Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
It is 1937 in Foshan China, a city dominated by rival martial arts academies that constantly test who is the best. Over all lords the wealthy but humble merchant Ip Man whose fighting technique is acknowledged by all as superior. Contests are common. Even outsiders are attracted to challenge the locals’ fighting skills.
Then the Japanese invade, Foshan changes from a colorful town of merchants, banners, schools, and pride to a gray husk. Ip Man, now a laborer, must deal with the constant demands of his Japanese captors for fighting lessons and demonstrations. How he handles all of this, of course, is the stuff from which Legends Are Born. (The movie character Ip Man is modelled after a real person, an acknowledged martial arts master, who later taught Bruce Lee.)
It’s all very melodramatic but what a gorgeous film this is to look at. The early 20th Century town detail is amazing and a pleasure to see when so many Chinese historical films tend to emphasize more remote and rural locations. Here we see a bustling metropolis in its prime, then we see what a military occupation does to its soul.
Frequent fights are extremely well done. There is an attempt here to introduce more reality into the fighting than is the case with most of the Hong Kong martial arts fantasies we’re familiar with. Carrying it all in splendid fashion is Donnie Yen as Ip Man whose athleticism and charm are convincing in both action and dramatic sequences.
Review copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald