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Ip Man (film)

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Title: Ip Man (film)  
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Subject: Martial arts film, T'ai chi ch'uan, Wing Chun, Sammo Hung, Yip Man, Kenji Kawai, Ip Chun, Hong Kong Film Award, Simon Yam, Donnie Yen
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Ip Man (film)

Ip Man
In a black background, the top of the poster states, "The celebrated Kung Fu master of Bruce Lee." Below is a portrait of Donnie Yen with his head staring down, while his hands are forming a martial arts pose. The words "Ip Man" are coloured in red in both Cantonese and English dialect. The pronunciation of the name (eep ‧ mun) is shown in brackets below the English title.
Original Hong Kong poster
Directed by Wilson Yip
Produced by Raymond Wong
Written by Edmond Wong
Starring Donnie Yen
Simon Yam
Lynn Hung
Gordon Lam
Fan Siu-wong
Xing Yu
Chen Zhihui
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Music by Kenji Kawai
Cinematography O Sing-Pui
Editing by Cheung Ka-fai
Distributed by Mandarin Films
Release date(s)
Running time 108 minutes
Country China
Language Cantonese
Budget US$11,715,578[1]
Box office US$21,888,598

Ip Man is a 2008 Hong Kong semi biographical martial arts film very loosely based on the life of Yip Man, a grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and master of Bruce Lee. The film focuses on events in Ip's life that supposedly took place in the city of Foshan during the Sino-Japanese War. The film was directed by Wilson Yip, and stars Donnie Yen as Ip Man, with martial arts choreography by Sammo Hung. The supporting cast includes Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Lam Ka-tung, Xing Yu and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi.

The idea of an Ip Man biopic originated in 1998 when Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen discussed the idea of making a film based on Bruce Lee's martial arts master. However, the studio producing that proposed film closed, and the project was abandoned. Producer Raymond Wong decided to develop his own Ip Man film with full consent from Ip's sons, and had filmmakers head to Foshan to research Ip's life. Ip Chun, Ip Man's eldest son, along with martial arts master Leo Au-yeung and several other Wing Chun practitioners served as technical consultants for the film. Principal photography for Ip Man began in March 2008 and ended in August; filming took place in Shanghai, which was used to architecturally recreate Foshan. During filming, conflicts arose between the producers of Ip Man and filmmaker Wong Kar-wai over the film's working title. Kar-wai, who had been developing his own Ip Man biopic, clashed with the producers after learning that their film would be titled Grandmaster Ip Man (Chinese: 一代宗師葉問), which was too similar to the title of the other film. The producers of Ip Man agreed to change the film title, despite Kar-wai's film being in development hell. Kar-wai's film, titled The Grandmaster, was released on 10 January 2013.

Ip Man premiered in Beijing on 10 December 2008, and was released theatrically in Hong Kong on 19 December 2008, receiving widespread acclaim from critics and audiences. Before the film's release, Raymond Wong announced that there would be a sequel; a second installment titled Ip Man 2, was released in April 2010. Ip Man grossed over US$21 million worldwide, despite not being released in North America and most of Europe. Following its success, the film was nominated for 12 Hong Kong Film Awards, winning awards for Best Film and Best Action Choreography.


Ip Man is set in the 1930s in Foshan, a hub of Southern Chinese martial arts, where various schools actively recruit disciples and compete against each other. Although the Wing Chun master Ip Man is the most skilled martial artist in Foshan, he is unassuming and keeps a low profile. As an independently wealthy man, he feels no need to accept any disciples and instead spends his days training, meeting with friends, and spending time with his family. However, his wife is often resentful of the time he spends training and discussing martial arts with friends and colleagues. Though not a professional martial artist, Ip is respected in Foshan due to the abilities he displays in friendly, closed-door competitions with local masters. Ip's reputation is further enhanced when he defeats an aggressive, rude, highly skilled Northern Chinese martial arts master, Jin Shanzhao, thus upholding the regional pride of fellow Southern stylists and others in Foshan.

The Japanese invasion in 1937 adversely affects the life of everyone in Foshan. Ip's house is claimed by the Japanese and used as their Foshan headquarters. Ip and his family lose their wealth and are forced to move into a decrepit house. Desperate to support his family, Ip accepts work as a coolie at a coal mine. The Japanese General Miura, who is a Karate master, establishes an arena where Chinese martial artists compete with his military trainees. The Chinese earn a bag of rice for every match they win. Li Zhao, a former police officer and Ip's acquaintance, is now working as a translator for the Japanese and is making the offer to the martial artists working as coolies. Ip at first declines to participate in the matches. However, when his friend Lin goes missing, he agrees to take part in order to investigate. He is enraged when he sees a fellow Foshan master (Master Liu) mercilessly executed for picking up a bag of rice from a prior victory after giving up in a second match against three karateka. He also comes to understand that Lin was killed in an earlier fight. Barely able to contain his rage, Ip demands a match with ten karateka at once. Despite having not practiced Wing Chun since the invasion began (in order to conserve what little food his family had to survive), he proceeds to mercilessly crush each of them with a brutal barrage of his martial art mastery, showing none of the restraint he exhibited in previous engagements. His skill arouses the interest of Miura, who seeks to learn more about Ip and see him fight again.

Ip visits his friend Chow Ching-chuen, who owns and runs a cotton mill in Foshan. Chow tells Ip that a highway robbery gang led by Jin Shanzhao is harassing his workers and trying to extort money from them. Ip trains the workers in Wing Chun for self-defense. Meanwhile, Miura grows impatient when Ip does not return to the arena and sends men to find him, prompting Ip to incapacitate them and go into hiding with his family at Li Zhao's house. Meanwhile, the robbers return to the cotton mill to demand money. The workers fight back using the techniques that Ip taught them, but Ip appears to take care of things personally and defeats Jin Shanzhao, warning him never to harass the workers again.

The Japanese soldiers eventually find Ip at the cotton mill. Miura tells Ip that his life will be spared if he agrees to instruct the Japanese soldiers in martial arts. Ip refuses and challenges Miura to a match, which Miura accepts, both because of his love for martial arts and because refusing the challenge would be a humiliation to the Japanese. The match between Ip and Miura is held in public in Foshan's square. At first, the two fighters seem equally matched, but Miura soon finds himself unable to penetrate Ip's impeccable defense and becomes overwhelmed by his relentless and direct blows. He is helpless to defend himself as Ip effortlessly uses him as a Wooden Dummy, inflicting a severe beating on him and clearly winning.

As the beaten general lies down after his defeat, Ip looks over to the cheering Chinese crowd and spots his wife and child with Chow. Suddenly, Miura's deputy Sato shoots Ip, sparking a scuffle between the Chinese audience and the Japanese soldiers. During the scuffle, Li Zhao kills Sato with Sato's own gun. Ip is taken away amidst the chaos. It is revealed that he survives and escapes to Hong Kong with his family. There, Ip establishes a Wing Chun school, where his students come to learn martial arts from him, including Bruce Lee.



"We wanted to do this movie because Ip Man was a man who inspired the world and society as a whole. He was a man who believed in certain morals and principles, and we want to use this movie as a platform to convey those values to the audience. For me, that was the most important part of making this movie."

—Director Wilson Yip on making Ip Man.[3]

The idea of an Ip Man biopic originated in 1998 when Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen discussed the idea of making a film based on Bruce Lee's martial arts master. However, Paragon Films Ltd the studio producing the proposed film closed, and the project was abandoned.[4] Producer Raymond Wong decided to develop his own Ip Man film with full consent from Ip's sons, and had filmmakers head to Foshan to research Ip's life. Ip Chun, Ip Man's eldest son, along with martial arts master Leo Au-yeung and several other Wing Chun practitioners served as technical consultants for the film. Principal photography for Ip Man began in March 2008 and ended in August; filming took place in Shanghai, which was used to architecturally recreate Foshan. During filming, conflicts arose between the producers of Ip Man and filmmaker Wong Kar-wai over the film's working title. Wong, who had been developing his own Ip Man biopic, clashed with the producers after learning that their film would be titled Grandmaster Ip Man (Chinese: 一代宗師葉問), which was too similar to the title of Wong's film.

Ip Man is the first film based on the life of Ip Man. It also marks the fourth film collaboration between director Wilson Yip[2] and actor Donnie Yen.[2] The two also reunite with co-star Simon Yam after 2005's SPL: Sha Po Lang. The screenplay for Ip Man was written by Edmond Wong,[2] the son of film producer Raymond Wong.[2] Wong was the screenwriter of Yip and Yen's second collaboration, 2006's Dragon Tiger Gate. Ip Man's eldest son, Ip Chun, his student Leo Au-yeung,[5] and Changquan gold medalist To Yu-hang served as technical consultants for the film, providing advice on the film's story and martial arts choreography. The music for the film was provided by veteran Japanese composer Kenji Kawai, who also served as a composer on the 2006 film, Dragon Tiger Gate which featured Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen as director and actor respectively.[6]


The film was originally conceived in 1998 when Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen first thought of the idea of making a film based on Ip Man's life. Donnie Yen signed onto the project, hoping to star as Ip, with Stephen Chow co-starring as Bruce Lee. Yen had signed the contract and received part of the acting fee. However, the studio producing the film closed, and the project was abandoned.[4]

In December 2007, plans to make a new Ip Man film were announced with the filmmakers researching Ip's life in Foshan. Producer Raymond Wong stated that the film would take on a similar look and feel to SPL: Sha Po Lang.[7] On 26 February 2008, a press conference for the film was held in Foshan, where it was announced that Wilson Yip would be directing the film, while Yen would appear in the leading role as Ip. Lynn Hung, Lam Ka-tung, Simon Yam were announced to be appearing in supporting roles, while Sammo Hung would serve as the film's martial arts choreographer.[8] Casting director Zhang Yan Bin spent three months casting actors in various roles for the film. He had completed casting during principal photography in March 2008.[9]


Principal photography for Ip Man began in March 2008, and was completed by the end of August. A majority of the film focuses on events surrounding Ip Man that took place in Foshan in the 1930s and 1940s during the Sino-Japanese War. Since the buildings in modern-day Foshan are architecturally different from the ones of the film's period, the filmmakers decided to shoot the film in Shanghai.[8][10]

Filming first took place in a storeroom in the industrial district of Shanghai. Having difficulties scouting a cotton factory suitable for shooting, set designers decided to recreate one in the style of the 1930s. They spent weeks transforming an abandoned storeroom into the Zhen Hua Cotton Mill Factory, a 1930s cotton mill factory founded by Ip's friend Chow Ching-chuen (played in the film by Simon Yam) during the Sino-Japanese War. It was where Ip Man first taught Wing Chun openly to the public.[11]

Production designer Kenneth Mak included Western elements in his design, since Foshan, in earlier years, was a unique place where Chinese and Western cultures converged. Pillars were made to resemble English lampposts, and Western lighting, chairs and tableware were also used. To convey the culture and feel of the time, the buildings were made to look obsolete and worn out. Apart from historical references, Mak also created a glass house which was used in scene in the film.[11]

Stunts and choreography

"...his biggest achievement lies in playing a true historical figure, unlike fictitious characters he had been doing in the past...he'd have to try his best to understand the thoughts of Yip Man, to be him, and to fit in within the past."

—Director Wilson Yip on Donnie Yen being cast as Ip Man.[8]

The martial arts choreography was designed by Sammo Hung and veteran fight and stunt coordinator Tony Leung Siu-hung. Hung had previously collaborated with Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen as an actor in the 2005 film SPL: Sha Po Lang.[12] He was hired as the choreographer mainly because of his experience on the 1978 film Warriors Two and 1982's The Prodigal Son, both of which involved Wing Chun.[3] When asked how he would work with Yen to direct the action scenes, Hung replied matter-of-factly, "With my mouth."[8]

Yen described the role as the most emotionally and mentally difficult in his career.[3] He spent months preparing for the role by going on a strict diet which consisted of eating one meal a day, training in Wing Chun, and learning more about Ip Man through his two sons. This was all in the hopes of portraying an erudite and cultured Ip Man, as well as bringing out the special traits of Wing Chun.[13] Yen even went as far as to stay in character after filming, wearing his costume and changing his voice and movement patterns.[3] While rehearsing a fight scene, Yen was reportedly injured when an axe wielder accidentally slashed the side of his left eye.[14] Yen also had a masseur on set as he could not raise his right shoulder due to an injury.[10]

Japanese actor Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, who holds a black belt in Judo, found it "difficult" working under Hung's command. In one scene, he suffered a mild concussion after receiving four consecutive blows.[15] Hung later praised Yen and Ikeuchi's performances in the film, even though Ikeuchi was not trained in Chinese martial arts and was not given a lot of complex moves.[10]

