Ip Man (2008): Donnie Yen’s Masterful Performance


It is not often that a film benefits from having not just one legend, but two associated with it. Ip Man has two. Starring the legendary Donnie Yen in what is quite possibly his best role ever and featuring choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung. (Who when asked how he was going to work with Yen to direct the action scenes, Hung replied matter-of-factly, “With my mouth.”) *Wikipedia* 

Both men are well-known for their fight choreography with Sammo nudging Donnie out by sheer number of years that he’s been practising his craft.

Directed with past Yen collaborator  Wilson Yip, Ip Man is the “true story” of Yip Man grandmaster of Wing Chun and master of film legend Bruce Lee. Touted as being semi-biographcal, the film is pretty liberal with the “truth” as things of this nature tend to be. While the rudimentary facts may be correct a lot of things were added to make the film more entertaining.

Despite this frugality with the real facts, the film is a powerful one. The recreation of Foshan in Shanghai looks so authentic you feel as if the film company had really gone back in time to shoot the scenes.

Some complaints were raised about Ip Man’s house being incorrect and that he never shovelled coal during the occupation and the facts of his move to Hong Kong are misleading. But as the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says, “print the legend.” Or in this case, make it up.

Yen is stunning as the placid, peace-loving martial artist who won’t give lessons and spars with the local masters privately in order to save them the public embarrassment of being beaten.

At one point, he has to take on a usurper from outside the town. This ruffian fights his way through all the Foshan martial art instructors until only Ip Man is left. Going to his home, the outsider brings what looks like the members of every school in the town to watch him beat Ip Man.

Everyone in Foshan knows that Ip Man will be victorious and he is.

Everything changes in 1937 when the Japanese invade China and this is where majority of the drama and tension come into the film.

The legendary Sammo Hung.
The legendary Sammo Hung.

The fight scenes are exciting, original, and furious. The Wing Chun style is breathtaking to watch and the other martial arts battles are impressive as well.

The entire cadre of actors in the film sold their characters and I spotted quite a few familiar faces in it.

My only complaint was that in some instances parts of the story were a bit “over the top” so that it almost felt like a “kitchen sink” drama instead of a biopic. But theatricality aside the film looks, overall, fantastic and I got caught up with the characters and the “true” story completely.

A real 5 out of 5 stars for a film that had me munching my popcorn furiously throughout. I’m now going to “watch’ my way through the rest of the films in this four film series.

Even if you don’t love martial arts films the story of Yip Man could turn you into a fan.

The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.
The real Ip Man (Yip Man) and a young Bruce Lee.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

22 thoughts on “Ip Man (2008): Donnie Yen’s Masterful Performance”

  1. I’m not much of a fan of martial arts movies, but I am a fan of the martial arts, so for me it really is all about the choreography. They never have much in the way of plots anyhow … but sometimes so beautiful to watch.


    1. Sammo Hung has done a wonderful job on the choreography for this film (and the second one) for once it really does look like Kung Fu should, at least Wing Chun!


  2. Great review Mike! I loved this film when I saw it for the first time a few years ago. My mate recommended it to me because I’m a massive fan of martial arts films but I’m very hard to impress because I’m very picky when it comes to choreography, but this film delivered some oft he coolest, tightest and well-executed fight choreography I’d ever seen. It was also wonderfully filmed so you could see everything, it’s ridiculously badass. I never knew the choreography was done by Sammo Hung, that explains a lot. Him and Jackie Chan are my favourite men when it comes to fighting choreography. I should really watch this film again. 🙂


  3. Nice review Mr. Smith! I loved the action in this movie and it actually made me interested in studying wing chun haha. This makes me want to rewatch the movie again haha.



  4. great review 😀 may have to check out the first two films after all!
    watching the legend is born at some point when I’m back in Devonia since Scott owns it xD not sure if he has the others!
    Out of curiosity, have you seen a film called Dragon (think the other name is something like Wuxia) it has Donnie Yen in. If so, is it any good? I have to watch and review it for cueafs over the weekend xD


      1. No I just honestly cannot remember! I think it might have been around the time of Twins Effect and during a Jackie Chan interview…or not!


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