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IP Man, Kung Fu Master

Peter Malone MSC  |  04 November 2020

IP MAN, KUNG FU MASTER, China, 2019. Starring Yu-Hang To, Michael Wong. Directed by Liming Li. 84 minutes. Rated MA (Strong violence)

Ip Man has a hallowed place in Chinese memory. He has a reputation as being a master of Kung Fu, setting up schools in mainland China, later in Hong Kong, clashing with the Japanese presence before World War II, involved in justice after the war. An important part of his reputation is his having Bruce Lee as one of his students.

For audiences wanting to see the life and career of Ip Man, there is a series of four films starring Donnie Yen in the title role, Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Ip Man 3, Ip Man 4, The Finale. (In fact, the star of this film, Yu-Hang To, had supporting roles in some of these films and seems to have been chosen for the present film because of his resemblance to Donnie Yen.)

There have been a number of spin-offs dramatising the story of Ip Man. This is one of those films, contributing to the biography but, especially, to the legend.

The setting is mainland China, the city of Foshan, before World War II. The screenplay is particularly hostile to the Japanese, their presence in China before the war, their superior intentions to incorporate China into the Japanese Empire. Definitely the villains of the drama. In the background are gangs in Foshan itself, especially a militant group, The Axes, who dominate but are opposed to the importation of opium which some of the Japanese support.

Almost immediately, there is a spectacular martial arts battle between Ip Man, surrounded by what seems to be 100 members of The Axes, all with their axes, and led by the daughter of the head of the gang. Intercut with the battle, one against 100 and winning, the audience sees the leader of The Axes playing checkers with another gang leader who is importing the opium. Their moves in the game make commentary on what is happening in the martial arts. A similar device is used later for a fight within Ip Man’s house as his wife is giving birth, intercutting the fight with Ip Man’s attempts to bring hot water to the bathroom.

The film introduces an eccentric character, a drunken man in the street, then in Ip Man’s house, who turns out to be the brother of the Ip Man’s trainer. He is something of a comic character, but more than adept in fighting, becoming involved in the fights, and even becoming a power attacker on the Japanese, a mask, the Black Knight.

There are also complications in the police force, Ip Man resigning, the inauguration of the new chief seems to accommodate to the Japanese. The principal Japanese presence is a bespectacled businessman, seeming respectable but ruthless, especially in his support of the Japanese major, skilled in karate, who is to challenge Ip Man to a fight.

Which means then that the culmination is another spectacular fight, Ip Man and the Japanese, the Japanese soldiers with guns trained on the fighter, but then the turnaround with the arrival of the police.

Obviously, an entertainment, for martial arts enthusiasts.

Rialto
Released 5 November
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuit Media

 

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