Film is a transcending medium. In spite of language disparities, film is understood. Sadly, there will always be a small disconnect. Subtitles are an annoyance that can’t be ignored, not to mention that one mistranslated portion can significantly alter a message. With that said, the foreign film industry is one that should be respected and investigated. They have something to offer to film the same as anyone else.
The Asian film market is no different. Perhaps its biggest hit, Toho’s Godzilla is the longest continuously running movie franchise. Godzilla was a key component in creating the monster genre that is now popularized today and also demonstrated what at the time were one-of-a-kind special effects from Eiji Tsuburaya.
Other Asian industries have become known for their superb stunt choreography, especially in martial arts films. The Raid films, which I have sadly not seen yet, are examples of recent memory while Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li became Asian superstars many years ago. While stuntwork has become the staple of the Asian market, they’re capable of more than that. Every country’s theatrics are greater than any one aspect.
And so I introduce you to Ip Man.
Centered on the true story of the Kung Fu master that taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man is as much folklore as dramatic fiction, neither of which is problematic. Ip Man is both a character and a cultural icon, shouldering both the weight of his family and of his city. As the region of Foshan is enveloped by the Japanese during World War II, this struggle becomes heavier and widened. Ip Man is the beacon for a lot of people and through all this turmoil, he knows its his duty to stir hope.
This, sadly, is about as dramatic as our main plot is going to get. Director Wilson Yip doesn’t dive into anything more than that, taking a cautious but thorough route with a beloved figure. I imagine he may have been looking at the long-term possibilities here, knowing that trying to say all there was to say about Ip Man in one feature-length film simply wasn’t feasible.
And look, the plot may not be doing much for me, but I enjoy this movie. I really do. Each time I watch this, I gain more respect for it. There is some dramatization at points that takes away from the legitimate lens the camera is shooting with, but it does not erase the natural quality this movie possesses. It’s a finely crafted film from a visual standpoint. It’s just not an overly substantial one. It’s an interesting story because of what we see, not because of what we hear (in this case, read) or feel, at least most of the time. It’s rather basic storytelling presented with exaggeration at points, leaving us little contextual themes or underlying messages to chew on.
Donnie Yen is a more than competent martial artist and actor but his acting repertoire seems to fall by the wayside in favor of the action sequences. While Ip Man is doing an amazing job balancing his struggles, the pendulum of the film moves only one way: those action portraits.
The action novellas are pretty solid. For example, there’s a scene where Ip Man, armed with a feather duster, beats a man with a sword. These fighting sequences take both the stuntwork to execute and the direction to capture and frame them in a smooth rhythm. This process, for the most part, takes a lot of patience on the editing floor and from the actors themselves and so, whenever I see a practical stunt segment like this, I can only grin from the technique being displayed by the crew.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great Wall, Robin Hood, Underworld, The Do-Over, X-Men: Apocalypse)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: Evolution, Batman & Robin, Bloodsport, War, The Ridiculous 6)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to Die, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Ip Man: 76.
Ip Man is a film that shows some of the best of Chinese cinema, but also never hits its full stride, leaving me hopeful for future installments but content with what I have here.