Allow me to be serious for a moment.
Donnie Yen was 45 years old.
Throughout his career, Donnie Yen’s acting has been criticized for consisting of little more than him preening, posing, and more often than not, flexing his way through his films.
Ip Man gave us our first glimpse of a more restrained, more mature Donnie Yen.
Gone were the trademark leaping back-kicks. Gone were the cocky, “bring it on” eyebrows.
Even the cheesy windmill uppercut feints failed to make the cut.
Donnie Yen was 45 and finally ready to act his age.
The result was a gorgeous film that earned 2 awards out of 12 nominations at the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards.
The other went to the production itself, as it just happened to be the award for Best Film.
While much of the film’s success could be attributed to Chinese nationalism (the plot concerns the Japanese occupation of China) and passion for martial arts culture, it’s hard to deny that the film is a solid contribution to the action-drama genre.
Production of Ip Man brought Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung together for the second time in their careers.
The first time was in SPL, where the two would clash onscreen for a climactic battle that, amazingly, matched the intensity of Yen’s alleyway duel with Wu Jing just minutes earlier within the same film. (See “Donnie Yen: Part IV – The Real Donnie Yen”)
This time around however, Hung would serve as fight choreographer, bringing his unerring cinematographic eye and untold years of experience to the production.
The above sequence, from the film in which Sammo Hung directed, choreographed, and co-starred, Wheels on Meals, (the third film to include the Peking Opera Trio of Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao) showcases the first of two epic battles between Jackie Chan, and American kickboxer, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. This sequence is widely regarded as one of the finest sequences in screen fighting history, and is a testament to Mr. Hung’s skills behind the camera.
How’s that for credentials?
Hung’s attention to detail and penchant for injecting his fights with realistic passion and violence made him perfect for the job.
Ip Man gave Hung the opportunity to explore and put on display a number of different martial arts, most notably, Wing Chun.
The simple fact that he was able to convey each of these styles largely through pure physical expression, rather than superfluous exposition, is a testament to Mr. Hung’s skills as a choreographer.
Donnie Yen’s movements as Ip Man clearly reflect the Wing Chun principles of countering and establishing a “line” with one’s opponent.
Mr. Hung managed to communicate all of this through nothing but body language.
It’s interesting to note that, stylistically speaking, Donnie Yen, while versatile and athletic, is not really the first person that came to my mind in casting a master of Wing Chun.
For one thing, Mr. Yen has never studied Wing Chun, and for another, the fighting style he employed in most of his films prior to this is contrary to the principles of Wing Chun in that it utilizes wide, flashy kicks to the head, techniques Wing Chun places little emphasis on.
But that was the old Donnie Yen, not the old Donnie Yen.
As you can plainly see, Mr. Yen managed to get the hang of Wing Chun pretty handily.
Despite this, another challenge for Mr. Yen, and Mr. Hung for that matter, was in staging and planning the choreography in such a way that it matched the tone of every scene.
The sequence above took place at the end of the first half of the film, during which the tone is bright and lively, and the drama is largely restricted to standard genre fare I.E. squabbles between rival martial arts schools and principles.
The sequence below however, takes place midway through the second half of Ip Man, within which the tone, and color palette for that matter, become engulfed with darkness. As a result, the choreography becomes harsher, more violent, and altogether more intense. Even the soundtrack reflects this.
A tip of the hat to Mr. Yen and Mr. Hung… and a pat on the back to all those who may have been injured during the filming of this sequence.
Regardless of how much praise I shower upon it, Ip Man is not a great film.
It is however, a great kung fu movie.
Every cliche and trope you would expect to find in an entry from the genre is present here in some form, and I think that was the point.
Ip Man doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, it merely tries it’s best to give it a spit shine and more importantly, do it with heart.
Sure, the story can be hokie at times.
Sure, the script was largely forgettable.
I’d sooner accept both of those shortcomings in exchange for a decent film with a handful of scenes where Donnie Yen beats people like a fucking drum.
End serious moment.
Well okay, maybe that wasn’t all that serious, but hey, I tried.
Check back for the exciting conclusion to my MASSIVE tribute to Donnie Yen, in “Part VII – Mr. Yen to the Future and Beyond!”