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Bruce Lee's Teacher: His Beginnings According to Director Herman Yau

  • Dec 12, 2011
This is a review of the original Chinese version before the film was re-titled “Ip Man 3: The Legend is Born” for the consumption of international audiences. It was promoted to capitalize on the popularity of the Wilson Yip-Donnie Yen films “Ip Man” and “Ip Man 2”, but it was soon restored to its original title thankfully in the U.S.. This film is originally called “The Legend is Born: Ip Man” and is totally unrelated to the films starring Donnie Yen; this time, Ip Man is played by Dennis To Yu-Hang, with Kung Fu film legends Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao providing some screen support. It also helps that the real Ip Man’s brother Ip Chun gives a hand in giving the film some credibility.

Let’s be honest, Wilson Yip made Bruce Lee’s teacher a very marketable character with his movies and so while I cannot deny that this film is another money-making scheme to capitalize on the celebrated master’s emergence as a Chinese fictional folk hero, this time with director Herman Yau in the helm as director. Besides being in fact Bruce Lee’s teacher, the filmmakers seemed adamant in creating another character much in the vein of Huo Yuan Jia and Wong Fei-Hung out of Ip Man.

This time around, we get to witness some details about Man’s childhood, as he is taught Wing Chun by Master Chan (Sammo Hung) at an early age with childhood friend Mei Wai (played by Xu Jiao as a kid and then by Rose Chan as an adult) and his adopted brother Tin Chi (later to be played by Fan Siu-Wong). Brother Ching So (Yuen Biao) soon takes over his teachings as Ip Man migrates to Hong Kong for studies in Western culture. There, Man becomes a student for another innovative Wing Chun master named Heung Bik (played by Ip Man’s real life son, Ip Chun) and under his tutelage, Ip Man becomes a much more improved martial artist.

Upon his return to his native Fo Shan, Ip Man is met with some misgivings as he had learned from another master, and has finally found his feelings for a woman called Wing-Shing (Crystal Huang Yi). But it seems like that would be the least of his troubles as the Japanese are attempting to establish their power in China. Now, Ip Man must learn what it really means to fight for something, as he realizes that he is caught in a web of deceit that involves those close to him….

Not really sure how I feel about the plot. I saw several elements borrowed from films such as “Fearless” and even “Fist of Legend”. All I know about Ip Man is that he was indeed asked to teach the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war, and I guess the filmmakers needed to add as much fiction to the story as possible. Herman Yau does show his competency as director; he manages to keep the pace moving despite some devices and a subplot that I deemed unnecessary. It wasn’t as much as the story was bad, but it felt rather contrived, and seems to concentrate on ‘flag-waving’ and fan service rather than building on the character of Ip Man. There is some minor racism here (but not enough to bother viewers) to justify Ip Man's actions against the foreigners.

I mean, the story is believable on many areas, I can buy into the “love thing” between Tin Chi, Mei Wai and Ip Man, and then, Yau manages to inject some charming elements between Mei Wai, Wing-Shing and Ip Man albeit it all felt juvenile. I suppose the film wanted the action scenes to drive the story, and most of the film is about Ip Man proving that the Chinese is no pushover by fighting foreigners. This point in the script began to wear thin after awhile, but I suppose the Japanese conspiracy led by characters played by Kenya Sawada and Bernice Liu) that played as the film’s core especially in the second half can drive most of the film’s action sequences, which made the film a passable and entertaining watch even if it was a little too familiar. The plotting (by Erica Lee) in “Legend is Born” is pretty simple and has little ambition, but thanks to Herman Yau, the film is pretty entertaining and passable.

I guess one isn’t exactly here to see a real biopic, viewers of this film is here for the action and the film does not disappoint. I did like Ip Man’s development from a skilled student into a true master, as a lesson in martial arts is shared. One needs to be open and develop their skills, even if it means putting tradition and ‘authenticity’ aside. The fights are well-shot, with the camera hanging back occasionally to show the moves and then to express the emotion and the power, it zooms in. Chinese filmmakers have always been innovative in the practice of these films, and this one is no different. Some wires were used, but not to the point of looking ‘fake’, but rather to express impact. Dennis To may not have the look of a highly-skilled fighter but I guess this is why the film worked. It makes his character more vulnerable due to his youthful features. He is no Donnie Yen though, since he does look awkward in some of the fight scenes.

Herman Yau also does a great job in re-creating this period on China, as the set designs and costumes have that look of authenticity. I really felt that I was in China, and I really liked the way he made things flow. It is also nice to see the film play in Bi-lingual in Japanese and Cantonese languages, as it helps with realism. I just wished that the Japanese group were better developed, as it seemed like they were reduced to assassins and ninjas.

I suppose “Legend is Born” isn’t exactly a bad movie, but rather a very familiar one especially if you’ve seen the more recent martial arts films. I guess “Legend is Born” is better than “Ip Man 2” in many levels but it is way less dramatic and exciting than “Ip Man”. I suppose the definitive film about Master Ip is still in the horizon. Nonetheless, “Legend is Born” is a decent martial arts film, if you aren’t expecting much.

Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

 this is a must-see, featuring Ip Chun as Leung Bik.


Bruce Lee's Teacher: His Beginnings According to Director Herman Yau Bruce Lee's Teacher: His Beginnings According to Director Herman Yau Bruce Lee's Teacher: His Beginnings According to Director Herman Yau

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December 12, 2011
Excellent review WP, I have to see this since I liked the other 2.
December 13, 2011
The U.S. release is today. Please see it and review it so I won't be alone..
December 12, 2011
Great review and many action pictures are included.
December 12, 2011
thanks for the read once again. Have you joined out Asian cinema community? If you haven't please join us here!
More The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (20... reviews
review by . December 30, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
True story:      I was first put on to the whole Ip Man series by an online friend who told me that I absolutely had to see the films because “they’re like a cross between SCHINDLER’S LIST and ENTER THE DRAGON!”  While I found the comparison more than a little off-kilter, I did see the first film, simply titled IP MAN.  It was released in 2008, and it told the story of Yip Man, a grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts and – as I learned …
Quick Tip by . December 16, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
Unrelated to Wilson Yip's Ip Man films starring Donnie Yen, director Herman Yau takes on a different approach in the creation of a fictional Chinese folk hero by reshaping the life of Master Ip, the man who would become Bruce Lee's teacher.      See Full Review here.                  
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William ()
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Please "Like" Film and Movies and Keep the Economy strong....LOL!!      My Interests: Movies, Anime, History, Martial Arts, Comics, Entertainment,Cooking, Things I don't … more
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