This is a lesson for you gun nuts: never point a loaded gun in someone's face especially if it's Donnie Yen.
Next up for the month is a look at a series of movies starring Donnie Yen. I have to admit one thing though: I wasn’t a fan of Yen really until recently. I had seen him in bit roles over the years in movies like Blade 2, Highlander: Endgame, and Shanghai Knights. Nothing really stood out to me but I did know he had nice moves. I didn’t really appreciate him until I saw his overseas work like Flashpoint, Iron Monkey, and the ones I’ll be talking about today. He has an even bigger reach now that he’s appeared in the recent Star Wars movie, Rogue One.
The Ip Man trilogy has been released over the last few years. I’ve seen them all on Netflix undubbed and dubbed. As the titles suggest, they are about Yip (also called “Ip”) Man. He was a master of the style, Wing Chun, and trained many students. One of these students was a lad by the name of Lee Jun-Fan, aka Bruce Lee. It comes back to him in one way or another, doesn’t it? Anyway, the teacher has been the subject of a lot of things in Chinese media recently. Not only are there Yen’s movies, but there are a few other movies about the man out there. So, let me see what these three movies have to offer.
The first movie was released in 2009. It takes place in Fo Shan in the mid to late 1930’s. Yip Man is living his life well with his wife and son. While he is a master of Wing Chun, he trains no one in his style. He will defend Fo Shan when he needs to as a gang of from the North come to challenge the local schools. Then, Fo Shan is invaded by the Japanese and Yip and his family is forced to live in poverty. He gets work at a mill and finds out about the Japanese having Chinese men fight for more food. Then, there are thugs messing with his friend’s cotton mill. Seeing all this makes Yip take a stand and kick many butts.
Probably one of the best fights in recent history.
I thought this movie was really good for the most part. The story was pretty interesting even if it was apparently really fictionalized. We see this man who was somewhat wealthy get knocked to poverty and forced to work. Towards the end, he realizes the best thing he can do is fight and teach others to defend themselves. Yen owned the role in his look and the moves. I think this movie made me see what others see in Yen. The fight scenes were awesome, energetic, and sometimes brutal. The fight that everyone probably remembers is Yip’s fight with the Japanese students where he really lets loose. The final fight at the end with the Japanese general was nice as well. The music for the movie was even pretty good.
There is little I don’t like about the film. The Japanese are one of the villains here but they aren’t really treated like caricatures. Heck, they’re literally an opposing force, so they aren’t exactly good guys. The Japanese general was actually not half-bad, but his lackey… well, I just wanted to knock those glasses off his face. The English dub’s alright. I did think it was weird that the Japanese still speak Japanese in the dub though. There were also times where Yip seemed too superhuman. I don’t even think he got hit much. As I said, there’s little to not like about the film. Overall, if you haven’t checked it out, go for it!
Taste the power of the duster, fool!
Ip Man 2
The second movie was released in 2010 and is supposed to take place in 1949. Now, Yip and his family is living in Hong Kong and he tries to start a Wing Chun school. While he faces some money woes, Yip is basically forced to face kung fu masters in Hong Kong and prove himself. Then, things get tense when the British (who were occupying Hong Kong at the time) bring in a pretty annoying boxer who insults the Chinese and their culture. When Master Hung (played by Sammo Hung) is taken down by the boxer, Yip steps up into the ring. I don’t know if he ran up a snowy mountain and screamed “DRAAAAGGGOOOOO!!!!” towards the end but I could be wrong.
Oh snap! He's taking on a legend!
This one starts out pretty well. Yip is pretty much the underdog of the movie. He’s struggling to get a school together, he has a baby on the way, and then you got an annoying bloke of a boxer insulting his people. It’s definitely on him. While you think I’m exaggerating about comparing this to the Rocky movies, I’m not and that’s something I’ll get to later. Yip kind of does come off like Rocky at times and not just towards the end either. As always, Yen is awesome in the role. He made everything from the fighting to the drama work in the movie.
