“Ip Man” (2008), starring Donnie Yen, uncovers the lives of the residents of Foshan, China during the Sino-Japanese war. The movie focuses on Ip Man, a Wing Chun grandmaster, who has forsaken using his combative skills and only practices solo.
Ip is a wealthy man and doesn’t feel any need to instruct martial arts. He mostly spends his time discussing his techniques with other local grandmasters who practice other martial arts, and sometimes engaging in friendly competitions. His wife is often disgruntled of his excessive investment into martial arts and expects him to spend more time with their son.
When the Japanese invade China in 1937, Ip’s house is seized and used as the Japanese headquarters in Foshan. Poverty-stricken Foshan affects even the wealthy Ip and he soon finds himself working in a coal mine for minimal pay.
Meanwhile, Miura, the Japanese General in charge of Foshan, a Karate master and a connoisseur of martial arts, installs an arena where Chinese martial artists are allowed to compete with his military trainees. Every Chinese who wins a tournament is awarded a bag of rice. Not wanting to pass up this great opportunity to resist the Japanese authority and prove that the Chinese are better, several mineworkers volunteer for the tournament, among whom is Ip’s friend, Lin.
When Lin doesn’t return from the tournament, Ip volunteers himself for the tournament hoping to gain knowledge of the whereabouts of Lin. While waiting to be selected for a fight, Ip witnesses the execution of a fellow instructor, Master Liu. He quickly becomes aware that Lin was most likely killed in an earlier match. Unable to restrain his fury, he demands to be selected for a fight.
Ip mercilessly humiliates ten karateka in the fight. When awarded ten bags of rice for his victory, Ip only takes the one bag won by Master Liu to return to Liu’s family.
Miura notices Ip’s remarkable skills and seeks him out for a fight. Unwilling to partake in another tournament, Ip seeks asylum at an acquaintance’s house. While in hiding, Ip starts training the workers of a cotton factory so they can defend themselves against a gang who has been harassing and extorting them. The Japanese soon finds Ip and the epic fight takes place between Ip and Miura.
Equally matched at first, the spectators cheer Ip to take down the Miura. Miura is soon subdued by Ip and used as a wooden practice dummy. Ip administers a remorseless thrashing to Miura. Angered by his senior’s defeat, Deputy Sato shoots Ip. Enraged by Sato’s action, the Chinese revolt and break through the barricade to help Ip, who escapes the chaotic scene. Surviving the gunshot wound, Ip takes refugee in Honk Kong and establishes a school for Wing Chun.
Overall, “Ip Man” is a beautifully filmed movie with a kickass hero. Donnie Yen stages a calm and charismatic performance and excels at every breathtaking action sequence. Though emphasis is given on Ip’s badassery, the subtle theme of triumph of the good is repeated several times. For those who enjoy foreign movies, “Ip Man” is a must-watch.
“Ip Man” marginally parallels the true story of Wing Chun Grandmaster Yip Man, the teacher of Bruce Lee. Filmed in Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese, the Netflix Instant Play version of the movie includes hard-coded English subtitles.