One of the most astonishing displays of martial arts action on film in recent years, Wilson Yip's Ip Man
chronicles the life of the eponymous Wing Chun master (Donnie Yen), who would later become instructor and mentor to Bruce Lee. Fans of Ronny Yu's Fearless
, with Jet Li, will notice several similarities between the biopics--like Li's Huo Yuanjia, Ip Man is a tireless instructor whose life, largely consisting of training and jaw-dropping spar sessions with any and all, is thrown into chaos with the arrival of Japanese military forces in 1937. He soon draws the interest of the commanding Japanese colonel (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), who exploits the starving locals by forcing them against his trainees for bags of rice. Ip must then pit his extraordinary Wing Chun against the colonel's karate for his own dignity, as well as the soul of his people.
Were Yip's film simply a series of set pieces featuring Yen's incredible fighting skills, Ip Man would rank among the best martial arts films of the past three decades; the fight choreography, by Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu-hung (with consultation by Ip's own son, Ip Chun), offers the same sort of eye-popping, rewind-required fist and footwork that Ip's disciple, Bruce Lee, inspired in the '70s, and Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Tony Jaa displayed in subsequent years; a battle between Ip and 10 black belts, in particular, requires multiple views to absorb the speed and deftness on display. But Ip Man also succeeds as a historical drama inspired by the harsh realities of the Japanese occupation of mainland China, as well as an acting showcase for Yen, who embodies Ip's formidable physical and emotional strengths.. --Paul Gaita