The Big Boss (1971) starring Bruce Lee paved the way for Kung Fu movies to explode in Hollywood. Rush Hour (1998), Ong Bak (1993) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) are just a few of the many titles that have profited from the emergence of the Hong Kong Action Cinema in the 1970s. The influence of these films can be seen throughout many of Hollywood’s big productions. Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) directed by Quentin Tarantino has stated that he is not only a fan of Hong Kong Action Cinema, he is a student of it. Just think about how different the Matrix trilogy would’ve been if Neo hadn’t learned Kung Fu.
But to be completely honest with you, I am not a big fan of action movies. Most action films I watch tend to focus on big explosions and epic action sequences which I feel are tools to distract the audience from their mediocre storyline. Ip Man (2008) is a 108 minute film directed by Wilson Yip. The first part of Ip Man (2008) felt like any other Kung Fu movie; a simple plot with epic fighting sequences. It begins in the town of Foshan, which is reknowned for it’s prowess in martial arts. Many schools opened in Foshan, teaching students the deadly art of martial arts. Naturally, there was competition amongst the schools. Challenges between the masters were common; with the winner getting a huge boost in his reputation, while the loser gets a huge blow to theirs. The Ip Man – our protaganist played by Donnie Yen – shows no interest in building his own school. Even though he is clearly the best martial artist in town; as a wealthy man, he feels no need in accepting any students but rather spends his time training, meeting friends and spending time with his family. At first, there seemed to be no conflict in the movie. Donnie Yen’s character seemed to be unstoppable, protecting the town and its schools from challengers around the country. But after a long, LONG while, the real conflict begins after the Japanese Invasion in 1937.
Yip clearly divided the film into two parts – pre invasion and post invasion – with the film taking more of a darker tone post invasion. The Tarantino-esque humor that was present pre invasion has been replaced with a more serious atmosphere. I didn’t understand at first why Yip decided to make it this way. Both parts did deal with the same issue (outsiders = evil) but I couldn’t grasp the sudden shift in the feel of the film until the very end when I found out that the Ip Man was supposed to be Bruce Lee’s master, Wing Chun.
Prior to that revelation, I was relatively disappointed in the film. I felt like Yip tried to do too much with his 108 minutes, adding subplots that were unnecessary. But when I found out that the film was a bio pic about Bruce Lee’s master, I grew to appreciate Yip’s film for what it is; a history of Hong Kong Action Cinema told through the story of the man who started it all. Sort of like a Chinese version of Scorsese’s Hugo (2011)
Ip Man (2008) rating: a GOOD watch if you like kung fu. If you happened to take my advice and watch the film, or have already watched it, let me know what you think. Please Comment Below.
Watch the Trailer here: