...it might be the sangria, but this movie is fucking beautiful.
Okay, I'm back. The film is done. Emotionally Magnificent. And before I go on, though, I'd like to point out that there's nothing really new about this film. It involves tropes and archetypes that we've all seen before (the underdog winning against a powerful foe, the peaceful man who turns to violence, but only to save his family/people, etc.). But it does these archetypes so damn well. That's the point. Anyway, on to the review.
The movie is about the life of Kung Fu (specifically Wing Chun) Master Ip Man (based on the real guy! Also, it's pronounced "EEP mahn"). He's a peaceful guy, only fighting as a hobby, and even when challenged for realsies by a rival martial artist, he only fights nonviolently. That is...
Until the Japanese army invades China, which wrecks his shit. His family (wife and son) is thrown into poverty by the oppressive Japanese presence and he is thrust into righteous violence by the death of one of his kung fu colleagues. You see, there's this Japanese general who is entertained my the Chinese martial arts. He stages fights between his men and desperate Chinese fighters, paying out bags of rice if the Chinese fighters win. Ip Man's friend, another Kung Fu master, is killed unfairly by a Japanese officer after losing a bout, and this event sets off the chain of events that culminates with Ip Man fighting (and destroying) the Japanese general in a fight for supremacy. It's basically the old premise of, "rogue comes in saying, 'My kung fu is stronger!' and is put in his place by hero master," but with more magnificence.
This movie is full of really great moments. The first that I'll mention had me speechless.
As I alluded to earlier, a fellow Kung Fu master, and a friend, is gunned down after his bout with the Japanese soldiers. This unjust and unjustified way for a master, and a friend, to die sets Ip Man off. He immediately puts himself into the ring to challenge the Japanese, and to redeem the death of his respected colleague. This is a beautiful fight scene, packed with emotion and great cinematography which illustrates a simple point. Ip Man is done playing around. This fight is for keeps.
As I've said before, Master Ip is a peaceful guy. When an aggressor challenges him early in the film, to the point of pulling a sword in an unarmed fight, Ip responds by besting him, simply, with a FEATHER DUSTER. It was an important early scene which defines his character.
In this scene, however, he's furious about the unjust death of his friend. He challenges TEN of the Japanese fighters, at the same time, and proceeds to tear them apart. It's a striking contrast to his earlier fighting style. When before he pulled punches, never fighting beyond the level of friendly sparring, in this fight, he rains blow after blow on every one of the fighters, going so far as to break (or at the very least dislocate) a fighter's leg in one massive kick. Throughout the fight, his inner agony is written on his face, his break of character speaking to the depths to which he was saddened and outraged by the loss of a great master. Emotionally Magnificent.
In another scene, after falling from his former glory into poverty, he's found a job working in some kind of textile factory. He's finally realized the true danger of the occupying Japanese, he finally agrees to teach his eager fellow workers martial arts. I've got to warn you, there's a training montage coming up. But god damn is it pretty. Again, it might have been the Sangria coursing through my veins, but the idea of the common man training to fight against an unjust oppressor...whoo! It gets me going. Later, the factory workers team up and use their newly acquired skills against a group of bandits (who are coming to steal, wool? Looms? Doesn't matter). It's a really nice scene, even though the workers are clearly outmatched. I guess I'm just a sucker for concrete, well defined morality in films like this.
This is a Kung Fu film, after all, and so the question remains: how are the fight scenes?
There's a good mix of martial arts here, with a minimum of wire work and slow motion. The fight scenes are visceral, powerful, and emotional. Like any good kung fu movie, they express more than just simple fighting. They're cleanly shot and entertaining. There's really no more that I can say.
Donnie Yen is really talented. There. I said something more.
Emotionally Fucking Magnificent. Now, if you'll excuse me, the rest of this Sangria won't drink itself.