When a review copy of the latest release from Variance Films, Ip Man, crossed my desk last month, I sighed. “Another Asian martial arts movie.” Even the name was odd. But then Assistant Editor Janice Jann told me that she had seen it and it was really good. In fact, her cousin was in it, she said.
And not as a kung fu extra, either. Nope — Janice’s cousin was the star, Donnie Yen himself.
Now we had profiled Donnie Yen back in our early days, when Jackie Chan was the go-to man in Hollywood for anything martial arts. Little did most Americans realize that the man behind much of the martial arts stunts and choreography coming out of Hong Kong was Donnie Yen.
Today, Yen is a bona fide martial arts star in this critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning film. Not only did the film break box office records all across Asia, it won Best Film and Best Action Choreography at the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards, and Best Action Choreography at the 46th Golden Horse Film Awards (China’s Oscars). It was so successful, a sequel, Ip Man 2, will release in January 2011.
Directed by Wilson Yip, with choreography by Sammo Hung (remember his CBS series Martial Law, starring Arsenio Hall, in the ’90s?), Ip Man tells the true story of the grandmaster of the Wing Chun school of martial arts and mentor to no other than Bruce Lee himself. In the 1930s, Master Ip (Donnie Yen) has it made — with a beautiful family and a impeccable home in the bustling town of Fo Shan, Ip lives a life of leisure, spending his days honing his Wing Chun martial arts skills.
But when the Japanese invade China in the Sino-Japan war (1937), Ip and the rest of his townsmen are rendered destitute. When the Japanese Colonel Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), fascinated with Chinese martial arts, sees Ip’s skills and tries to force him to teach Wing Chun to his soldiers, Ip must face the most intense challenge to his training, for both the honor of his family and the honor of his country.
While the action sequences are awe-inspiring, even to this non-martial arts fan, it’s the heartbreaking story of a brutal, cruel time that really appealed to this viewer. The muted, sepia’d tone of the latter half of the film starkly contrasted with the brilliant hues and vibrancy of the first half, a clear reflection of the earlier, happier days of Fo Shan.
You can catch the original, uncut and undubbed (with English subtitles) Hong Kong version in New York at The Cinema Village starting tomorrow, Friday, October 1. The film releases nationally thereafter.
For more info, check out www.ipmanmovie-us.com.
Photos courtesy of Well Go USA/Variance Films.