Film title controversy

Ip Man's original title was controversial. It was disputed when film director Wong Kar-wai announced plans to make his own Ip Man film with Tony Leung Chiu-wai while filming 2046. Wong had planned his own Ip Man biopic titled The Great Master (一代宗师), with Leung playing the role of Ip. Wong's film, however, had been in development hell, having been announced several years earlier. Producer Raymond Wong wanted to name his film Grandmaster Yip Man, which bore a resemblance to the title Wong Kar-wai wanted to use for his film.[16]

To settle the dispute, Raymond Wong publicly retracted the film title, stating "Actually, all along, we have called our film Ip Man, but our mainland investors said that Yip Man was a great master of his times, so we changed our title to Grandmaster Yip Man out of respect for him."[17] In a more recent interview, Raymond Wong revealed that The Great Master is currently in development.[18] Wong Kar-wai's Ip Man film, titled The Grandmaster, was released on 8 January 2013 in China.


Ip Man premiered in Beijing, China on 10 December 2008, only two days prior to its release in China.[19][20] The film was later released in Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand on 18 December 2008, one day prior to its release date in Hong Kong.[21] The film was released in the United Kingdom on 2 October 2009.[22] In 2010, Mandarin Films sold North American distribution rights for the film to distributor Well Go USA.[23]


Prior to its theatrical release in China, Ip Man held a test screening in Beijing on 4 December 2008. The film was highly praised, based on survey sheets returned by the audience. Donnie Yen's portrayal of Ip Man was repeatedly hailed as the year's best performance. High praise was also given to the film's co-stars, Fan Siu-wong, Lam Ka-tung, and Lynn Hung.[22] Ip Man also received positive reactions from film critics. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir deemed Ip Man a "well-paced and satisfying piece of Chinese-nationalist pulp," referring to the film's heavy anti-Japanese sentiment.[24]

Derek Elley of Variety Magazine wrote in his review, "Yen, who's taking on real star charisma in middle age, is aces as Ip, with a simple dignity that exactly mirrors the movie's own and a gracefulness in combat that's very different from his trademark whiplash style."[25] Malaysian film critic Lim Chang Moh of The Malay Mail awarded the film three stars out of four, writing that the film was "nicely balanced with great martial arts action and an engaging narrative."[26] Lim later placed the film at number six in his list of "Top Ten Movies of 2008."[27] Jen Ogilvie of Fortean Times wrote, "what carries Ip Man is its dramatic charge: it is the story's entanglement in the real horrors of Japanese occupation that pulls the viewer in and builds tension into the fight scenes.[28]

Historical accuracy

Film4's review detailed the departures from history: "The real Ip Man was never, despite the film's assertions to the contrary, forced from bourgeois idleness into work by the hardships of the Second Sino-Japanese War, nor was he ever employed as a coolie in a colliery – rather he chose of his own accord to work as a policeman (a profession lightly ridiculed within the film) before the Japanese invasion, and he continued in this line for several years after the war until Communist disapproval of his wealth and political affiliations drove him into voluntary exile in Hong Kong. While, during the war, Ip Man did indeed refuse to teach his martial arts to the military police of the occupying Japanese – a decision which eventually forced him to flee Foshan – he certainly never had a duel with a Japanese general."[29]

Ip Man's eldest son, Ip Chun, stated that while the film was well-received, there could have been areas of improvement: "For example, the film was obviously set in Foshan, yet it was not shot on location on the actual place. Neither was the mansion like the original."[30]

Box office

Ip Man grossed ¥14,948,157 (US$2,188,982) on its opening weekend in China.[31] The film's revenues increased largely by 86.1%, grossing ¥27,812,224 (US$4,073,201) to retain second place at the box office.[32] The film experienced a small decrease in revenue in its third weekend, dropping 10.5% to ¥24,889,189 ($3,645,112), though remaining in second place.[33] Ip Man continued to decrease in revenue, grossing ¥19,956,454 (US$2,922,695) in its fourth week while staying in second place.[34] After six weeks of theatrical release, Ip Man grossed a total of ¥93,740,529 (US$13,728,640).[35] The film currently remains as China's 13th highest grossing film of 2008.[36]

