Big Jim Review: Ip Man

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I love me a good kung-fu movie. There is nothing quite like it. Think about it. I mean, honestly, what is missing there. You get some bad asses doing some bad ass stuff you can’t do. They are stronger, faster, and more skilled. It’s voyeurism at its finest.

As much as I love them there are very few, VERY few, that I would consider great films. Yes they are fun and a good diversion, but great?

That is why when I come across something that is truly great from this genre I feel like I’ve found some magic thing that I get to tell the world about.

Such is the case with “Ip Man.”

Ip Man is an actual martial arts master; know for being the first person to teach Wing Chun as a formal discipline. But he is most famous for training this guy…

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Maybe you’ve heard of him?

This film begins in a typical martial arts fashion. We are introduced to the city of Foshan, which at the time was the hub of southern Chinese martial arts. There are many, many schools and the practice of kung fu is a way of life. Ip Man is an independently wealthy man who is content to spend his days meeting with friends and practicing his art by himself.

There are a few very nicely done fight sequences here that show the masters control of his art as well as his respect for those with whom he practices. When a local man who is opening a school wishes to duel with Man, he obliges. When he wins handily, he agrees to keep the duel private. That is the key to the character of Ip. He is an absolute master, but he doesn’t need to have his mastery acknowledged by others; it is enough for him to know.

Even when he comes to rescue the towns honor by defeating a northern man bent on proving his superior talent by defeating every master in town, Ip keeps his duel private.

His idyllic world is shattered with the coming of the Second Sino-Chinese War, and the Japanese occupation of his town. His wealth lost, his family home confiscated, and all hope lost he maintains a quiet dignity until he is forced to fight by the occupying General.

I don’t want to spoil any plot points, but you are dealing with a fairly formulaic movie. What makes this movie special is how it breaks from the formula. Ip is not the stoic, solitary master who refuses to use his skill to defend his town. He is, in fact, quite the opposite. He is a man who wants to provide for his family, but understands that he cannot turn his back on the suffering of his community. Nor is he the peaceful man who reluctantly goes to fight when he needs to. When the need arises, he rises to the occasion and is not averse to breaking someone’s ass apart, and handing them the shattered pieces.

This film is an odd mix of gentle and brutal and it owes that balance to the phenomenal performance of Donnie Yen as Ip Man. Yen, most known for his roles in “Iron Monkey,” and “Hero” (but who should be known for the awesomely titled "Fist That Topples Heaven and Earth,” I must hand it to Hong Kong, they got us beat to hell and back when it comes to amazing titles), as well as many stunt man/fight choreographer credits is remarkable in his portrayal. He is both passive and aggressive at the same time. This is a man who just wants to achieve perfection in his art regardless of if he gets to use it or not. He is a kind man, but he will, with purpose, wreck the shit of any fool whose shit is in need of wrecking.

The fight scenes are some of the finest I've ever seen. The distinction between sparring, where Ip is not trying to hurt but rather to help train the other fighter, and the hard combat, where he is trying to dish out some hurting is very clear and plays quite well. They are shot so that you can actually see what is going on, and each one is given some form of weight.

I could go on with positives for days. It looks amazing, the acting and relationships are wonderful, the lead character is absolutely riveting, the bad guy is not so over the top as to be unrealistic, and the tension builds at a brilliant pace. Oh, and Sammo Hung does the fight choreography, so there really isn't much more to say there.

You do not need to be a fan of martial arts movies to like this. Like "Crouching Tiger" it works even without the fight scenes, the fight scenes just add to it. It isn't a good kung fu movie, it's a good movie with kung fu in it. Do yourself a favor and check it out.



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