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 – the man who trained the legendary Bruce Lee. (So I finally understood the comparison!) It was a fascinating story – with incomparable fight scenes – set against the Second Sino-Japanese War. It starred Donnie Yen as Ip Man, and, to date, it spawned one sequel which also starred Yen, but now “the legend is born” again in IP MAN: THE LEGEND IS BORN with newcomer Dennis To taking the central role as a much younger Ip.
(For the record, it’s worth noting that the first IP MAN was nominated for 12 awards at the 28thHong Kong Film Awards, so, yes, it’s quite good, fighting and all.)
LEGEND revisits Ip Man’s story by transporting the viewers back to the man’s youth. This new installment follows the young man as he begins to understand his fighting prowess. In a town ripe with political corruption, the younger Ip Man sees all that he stands for threatened, so he stands up alone against these local ‘forces of evil’ to protect his temple and his honor. While this earlier film only hints at the charged political situation between Japan and China that takes center seat in IP MAN and (I’m told) IP MAN 2, I can say with some assurance that you needn’t have to see the earlier films to appreciate the story here; there’s enough background provided so that LEGEND can be a comfortable ‘jumping on’ point for anyone.
However, that’s perhaps what I missed between the first IP MAN and this reborn LEGEND. The first film had a clear villain for the grandmaster’s conflict. When the audience understands the source of the conflict, it’s much easier to appreciate how the narrative unfolds. Ip’s “adversary” isn’t as clear in this film, and, at times, I found that a bit of a distraction. It’s a much different story – one without as direct a requirement to showcase the man’s fighting philosophy and skills. That doesn’t make it a “lesser” picture in any measure; it’s just that some of the “history” felt a bit more dramatically contrived than perhaps it was based on the circumstances of Ip’s later life.
Sure, there’s fighting, but one of the fight scenes (a racist Westerner insults Ip Man at a field hockey match) feels inauthentic, though it very well may’ve happened. There’s a bit of love triange – almost a quadrangle, if you will – but it gets resolved a bit too predictably and formulaically, a sin to many period-based romances, to seem fully legitimate. When the film’s true adversary is hidden – I don’t want to reveal much because I think it fairly “spoilerish”, suffice it to say that spies of a certain nature are definitely involved – it’s sometimes unclear who Ip Man’s real allies are here. Thankfully, it’s still told with much of the same flair as Donnie Yen’s earlier contributions, and newcomer To almost seamlessly steps into these younger shoes with similar styling and physical charisma to the central role. In fact, it’s amazing and refreshing to see such physical grace onscreen these days when so much of the filmmaking process has been reduced to post-production special effects.
The picture quality is excellent, the choreography is mind-blowingly incredible, and the production detail is superb. The disc comes with a “making of” feature that could’ve benefitted from greater direction, but that’s a small quibble. What’s real movie magic here is the story – the exploration of a key figure in the mastery of Wing Chun against the backdrop of history – and the film certainly succeeds on that level.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the film folks at FUNimation provided me with a copy of the DVD for the purposes of completing this review.
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 … more
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.