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by Gabriel Chong
| 19 May 2010

It was barely two months ago that Donnie Yen’s Ip Man 2 was released in cinemas here but already another movie about the Wing Chun master is waiting in the wings. We’re talking about the Herman Yau-directed prequel “Ip Man: The Legend is Born”, which incidentally comes from the same producer of the Ip Man series, Checkley Sin. It’s inevitable one asks- is there one too many Ip Man movies?

No, said Grandmaster Ip Chun, who recently swung into town to promote the prequel which he stars in. Don’t let his diminutive frame fool you- the eldest son of Ip Man may be 87 this year but he still is the leader of of the Wing Chun Kuen Martial Arts Association in Hong Kong, the de facto training and certification authority of Wing Chun instructors around the world.

“There are many different sides to Ip Man and each movie basically tells a different story to show off a different side of him,” Ip Chun explained. “For example, the first Ip Man focused on his inner strength in the face of oppression, but audiences didn’t get to see the way he treats his disciples. That was something which the second movie tried to portray.”

This prequel, he said, will tell the story of Ip Man’s younger days- when he was under the tutelage of another legendary kungfu master, Leung Bik. “When Ip Man first wanted to learn kungfu from Leung Bik, he didn’t have money to pay his school fees. But Leung Bik still took him in and taught him kungfu. So this movie is not only about how Ip Man became such a powerful martial arts pugilist, it is also about Leung Bik’s generosity, without which Ip Man wouldn’t be the person he is known for today.”

Another reason why Ip Chun wanted to make this movie- he couldn’t refuse the opportunity to work with three generations of his disciples. Indeed, as Ip Chun reveals, producer Checkley Sin was his own disciple, and Dennis To Yu-Hang (who plays the young Ip Man in this prequel) was Checkley Sin’s disciple, which makes him Ip Chun’s grand-disciple. Ip Chun should be proud- Dennis To is better known as the youngest World Kung Fu champion in Hong Kong.

Taking over from Donnie Yen however was no small feat for Dennis To, as Dennis himself revealed. “Considering how tremendously successful the first two Ip Man movies were, it wasn’t easy stepping into Donnie’s shoes. Given my background, I was confident of doing the fighting scenes- but it was grasping the character that I wasn’t so sure of,” he said. “Luckily, Donnie and Sammo Hung both gave me invaluable advice so I moulded my performance based on their guidance.”

Dennis first came to be involved in the Ip Man movies when he was cast as Sammo Hung’s brash disciple in Ip Man 2. He isn’t the only one from the Ip Man movies to appear in this prequel- besides Dennis, there’s also Sammo Hung and Louis Fan Siu-Wong. Also in town to drum up support for the film, both Dennis To and Louis Fan were keen to emphasize that this prequel offers even more awesome moves from the Wing Chun school of martial arts.

Touted as the most authentic Wing Chun movie, the movie is said to feature never-before-seen moves such as the Eight Slashing Knives and Six and a Half Point Pole. To learn these rare Wing Chun techniques, the cast had to undergo a one-month intensive training with action choreographer Leung Siu-Hung (who also worked on the two earlier Ip Man movies) in Foshan.

In fact, the actual shoot was just as demanding. “We were filming for 12 or 13 hours straight each day and sometimes we started the day as early as six in the morning,” Ip Chun said. Louis added: “Shooting the ending alone took ten days and the whole cast basically worked over the Christmas and New Year weekend just to get the climax right- and I think when you see the movie, you’ll be able to appreciate what we were trying to achieve.”

His co-star, Rose Chan, was quick to share his sentiments. The recent Hong Kong University-graduate made her acting debut in last year’s Poker King and was persuaded by her mentor and the film’s producer, Checkley Sin, to join this production. “Because of the level of realism that we wanted for the film, filming the fight sequences actually hurt quite a bit but I think it was all worth it.”

If anything, the earlier two Ip Man movies have been great publicity for the art of Wing Chun. Ip Chun himself said that the number of people who wanted to learn Wing Chun doubled after the first movie came out. “We had so many students that we even had to turn some away because there was simply no more space to take them in!”

And he isn’t afraid that this prequel and the long-in-gestation Wong Kar-Wai Ip Man movie would be overkill. “On the contrary, I’m confident that Wing Chun’s popularity will continue to grow and prosper for a long time. People may be drawn to learn Wing Chun from what they see in the movies, but once they start learning, they will ultimately realise how powerful it is and I believe this will inspire them for many many years.”
That said, he isn’t too affected by how well the film does at the box office. “That is the job of the producer,” he joked. But he hopes the film will do well. “I don’t think I will act any more after this,” he said. “Filming is tiring especially if you want to make a good film.”

“I believe this film will be just as successful as the earlier two movies. Everyone involved has put a lot of effort into making this movie and people will come to know this once they see it.” And indeed, if this prequel turns out as anywhere as successful as the earlier two starring Donnie Yen, you can be sure that there will be many more Ip Man movies to come.

Ip Man: The Legend Is Born opens in theatres 24 June 2010

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Photos Credit: Festive Films & Gabriel Chong
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