Friday, July 17, 2009

Fantasia 2009: Ip Man

I saw Ip Man during the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal and the film is not Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. First of all, it may not please people who watches martial art films the same way others watch porn films. Nevertheless, it remains a film that can be taken seriously. In fact, unlike many Thai martial art flicks, Ip Man is a sign that Hong Kong and China strive to make character-driven martial art films.

In the 1930s, the city of Foshan in China is known for harbouring many martial arts experts and Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is one of them. Unlike many, he has never felt like opening a kung fu school despite being an accomplished expert in wing chun kung fu. However, by 1937, Japan invades China and Ip Man works as a coolie in a coal mine since his family got the house taken by the Japanese - who are using it as their HQ - and its wealth lost.

Obviously, General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), who is in charge of the Japanese army in Foshan, is a martial arts enthusiast. This is why he organizes a fighting tournament that pits Chinese fighters against his Karate military trainees. Although he was reluctant to get in the tournament Ip Man decides to take part in it. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity to defend Chinese pride in the face of the Japanese occupation.

Honestly, Ip Man may look like one of those biographical films you've seen. However, in the Chinese context, Ip Man can be seen as a rather good film. Although the film does show how Chinese people were mistreated by the Japanese army in a way that seems too familiar, it avoids canvassing vulgar caricatures. By doing so, the film focuses - despite having its pace broken at times - on the Chinese people's resistance through their display of skills in martial arts in order to unite in their resistance against the Japanese, which is another topic that leaves a "been there, done that" feeling in your mouth.

However, one evidence leaps to our eyes: it's the best film from Donnie Yen mostly because of the well-chosen cast's performance. From Simon Yam, as Ip Man's best friend (Zhou Qing Qan), to Lam Ka-Tung, as a nationalist policeman (Li Zhao) who has no choice to become a translator in order to earn his bread, the cast shows quite well the respect that Ip Man inspired in Foshan. Of course, when the film doesn't deal with Ip Man's resistance against the Japanese, it also deals with his negligence towards his son, which dismayed his wife.

Finally, the film is certainly a recommended ride for you if you're a fan of Donnie Yen. On another note, Ip Man also shows that these days, the world will need martial art actors who like to showcase their fighting skills as much as their desire to make ambitious movies. Needless to say that Donnie Yen is one of these actors and that Hollywood should consider making martial art films that has substance.

Rating: 4/5

Origin:Hong Kong (2008)
Length:106 minutes
Genre:Historic drama
Screenplay:Edward Wong
Director:Wilson Yip
Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lam Ka-Tung and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi

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