In postwar Hong Kong, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man is reluctantly called into action once more, when what begin as simple challenges from rival kung fu styles soon draw him into ... See full summary »
Anthony Chau-Sang Wong,
During the Japanese invasion of 1937, when a wealthy martial artist is forced to leave his home and work to support his family, he reluctantly agrees to train others in the art of Wing Chun for self-defense.
The role of Leung Bik was played by Ip Man's son Ip Chun. See more »
In a scene set in a cinema in 1919, Ip Man and his future wife (Huang Yi) are supposed to be watching Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau's 1922 horror classic. This is clearly impossible, yet the film shown is not Nosferatu anyway. See more »
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 unfitting 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 favor 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.
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