Genre: Semi-biographical, martial arts, drama
Director/s: Wilson Yip
Running Time: 108 mins/109 mins
Budget: $11.7 million/$12.9 million
Released: 10 December 2008/29 April 2010
Ip Man – A semi-biographical account of Yip Man, the first martial arts master to teach the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun.
Ip Man 2 – Centering on Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong in 1949 as he attempts to propagate his discipline of Wing Chun martial arts.
Warning: the following contains spoilers, do not proceed unless you have watched the films.
I must stress that when they say ‘semi-biographical’ they really mean it as Wilson Yip has taken countless liberties with Ip Man’s, though technically it’s Yip Man (葉問), life story. Yip Man was considered to be the first person to openly teach the martial art – Wing Chun (詠春) and is best known as the teacher of the most famous Asian action star of all time – Bruce Lee. Though the films aren’t really an accurate representation of Yip Man’s life, they are nonetheless entertaining provided you are able to switch off your brain and overlook the shortcomings of both films.
Donnie Yen stars as Yip Man, and I must say that his performance is brilliant. His martial arts skill is shown off to great effect even though a lot of the moves performed are of the flashier variety as opposed to the effective. However, the punches, kicks, grabs and so forth are all rooted in Wing Chun as opposed to the movie martial art known as Wu Shu, and this is shown off impressively as Yip steam-rolls over every adversary waiting to challenge him.
…Yip Man’s life is turned upside down when the Japanese invade China and this is where the central event of the film comes into play – Karate versus Wing Chun…
The first film, set in the 1930s, tells the story of brilliant martial artist; Yip Man who, together with his family, live an extremely luxurious life. He is well-known around the city and is often met by other martial artists who wish to challenge him. Yip Man’s life is turned upside down when the Japanese invade China and this is where the central event of the film comes into play – Karate versus Wing Chun. When Yip Man refuses to train General Miura’s (a highly skilled Japanese practitioner of Karate) soldiers in the art of Wing Chun, Yip Man invariably finds himself facing off against Miura’s men, in a 10 on 1 battle (the most impressive scene in the film) and then eventually fighting the general himself. While the 10 on 1 fight was certainly impressive, the odds of one man besting ten is quite slim so once again you have to take into account that a lot of this film is fiction.
Now 1949, Ip Man 2 takes place in Hong Kong where Yip Man and his family have fled to (the film basically starts where the first one ended) in an attempt to escape prosecution. Yip Man wishes to open a Wing Chun school in the city however, rival schools and politics do not make the job easy for him. In order to open his school, Yip Man needs to defeat a number of masters from other schools (one being Hung Jan Nam played by Sammo Hung) and agree to pay a monthly fee which he disagrees upon. Though Yip and Hung start out as enemies, the two men invariably become friends though the friendship is cut short when a British boxer named Twister kills Hung. After his friend’s death, Yip Man decides to formally challenge Twister and though he eventually defeats the foreigner, Twister still manages to smack Yip Man around like a rag-doll and that’s another problem I have with these films…
How is it that in the first film, Yip Man is able to dispatch ten highly skilled Karate warriors with brutal speed and efficiency AND defeat Miura without so much as a black eye or broken bone and yet in Ip Man 2, Twister manages to almost defeat the Wing Chun master himself. Granted, Twister was a large well-built muscular man (and therefore able to toss Yip around) but the main purpose of Wing Chun is to allow smaller people to sort out larger ones. It’s the reason why Wing Chun practitioners use a wooden man as a training device. The wooden dummy represents a larger foe, who’s too strong to be overpowered by strength alone, therefore the Wing Chun student needs to find weaknesses and ways to overcome that strength by circumventing it. 99% of the techniques employed in Wing Chun are lethal so how is it that a seasoned master such as Yip Man had such a tough time defeating a boxer? Put simply, Wilson Yip wanted to make a sequel and to make it ‘exciting’ he decided to include a preposterously drawn-out battle that should have ended in five seconds with Yip Man crushing in Twister’s throat. Though I did enjoy the second film as it expands upon the lives of the characters in the first installment, it lacked action scenes (only two main fights) and was too drawn out with the stupid Twister plot (the English actors were terrible by-the-way) to make it a truly great martial arts epic. Wilson originally intended for the second film to focus on Yip Man and his protégé, Bruce Lee, but couldn’t secure the rights to represent Bruce extensively in the film so instead, the young Lee shows up at the end looking to train.
…Wilson Yip wanted to make a sequel and to make it ‘exciting’ he decided to include a preposterously drawn-out battle that should have ended in five seconds with Yip Man crushing in Twister’s throat…
Oddly enough, they did a similar thing in Ninja Assassin when the protagonist – Raizo, had one final step before becoming a full-fledged Ninja involving the assassination of a large English (coincidence?) kingpin (Stephen Marcus) in a bathroom. Raizo, perhaps the most skilled fighter of the entire clan has his ass handed to him in a long brawl with the plump man and then after finally killing him, rejoins his fellow Ninja on the roof of the building, has a falling out with them and then proceeds to kill a numerous amount of his (skilled) Ninja brothers without breaking a sweat. It’s shit like that which just pisses me off to no end.
In closing, both films are enjoyable and Donnie Yen is fantastic as Yip Man as he manages to dish out kick-assery on a dime, just don’t expect a very accurate bio-pic. Hopefully Wilson Yip doesn’t make a third film as he was milking the Yip Man license enough with the second installment. Recommended If you like Asian drama with a kick…or punch. I award both films seven out of ten each.