HONG KONG 2010 Directed by: Herman Yau Written by: Erica Lee Produced by: Sin Kwok-Lam Cinematography: Chan Kwong-Hung Music: Chun Hung Mak Starring: Dennis To, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Fan Siu-Wong, Huang Yi, Tin Chiu Hung, Lam Suet, Bernice Liu, Andy Taylor, Yu-Hang To, Jiao Xu
THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN is another film about the late master of Wing Chun and a quasi-prequel to Raymond Wong’s IP MAN movies, starting from Ip Man’s childhood and covering all the years up to his marriage. THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN is a bit like a time travel, reflecting the life, politics and style of decades long gone. Sometimes looking like a classic Hong Kong movie from the early 60’s, sometimes like a Bruce Lee film from the 70s, sometimes like a History Channel episode, LEGEND is diverse and colorful and offers much more than just artistic martial arts.
This coming from Herman Yau, one of the kings of CAT III (TAXI HUNTER, THE UNTOLD STORY, EBOLA SYNDROME) is a surprise. If anything I would have expected LEGEND to be a fatuitous martial arts movie, borrowing fame and glory from the man who is a legend. But things are different this time: not only has the movie been authorized by Man’s family, not only is Ip Man’s son Ip Chun one of the co-stars, THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN is a multidimensional film dealing with Ip Man’s personal life as much with his martial arts skills.
LEGEND may take some liberties with the historic facts, but that was no different with the IP MAN films. As the movie is not a history lesson I think it goes as far as possible without compromising its entertainment qualities. It dramatizes Ip Man’s life and times pretty well and paints an interesting picture of the man who would become Bruce Lee’s master.
Overall LEGEND seems to have a faster pace than the IP MAN movies, featuring more fights on various occasions. The fight choreography is less detailed than Donnie Yen’s action sequences, plus Donnie Yen is missing, which results in the action standards being slightly below IP MAN (unless the formidable Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung enter the ring; with Hung starring in both IP MAN 2 and LEGEND I wonder if the audience can really always differentiate between the movies). Also, the acting is less serious at times and you will notice more cliché expressions on the actor’s faces (like “surprise”, “anger”, “pain”), just as much as certain scenes are gearing more towards overly fancy – or humorous – choreography, quite different from IP MAN’s bare-bones approach.
But that doesn’t mean that THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN is necessarily inferior to IP MAN 1 & 2. To be fair I’d say that LEGEND is different, with some details being less refined, but overall it comes down to taste, especially as there are many who have not been convinced by the previous IP MAN entries.
If you were hoping for a less biased or racist attitude you’ll be disappointed though. If there’s one thing all movies have in common it’s their expressively anti-Japanese and sometimes anti-Western thinking, their simple classification into black and white and their willingness to act as a political vehicle confirming, and broadcasting, all kinds of prejudices.
If you care more about the story and its execution THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN is another good effort to bring the martial arts legend to the silver screen. Now all that’s missing is Wong Kar-Wai’s interpretation of the IP MAN story, then we can finally come up with a solid ranking.