Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Legend is Born: Ip Man


Directed by: Herman Yau
Screenplay: Erica Lee
Starring: Yu-Hang To, Bernice Liu, Yuen Biao, Ip Chun

While it will always be compared and no doubt less favoured to (and seen as a quick grab cash in) Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip's recent Ip Man and Ip Man 2, The Legend is Born is a surprisingly worthy addition to the recent Ip Man movie craze, works as a sort of prequel to Yen's films and is a cracking martial arts film. Helmed by one time category III bad boy (and cinematographer of such Hong Kong hits as Time & Tide and Fatal Contact) Herman Yau, The Legend is Born is no cheap knock off. While it may not be historically accurate, the film has been made with care and skill to not only tell a good story but deliver frequent bouts of impressive martial arts action.

Essaying the early years of Wing Chun practitioner Ip Man, the film is set before the events in either of Donnie Yen's films. We see Ip Man as a child being sent to learn Wing Chun at a prestigious school before growing into a teenager, leaving for Hong Kong to educate himself, learn and develop Wing Chun from other masters he encounters on his journeys and have his first experiences of love. Along the way he develops and progresses the art of Wing Chun into his own style much to the irk of his original master. The invading Japanese are an ever threat and Ip Man must face the biggest battle of his young life in the form of traitors who hit a little too close to home and which inevitably leads to an epic multi fight showdown.

While we may not have needed yet another film to fill in every fact/event/fight of Ip Man's life, The Legend is Born is simply just a great martial arts film. Well made and refreshingly uncomplicated and unpretentious in its storytelling style, it evokes an old school approach to the narrative with plenty of character moments bolstered by frequent bouts of fighting action. The action is of a particular high standard, the fights fluid, crisp and intricate, with talented fighters going one-on-one with each other to gratifying effect. Wirework is kept to a minimum to simply enhance some fights and care and skill has been applied to craft exhilarating and exciting fights. Ip Man's tussle in a market early on and the multi-fight smack-down are the highlights, the choreography always creative and going for maximum impact. The big end showdown features Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao (who gets a welcome amount of screen fighting time here) taking on a group of ninja clad intruders before Ip Man himself finishes them off with a staff before taking out one of his main adversaries in a wicked one-on-one fight to the finish.

Leading man To Yu-Hang certainly cuts it in the fight scenes and as a younger Ip Man holding his own against Donnie Yen's interpretation and it's always great to see the likes of Yuen Biao back on the screen, kicking ass. There's also an extended cameo from Sammo Hung (who seems to have to be in every Ip Man film going!) with he and Biao getting a brief but cool little fight scene. The eldest son of the real life Ip Man also makes an appearance as one of the Wing Chun masters who helps to train his father and the action is expertly coordinated by Kuang Hsiung (Bloodmoon, Drunken Master 2).

While Yen's versions still may be the superior films, The Legend is Born is no slouch, an entertaining watch and if you are in the mood for just a decent, well made, action soaked martial arts film, then this more than fits the bill. Entertaining stuff.

1 comment:

dave_or_did said...

We're bang on the same page here. I really enjoyed it as an old-school kung-fu film too. It's hardly Citizen Kane, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.