The Ass-Whoopinest Movie I’ve Seen in a While
I was somewhat in a hurry to pick the movie for today’s review because of my work schedule, but I think I’ve picked a good’n, at least if’n you like a good ass-whoopin’. It is loosely based on the life of a famous grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts. And, though he may not be nearly as famous to Americans, I would wager every one of them knows the name of one of his most famous students, Bruce Lee. This movie is called Ip Man, based on the life of Ip Man, and was written by Edmond Wong, directed by Wilson Yip, and stars Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Fan Siu-wong, and Shibuya Tenma. Good luck pronouncing THOSE names!
In 1930’s Foshan, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a master of whoop ass. He’s the greatest martial artist in a town full of martial artists, and is also very rich so he has no need to train pupils, though he will, on occasion, have a private sparring match with one of the town’s masters. One day, a bunch of assholes from up North come into town and start challenging all the masters. The head of the group, Jun Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong), takes on the masters one by one and beats them handily. But then he hears about Ip Man and decides that this is the ass he needs to kick to gain enough respect to start a school in Foshan. Ip Man beats that ass. We then montage our way through the Japanese invasion of 1937 and Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), and their son are now poor and Ip Man is forced to take a manual labor job to keep his family fed. Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) has been sending out his people to find martial artists to fight for his enjoyment, and occasionally with him, offering a bag of rice as a prize. When one of Ip Man’s friends disappears after such a tournament (having been beaten to death by Miura), Ip Man goes to investigate, only to see a fellow master get shot by Miura’s deputy Sato (Shibuya Tenma). Ip Man whoops up on 10 dudes and leaves. Miura becomes obsessed with defeating Ip Man, but Ip Man doesn’t want to. But Miura has ways of making Ip Man change his mind…
To put it plainly, this is one of the most awesome martial arts movies I have seen, and I have seen a great many martial arts movies. Typically, a martial arts movie will be fairly light on story (or just make it a retelling of some ancient myth), but be driven by it’s fights. I guess you could say Ip Man is kind of both. The story is fine (albeit a little typical for a martial arts movie), but I doubt I would be that interested if there weren’t fighting in it. It’s not uncommon in martial arts movies to have a lone martial artist change the nation with the power of his fist. It’s also not that uncommon for a movie to have someone rich become poor. Typically, a martial arts movie’s hero will also be the one who is best at the art of combining foot and ass, and in this movie that person just happens to be Donnie Yen. It’s said to be based on the life of the real Ip Man, but it’s got very little in common to his actual life from what I’ve read. Not that I care, though. I probably wouldn’t have known who Ip Man was were it not for this film, and after it, I think he’s an epic badass. His real life would probably have been much less badass, and would have made a much less interesting movie, so it’s for the best. As it stands, it’s admittedly light on story for a movie, though probably a little above average on story for a martial arts movie. The settings of this movie are mostly gorgeous in the first half and pretty much what you’d expect, and everything gets darker and less colorful as harsh times fall on Foshan. The movie was filmed very well, making me buy it in BluRay so I wouldn’t lose anything. But let’s face it, you wouldn’t watch this movie for the story or the cinematography, would you?
Let’s talk about the reason you should see this movie: the utterly epic ass whoopings. Because Bruce Lee’s style was less Wing Chun and more Jeet Kune Do by the time I became familiar with him, I had never seen Wing Chun in a movie before. And, if this fighting style is anything remotely like it is in this movie, I wanna learn them shits. I’m definitely not qualified to try to define the style for you people, but suffice to say my favorite part is the rapid-fire, machine gun-like punches to the face. I’m going to recommend you see this movie, so I won’t bother trying to describe Wing Chun. A lot of this movie’s fights are one-on-one fights and there are a couple with weapons such as a sword, a blade on the end of a staff, and the deadliest of all: the feather duster. Though there are a few fights after it, the pinnacle of the movie (for me) happens around the end of the second act, when Ip Man witnesses his friend and fellow martial arts master get shot in the head for “cheating”. He demands to get into the tournament area and challenges 10 men to a fight. The entire movie up to this point had shown Ip Man as a very polite, reserved fellow, even in the worst of times. People had to sometimes tell him to fight back in his duels because he would prefer to play with the person instead of humiliating them. But that Ip Man was a little happier. Putting on his grumpy pants, Ip Man thoroughly thrashes these 10 dudes like nobody’s bidness. He breaks a bone or two, punches the shit out of some faces, and leaves 10 dudes in rather uncomfortable positions on the floor, having been untouched himself. Then he walks off without taking his rice, which is Chinese for “Go fuck your grandma, Miura!” If you don’t want to watch the whole movie (which I think is your mistake to make), do yourself a favor and try to find this scene on YouTube or something. I love this fight, and all the others.
Generally, I wouldn’t expect very much acting from my martial arts movies, but this one does surprise you on occasion. Donnie Yen takes a few emotional turns in this movie (as I described in the last paragraph), and even breaks into tears at one point. Add that to the fact that the man had to learn a whole new fighting style for this movie and executed both his performance and ass whooping very well, and I say this is Donnie Yen’s best movie that I’ve ever seen. Lynn Hung, as his wife, annoyed me for the greater majority of the movie because she didn’t want her husband to fight people. Look, I know that fighting people COULD get him hurt, but I don’t think the guy even got touched by an opponent until the last fight in the movie, so maybe stop worrying and let him do his thing. It is wrong for you to get in the way of someone doing something they are so epically awesome at. But she also had a few well-performed emotional scenes, so I don’t hate her. Fan Sui-wong did well as the asshole from the North, but didn’t have to stretch very much with the acting chops here. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi was an interesting character, but kind of seemed like the writers couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with him. He was a bit of an asshole and definitely didn’t have the Chinese’s interests in mind, but he was also pretty respectful of other martial artists. He scolded his deputy for shooting the martial artist that lead to the 10-man ass whooping, and also wanted a fair fight with Ip Man for the last scene of the movie, but then ruined it by telling his deputy to shoot Ip Man if he were to lose. But at least he didn’t stab him in the kidney-ribs before the fight like in Gladiator. I guess I’ll just have to split the difference and call him an honorable asshole.
This movie is currently available to be instantly streamed via Netflix, so I will recommend that anyone with Netflix streaming check this movie out. It’s a decent story with solid performances, but the ass-kicking is top notch and worth the price of admission. If you don’t like martial arts movies, this movie may not have a lot for you, but I’m pretty confident that even you wouldn’t hate it. If you like martial arts movies, how haven’t you seen this shit yet?! You’ll have to wait for their eventual reviews, but there’s also a sequel and a prequel already available for this movie, and I recall both having pretty awesome fight scenes as well. Ip Man gets “I wish to fight ten men” out of “Somebody come clean up your ten men.”
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