176) Ip Man (2008) Dir: Wilson Yip Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 12th, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5
While it's tempting to say that the increased gimmickiness of the fight scenes in Ip Man, actor/martial arts choreographer Donnie Yen/director Wilson Yip's latest collaboration, are why the film is the most entertaining of their recent work together, that's only partially true. Sure, it's fun to watch Donnie Yen fight a big guy, then ten guys, then a bunch of guys with axes--a lot more fun than the technically impressive but kinda boring fights in SPL and Flash Point, too--but what really makes the film a perfect fit for Yen is the film's nationalistic message.
Set just before World War 2, Ip Man is the story of the titular real-life martial arts master (Yen, of course) that apparently was not only just the best martial artist in a city full of sifus but was also much better than the haughty occupying Japanese soldiers that are of course not nearly as good at kung fu as Yen. By that token, the film has a comic book logic with an obvious plot and a ham-fisted and perhaps even inexplicable message--the fact that the film came out several months after the Beijing Olympics makes me wonder what kind of counter-programmed message it's sending about the competitive nature of the Chinese.
At the same time, that kind of stuffy mandate seems to suit Yen's normally charisma-less style of fighting. The fights here feel like they're choreographed with a dynamism that his onscreen bouts otherwise sorely lack and his character. Also, his character is certainly subdued enough for an actor of such modest talents. Within the realm of contemporary martial arts epics, Ip Man is certainly good enough to keep you rooting for the good guy, especially during the last fight scene, where for a moment, it actually looks like Yen's met his match.