During its opening weekend in Hong Kong, Ip Man came in first place at the box office, grossing HK$4.5 million (US$579,715).[37] In its second week, Ip Man moved to second place, while grossing HK$6,156,765 (US$789,303) with a 36.2% increase in revenue.[38] The film continued to decrease in revenue in its third week, grossing HK$ 3,494,366 ($447,981), while staying in second place at the box office.[39] Ip Man moved to third place in its fourth week, grossing HK$2,075,250 ($266,055).[40] After seven weeks of theatrical release in Hong Kong, Ip Man had grossed HK$25,581,958.69 (US$3,300,847) domestically.[41] The film ranks as the 8th highest-grossing film of 2008.[42] In total, the film had grossed $21,888,598 worldwide, despite not being released in North America and most of Europe.[43]

Home media

Ip Man was released on DVD and Blu-ray disc formats on 13 February 2009. Releases include single-disc[44] and two-disc special-edition formats.[45] Features for the special edition include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a theatrical trailer, interviews with director Wilson Yip and actor Donnie Yen and featurettes on both Ip Man and Wing Chun martial arts. Ip Man was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 27 July 2010.[46] A 3-disc Deluxe Collector's Edition was released in China, but only contains Mandarin-dubbed soundtracks and no English subtitles.[47]


List of Accolades
Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result
Beijing Student Film Festival[48] Best Actor Donnie Yen Won
Favorite Director Wilson Yip Won
2009 Fantasia Festival[49] Technical Achievement Won
Best Asian Film Wilson Yip
2nd Place
Most Energetic Film Wilson Yip
2nd Place
46th Golden Horse Film Awards[50] Best Action Choreography Sammo Hung, Tony Leung Siu-hung Won
28th Hong Kong Film Awards[51] Best Film Won
Best Director Wilson Yip Nominated
Best Actor Donnie Yen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Lam Ka-tung Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Fan Siu-wong Nominated
Best Cinematography O Sing-pui Nominated
Best Film Editing Cheung Ka-fai Nominated
Best Art Direction Kenneth Mak Nominated
Best Action Choreography Sammo Hung, Tony Leung Siu-hung Won
Best Sound Design Kinson Tsang Nominated
Best Visual Effects Henri Wong Nominated
Best Original Score Kenji Kawai Nominated
Huabiao Film Awards[48] Outstanding Abroad Actor Donnie Yen Won
Outstanding Co-production Film Won
Shanghai Film Critics Awards[48] Film of Merit Won
Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival[48] Orient Express Award Wilson Yip Won
2nd Iron Elephant Awards[52] Best Picture Won
Best Action Choreography Sammo Hung, Tony Leung Siu-hung Won
Best Actor Donnie Yen Won


Ip Man is the first film in a planned trilogy. Donnie Yen reprised the lead role in the sequel Ip Man 2, the second feature film based on the life of Ip Man. The film focuses on Ip's movements in Hong Kong as he attempts to propagate his discipline of Wing Chun martial arts; at the end it also briefly introduces a young Bruce Lee prior to becoming one of Ip's most famed disciples. Ip Man 2 was released theatrically in Hong Kong in late April 2010. Lynn Hung and Fan Siu-wong reprise their supporting roles, while martial arts choreographer Sammo Hung appears as a master of Hung Ga martial arts.

Yen has expressed his lack of interest in making a third film, feeling that, "Ip Man 2 will incontrovertibly become a classic, bettering the first."[53] Yen later stated that after Ip Man 2, he would no longer be involved in a film based on Ip's life.[54] While both Donnie Yen and Raymond Wong are not keen on making a third Ip Man film, director Wilson Yip has expressed interest in making one that would focus on the relationship between Ip and Bruce Lee. While Ip Man 2 very briefly shows Lee as a child, Yip hopes to find a suitable actor to portray Lee as an adult for the third installment.[55]

See also

  • Ip Man 2, the 2010 sequel to this film.
  • The Legend Is Born – Ip Man, a 2010 film about the early life of Ip Man.
  • The Grandmaster (film), a 2013 film about Ip Man.
  • Ip Man: The Final Fight, a 2013 film about the later life of Ip Man.
  • Ip Man (TV series), a 2013 television series about Ip Man.
  • History of Wing Chun
  • Wing Chun terms, for names of various Wing Chun techniques.
  • Branches of Wing Chun, a student-teacher family tree within the Chinese martial art Wing Chun.
  • Bruce Lee, Ip Man's most famous student.


External links

  • EN
  • Chinese
  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • Metacritic
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • at (English)
  • at (Traditional Chinese)
  • at (Simplified Chinese)
  • Ip Man movie review
  • movie review at (English)
Preceded by
The Warlords
Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Film
Succeeded by
Bodyguards and Assassins

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