In Mandarin with Chinese and English Subtitles
Genre: Action/Martial Arts/Biography
Director: Herman Yau
Cast: Dennis To Yu Hang, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao,
Fan Siu-wong, Rose Chan, Hung Tin Chiu, Xu Jiao, Lam Suet, Huang
Yi, Ip Chun
RunTime: 1 hr 40 mins
Released By: Festive Films and Cathay-Keris
Rating: PG (Fighting Scenes)
Opening Day: 24 June 2010
is a semi-biographical account concentrating on the childhood
and teenage hood of IP Man, the first martial arts master
to teach the Chinese martial arts Wing Chun. From this period
of his life you could find out how IP has finally turned to
such a famed icon of this martial art. Indeed this folk hero
was under huge influences from his 2 kung fu masters CHAN
Wah-shun and LEUNG Pik when back to his junior age. Therefore
their master-disciple relation takes up quite a significant
portion in this movie. Another person that we shouldn’t
miss out when we talk about IP Man is his step-brother IP
Tin-chi, who’s discovered by IP Man that he’s
an undercover assassin sent by the Japanese army.
is the idea of SIN, the producer of IP MAN series, to shoot
this prequel so he could go into the essence of this Chinese
kung fu. To SIN and LEUNG’s credit, they have intricately
designed some of the most varied martial arts sequences in
the movie to show some rarely seen Wing Chun techniques, e.g.
leg work and wrestling. If you are hungry for more vivid and
vigorous actions, the must-see scenes are the several combat
between real-life professionals competing in Wing Chun with
different kinds of martial arts, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,
Producer Checkley Sin had long wanted to make a movie about Ip Man, but it wasn't until he met veteran producer Raymond Wong that his plans came to fruition. Raymond brought on board undeniably the two most crucial elements that made Ip Man and Ip Man 2 such resounding successes- lead star Donnie Yen and action director Sammo Hung. With newfound interest in the subject and his newfound credibility, the real-life Wing Chun practitioner and disciple of Ip Chun (eldest son of Ip Man) has finally been able to make his own movie about Ip Man- without for that matter, Donnie or Raymond.
"Ip Man: The Legend is Born" takes place before the first Ip Man movie and chronicles the younger days of the Wing Chun pugilist. From a young age, Ip Man was already learning Wing Chun from Chan Wah-Shun (played by Sammo Hung), and then subsequently from Leung Bik (played by Ip Chun) when his father sent him to Hong Kong?s St Stephen's College to study. Unlike the first two movies which arguably took some creative liberties with Ip Man's story, this prequel tries to be a more accurate biography of the life of the Grandmaster.
I say more accurate because audiences should know that though this film takes itself very seriously, sometimes too seriously, as a biography of Ip Man, it is only a semi-biography. Those familiar with Ip Man's history will immediately know that he had no adopted brother by the name of Ip Tin- Chi (played by Louis Fan Siu-Wong) and by extension, no romantic triangle with Tin-Chi and a fellow disciple (Rose Chan). Why these characters were added into the film becomes clear only much later- but this also ultimately proves to be its undoing.
For almost two-thirds of the film, director Herman Yau sets up an interesting premise about the rivalry between descendant schools of the same martial arts form. Leung Bik was in fact Chan Wah-Shun?s elder fellow-disciple, and son of Wah-Shun's master Leung Jan. When Ip Man returns to Foshan after learning a modified form of Wing Chun from Leung Bik, Brother Chung Sok (Yuen Biao) who is in charge of the Wing Chun school after Wah-Shun's passing objects to Ip Man?s new techniques and declares those movies unbefitting to be called Wing Chun.
The opposition among different schools of Wing Chun is no doubt an interesting and in fact prescient topic to explore, considering how the number of Wing Chun schools would have increased dramatically in recent years following the success of the Ip Man movies. How many of them can claim to be teaching authentic Wing Chun? Have the techniques been modified over the years? Does any form of refinements in fact dilute their essence? Despite a promising discourse on the subject between Chung Sok and Ip Man, screenwriter Erica Li abruptly casts the matter aside in favour of more dramatic tension by way of Ip Man and Ip Man 2.
Ah yes, both Ip Man and its sequel advocated a strong sense of nationalistic pride for the Chinese as Ip Man fought against the Japanese in the first movie and the 'gwai-los' in the sequel. The threat of the Japanese is once again revived in this prequel- which accounts for the sudden change in tone in the last third of the film- as someone close to Ip Man turns out to be more than meets the eye. Yes, the filmmakers have tried to work in a twist at the end, but it is not only rushed, it is also unconvincing.
It doesn?t help that the climax is only barely more interesting than the rest of the unspectacular fight sequences in the movie. Though the film tries to showcase some rarely before seen Wing Chun techniques, these are lost amidst a bland performance by Dennis To. He may bear the physical resemblance to Donnie Yen, but Dennis lacks Donnie's screen charisma and acting prowess. Obviously imitating Donnie's understated performance as Ip Man, Dennis takes it one step too far by not injecting enough emotion especially in the fight sequences. Sure Dennis can fight, but by playing it too low-key, one never gets the sense that Ip Man is in any sort of real trouble.
But really, the fault isn't with Dennis since neither director Herman Yau, screenwriter Erica Li nor of course producer Checkley Sin seem adventurous enough to move out of the shadow cast by the earlier two Ip Man movies. So the cast remains largely similar (except for swapping of roles), the theme remains largely similar and Dennis tries to portray similarly Donnie Yen's performance as Ip Man. That's a shame- given that there is much wasted potential here that could have been used to take this prequel in a bold new direction away from the earlier films. This prequel could very well have taken a leaf from its own advice from Ip Man to Chung Sok- without change, how can there be progress? Indeed, how true.
(Donnie Yen is not in this movie- and a wise choice he has made to stay out of this disappointing retread of the earlier two superior Ip Man movies that boasts little of the thrill nor appeal of its predecessors)
Review by Gabriel Chong