The Legend is born: Ip Man

The Legend is born - Ip Man
Made in: China
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin
Director: Herman Yau
Starring: Dennis To, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Rose Chan, Yi Huang, Bernice Liu, Ip Chun, Sammo Hung
Year: 2010

Synopsis: It is the early 20th Century. As a young Wing Chun kung fu disciple, Ip Man (played by Dennis To) and his adopted brother Ip Tin Chi (Fan Siu-Wong) dedicate themselves to preserving the famed martial arts technique that they've grown up with.

As foreign influences enter the country, social and economic uncertainty begins threatening the simple way of life at Ip Man's beloved martial arts school. Traveling to Hong Kong for academic study, Ip Man discovers that not only his daily life, but his entire philosophy towards kung fu, must evolve in order to deal with it all.

The Good: Overall, The Legend is Born - Ip Man is pretty solid. The story moves along at a good pace, and Dennis To brings more warmth and emotion to the role in comparison to Donnie Yen's one-dimensional interpretation of the same character. Although a little melodramatic, the supporting cast also showcases some authentic humanity. They're all pretty likable, too.

There's enough story and tension to keep the viewer interested, and there's a very good balance between meaningful exposition and the much-anticipated kung-fu action. 

It's nice to see Sammo Hung in a small role, and the appearance of Ip Chun, who is the son of the real Ip Man, is a very nice touch.

The Bad: The fight choreography isn't quite as slick as it is in other martial arts movies, and some of the stunt work involving wires is a bit sloppy. Also, the big revelation about Ip Man's brother feels a little contrived, and could have been built up more.

Who would like this film: The Legend is born - Ip Man, is geared towards fans of martial arts movies. In terms of story, it contains most of the familiar themes of other classic period piece kung fu flicks, such as: 

- Japanese and British people portrayed as villains

- Chinese patriotism

- A peace-loving kung fu expert who's only forced to fight

- The hero gets framed

- Someone close to the protagonist commits some heinous act of betrayal. 

Yes, this film is arguably formulaic for the genre, but it's done very well. For martial arts movie fans, parts of this flick might make you think that some of the major plot points were cribbed from Bruce Lee's The Chinese Connection.

Action sequences/stunt work are very good, but not quite as mind-blowing as other martial arts movies you might have seen. Clever editing hides most of the flaws, but it's pretty clear that much of the main cast are actors first and foremost, rather than martial artists (which is not entirely a bad thing).

I'm not sure how historically accurate the movie is, but cinematically, I'd say it's an overall success.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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