We also see others supporting characters from the previous movie return like Yip’s friend who owned the cotton mill and the leader of the gang that Yip fought. We also get Sammo Hung, another martial arts actor and the movie’s martial arts choreographer, in a nice role as one of the kung fu masters. We even get a funny though corny cameo from a young Bruce Lee. As usual, the fight scenes are really good here. Pretty much every fight scene is gold. My favorites though would have to be the fight at the fish market, Yip’s fight with the kung fu masters, and the final fight with Twister.
"Gaze upon me, Britain's biggest douchebag!" (the character not the actor)
There are a few things I don’t necessarily like. The biggest thing would be the villains. Master Hung doesn’t count and I liked him. The boxer, Twister (played by the late Darren Shahlavi), kind of sucked. He was pretty much a caricature and the British officer over him wasn’t far either. They were actually pretty annoying. It didn’t help much that the movie started to look like the Chinese version of Rocky IV toward the end either. We even get a speech (though a better one) from Yip after the fight. I’m not saying that this was a bad thing but it was pretty noticeable. I also got a little confused with the timeline. The movie takes place in 1949, but the first one ends somewhere at the end of the 30’s? I think I missed something with that. Other than those things a couple of other things, this movie was still good and served as a nice sequel to the first.
Ip Man 3
The third and possibly final movie was released in 2015. Yen did say that Ip Man 2 was to be the last film since everyone’s “Ip Man-crazy” now, but I guess he changed his mind. The movie takes place in 1959. Yip and his wife are raising their second son while the other son went back to Fo Shan. While Yip Man is living his life, the school his son goes to comes under threat from an American gangster (Mike Tyson?!?!?!?). Then, another Wing Chun master named Cheung Tin-chi comes to town with hopes of becoming the next big Wing Chun master. Not only does Yip have to deal with that, but he also has to deal with some shocking news about his wife. I’ll just leave it at that.
You might need Kleenex for these scenes. I wish I had them.
While Ip Man 3 is not the best of the three movies, I still liked it. It all has to go the man himself. Once again, Yip has some challenges to face and not all of them can be fixed with a kick to the stomach. The biggest one is the news about his wife, Cheung Wing-sing. I won’t spoil it here but you can look up what happened to her around this time. Yen still sold it as Yip Man and I have to credit Lynn Hung (Chen Wing-sing) for some real tear-jerker moments with that plot. The scenes involving a young Bruce Lee were still corny but funny.
The plot of the Wing Chun master’s rivalry against Yip was fine. It kind of had a Rocky III vibe to it though the rival was far from being Clubber Lang. I did like Jin Zhang (Tin-chi) in the role of this somewhat brutal underdog wanting to be the next Yip Man. As for Mike Tyson, I’ll get to him later unfortunately. I did like the fight between him and Yen though. As for the fight scenes, they were good but different. We had a different fight choreographer this time and it’s been a few years since the last movie. There’s less wire-fu and more long shots. My favorite fights were Yip’s fight against “Fake Tony Jaa” in a building, the fight against Frank (Mike Tyson), and the final fight with Tin-chi.
While not a good actor, Mike Tyson can still move well.
Now, here’s the not-so-great. The plot involving the school being attacked felt like it was from another movie. Even though the fight scenes were good, it just felt weird especially with the villains being way too over-the-top. Even Mike Tyson felt really out of place in the movie. It felt like he was just there for his fight scene and that’s it since he’s gone after they fight. The movie also felt a little disjointed. Things would happen here and there and nothing would come of it especially in the first half of the movie. I kind of wished the rival plot was the main thing instead of the school plot. I also felt that ending was pretty abrupt even though I like that it had a bit of a somber note on it. Overall, it’s the least of the three but it has merit to it.
Overall, Donnie Yen’s Ip Man trilogy is good for the most part. We have one awesome first movie with two fine movies. The latter two have flaws but they have good things too. As for what’s next for Yen, there are some movies coming up. We have another XXX movie and with Vin Diesel this time too. Apparently, it’s not doing too well critically but I think Yen would be cool in it. Then, there’s talk of another Ip Man movie. I’m not sure what it’ll be about but I bet it’ll be fine. Well, I’m outta here. Next time will be another visit to the Marvel Universe. Until then, Peace, God Bless, and don’t challenge a master. You might not make it out.