War. Ip Man's home and wealth are taken from him. He is forced to eke out a meager living shoveling coal. Circumstances eventually lead Ip Man into a climactic showdown with General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), the commander of the Japanese occupation force.
"Ip Man" marks the highest profile role for action star, Donnie Yen, who got his start in the Hong Kong film industry at the age of 19. Western audiences will probably know Yen for a bit role as a vampire warrior in "Blade II" or as the villain in "Shanghai Knights." Devotees of martial arts films will know Yen for memorable turns in "Once Upon a Time in China II" and "Hero." Though he's had plenty of starring roles before, Yen has usually taken a backseat to Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Here, he finally gets a chance of shine in his most critically lauded role and his biggest box office success. As Ip Man, Yen is more than just a man of action, but a refined and intelligent individual. The scenes of Ip Man's hardships add a layer of pathos that isn't regularly found in most kung fu flicks.
Also good are Simon Yam as a close friend of Ip Man's who runs a cotton mill and Lam Ka-tung as a police inspector who works for the Japanese as a translator.
This being a martial arts movie, most fans are probably more interested in the action than the acting or drama. The film was directed by Wilson Yip, who previously worked with Yen on "Dragon Tiger Gate" and "Flash Point." The fight choreography was handled by Sammo Hung, who co-starred with Yen in "Sha Po Lang" (released in the U.S. as "Kill Zone"), which was also directed by Yip. Yen trained for months before production to learn the Wing Chun style. He impressed many with how quickly he excelled, including the real Ip Man's son, Ip Chun, who served as a technical consultant. One of the film's best fight scenes sees Yen holding off a sword-wielding Fan Siu-wong with nothing more than a feather duster. The other highlight features Yen tackling ten Japanese fighters with a blurring barrage of lightning fast punches.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is well-detailed with colors coming in sharp. The second half of the film is washed in cold colors like blue and gray, which give it something of a soft veneer. It's by no means a deal breaker, but might be a negative to the picky videophile.
The audio is presented in three different languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. All three languages are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I listened to maybe 30 seconds of the English track before turning it off. Unless you're interested in Badly Dubbed Kung Fu Theater, stick with either the original Cantonese or Mandarin. The dialogue comes in crisp and clear while the action scenes pack a powerful punch (pun slightly intended).
The Blu-Ray includes a standard Making Of featurette (18:33) as well as a collection of deleted scenes and trailers.
The 2-disc collector's edition includes an additional DVD containing more extras. Disc 2 includes:
Shooting Diary (5:27) is a montage consisting of footage from the film's production.
Behind the Sets is made up of three quick featurettes focusing on the sets and locations of the movie. The chapters are: Cotton Mill (2:23), Streets of Foshan (2:00), and Ip's Home (2:03)
Finally, there's a series of interviews with the main cast and crew.
"Ip Man" is one of the best martial arts films to come out of Hong Kong in recent years. It's a great mixture of drama, action, and comedy anchored by a great performance by Donnie Yen. It's a must-see for kung fu fans and an excellent primer for newbies.