I've been following Wilson Yip since watching Bio-Zombie, which I quite enjoyed. I've never entirely loved one of his movies, however, until Ip Man.
Yip has been working successfully with Donnie Yen for the last few years, and I've been continuing to watch and enjoy their collaborations. But I think Ip Man is finally the culmination.
The movie tells the story of Ip Man, a martial arts teacher most famous for having taught Bruce Lee. It succeeds, where nearly all other biopics fail, by taking a small piece of his life and making this the story.
It starts with Ip as a wealthy man, content to simply study martial arts and occasionally privately duel with others as a test of their skills. He declines various offers to start a school or begin teaching Kung Fu to others.
The core of the story comes after the Japanese invade and Ip is forced to seek work. He is then culled out to spar for the entertainment of a Japanese general. The lessons he learns and the friendships he makes and strengthens eventually carve a new path for him.
Admittedly, a technically better movie would have found more complexity to the Japanese individuals in the movie. Not the Japanese government, mind you. My grandfather fought in the Pacific during World War II, and probably so did many of yours. My sympathies lie easily alongside the Chinese in that conflict. However, I think the imperial and often horrific policies of the Japanese at the time could be opposed as strongly while still allowing the individual characters to have a bit more dimension.
That aside, the movie has a strong heart and Yen gives a wonderful, very charming and humble performance as Ip. It's very close to being a revelation, and I say that as a fan of Yen for a very long time. What ultimately comes out is a very powerful melodrama, in the classic sense, that's very moving and feels like a very heartfelt statement from all involved.
How did I get this far without mentioning the amazing Sammo Hung choreographed Kung Fu sequences, executed beautifully by all concerned, especially by the inordinately talented Donnie Yen? Undoubtedly because the movie is just that huge an embarrassment of riches.
I thoroughly look forward to Ip Man 2, which promises to also have a part for Hung, always an amazing on-screen presence.