Fight Film Friday: The Legend is Born – Ip Man

Posted: February 11, 2011 in fight film friday
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Yip Man Chin Chyun
“The Legend is Born – Ip Man”
Hong Kong, 2010
Genre: Action, Historical
100 minutes

Newcomer Dennis To stars as a young Ip Man, studying Wing Chun as he strives to find his own place in the martial arts world.

In what can be considered a spiritual prequel to Donnie Yen’s Ip Man franchise, director Herman Yau explores the late grandmaster’s early life as a student under Ng Chung-sok, played by Yuen Biao, and Leung Bik, played by Ip Chun. Riding the wave of popularity from the previous films, Yau even brings in actors from Wilson Yip’s vision to his own movie, namely Sammo Hung and Louis Fan, playing new roles and attached for name value. I have the feeling even Dennis To was cast only for his uncanny resemblance to Donnie Yen. Underhanded marketing aside, Yau’s film is a fairly mediocre piece of work. It’s shot well enough, but is plagued by cheap editing tricks that seem more at home on a soap opera than a feature film (more on this later). Aside from that, it’s a fairly typical Hong Kong period piece, focused on the mingling of East and West cultures during the 1920s. It’s not particularly outstanding, but it gets the job done.

It feels apt to call the film like a condensed soap opera, because the writing feels exactly like that. With the overly complicated plot and series of unrequited romances, it always feels one step away from a dramatic cliffhanger moment. Dennis To is unsurprisingly bland for his first lead role, but Louis Fan makes the most of his time in the spotlight. To be honest, his part as Ip Man’s brother Tin Chi had the much better story and character, and the film really should have been about him instead. It’s worth a mention that he did seem a bit too old for the part, and the amount of make up used can be a little distracting. Everyone else turns in pretty decent performances, even the guest appearance of Ip Chun, Ip Man’s own son, as Leung Bik. The dialogue is cheesy and the story is weak, but everything feels like it comes together on the same level, thanks for the most part to the interesting characters. The nationalist sentiment seems less pronounced compared to Yip’s movies, but the obligatory Japanese villains are still there for cannon fodder. It’s not a particularly deep film, but for an obviously channeled work like this one it’s to be expected.

Kuang Hsiung’s work as action director was immediately impressive. Incorporating a variety of styles and really tapping into the emotions of every encounter, his fight scenes bring a fresh feel to Hong Kong cinema. With some solid choreography and even better filming, Hsiung’s fights are great fun to watch. The cast’s performances are strong in every scene, with a nod to Dennis To, who actually has some legitimate Wing Chun skills to demonstrate, as opposed to learning the style just for the film. The rest of the movie isn’t particularly engaging or extraordinary, but it is an entertaining piece of work, and everyone does a pretty good job with the script they were handed. As long as you don’t think about it too hard, The Legend is Born – Ip Man deserves to be given a chance.

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